South African Students Congress

Issue 13, Vol 3: 1 August 2012

In this issue:


Zwelo MasilelaAnti-tribalism tribalism a threat to the national democratic revolution and society

By Zwelo Masilela

Based on its title this paper will explain a proper definition of what is tribalism and anti-tribalism in a revolutionary context, contest and society in general. It will further point out characteristics herein to be referred to as "elements" of tribalism and anti-tribalism and further explains its threats.

Conceptual Definition of Tribalism

In terms of the latest version of the Oxford Dictionary, "Tribalism is the possession of a strong ethnic identity or cultural belief that separates oneself as part of a group from the members of another group." This definition simply gives the meaning of tribalism from a general point of view but it is important that we ponder its elements and tendencies particularly in a revolutionary political organisation and society in general.

There are three academic and sociological elements of tribalism. In terms of the first element, an "us" in contradistinction to "them" demarcation is naturally found in a "healthy" social movement or group definition where members are distinguished from non-members, and thus derive an important part of their identity from participation in the relevant group. Tribalism metastasizes when this reasonable "us as opposed to them" distinction mutates into a more derisive "us versus (VS) them" it's obviously dynamic, a certain kind of "VS." is inevitably involved when a collective movement is "standing up to" or "speaking out against" a dominant power structure, or protesting against a problematic state of affairs. But this is a logistical matter more than a tribal matter. This non-tribal form of "vs." pertains to power structures and to particular people, not to groups per se. Thus, tribalism as opposed to healthier manifestations of collective identity) involves a collective narcissism a sort of group that is narcissism or purports exceptionalism, as well as a tribe-centric worldview. Moreover, it involves antagonism between the in-group and the out-group. This antagonistic mindset defines "sides" thus establishing "teams" pitted against one another. It thereby couches issues in terms of a feud between these "sides" and judges people strictly based on tribal affiliation.

As it relates to the second element the aggrandizement of the group is pursued for its own sake. The tribe can be a particular race, a particular nation tribalism which is in the form of hyper-nationalism and super-patriotism, adherents to a certain system of dogma tribalism in the form of a pathological following of an ideology, subscribers to institutional tribalism. Whatever its nature and context, the tribe becomes an end in itself. With tribalism, then, the tribe is glorified, romanticized, fetishized, and even deified. Tribal chauvinism ensues; this takes the form of tribal hubris, braggadocio, and false pride. The in-group is glorified while the out-group is demeaned in some way; meanwhile, the other is typically vilified, demonized and or dehumanized here, outsiders are deemed somehow inferior to the insider strictly by dint of group affiliation.

When we speak of the third element, the collective identity trumps of any given member's identity as an individual; here, one's individuality is, as it were, swallowed up by the collective consequently; the member defines himself as a member of the group first and foremost and esteems him and others primarily or entirely in terms of that affiliation or lack thereof. This is not the case with healthier manifestations of collective identity like organized labour, civil rights activism and so forth thus, "you think of yourself first and foremost as whatever tribe you are and want others to think of you first and foremost as a member of your tribe. This is the most important thing about you. Without this, you have little identity worth talking about. For this is the primary element of your identity. It defines more than anything else, what you care about, who you are, how you think, what you want, and what you do."

It is here where, autonomy is abdicated, groupthink metastasizes, and all people are defined by particular group affiliation rather than most fundamentally as fellow human beings. Tribal membership is the ultimate standard by which people are judged and esteemed. This criterion trumps all other modes of identity. Once the 3rd element has merged with the other two elements, hostility and militancy often ensues a mission to defeat the outsider the enemy or infidel and basing it with pseudo political scapegoats.

The Mass Democratic Movement and Tribalism

In a class alliance, class differences are openly acknowledged and negotiated. A range of classes come together, the middle, working and the peasant classes against one common enemy. Since its inception the African National Congress (ANC) has been a multi-class movement but not only a multi-class movement but a multi-racial or what is commonly coined as non-racial. The race question has however been more demanding such as downplaying race and ethnicities which are wittingly or unwittingly responsible in the manifestation of tribalism in an already sharply divided society like South Africa is more of mammoth and exacting task the movement has had and have to carry through in its century of existence and beyond.

Having done the academic, sociological and political posture on the subject of this paper allows us to draw close some recent political stereotypes that are hell-bent at being seen anti-tribalism whilst both in intent and character are themselves tribal, for instance;

  1. "The view that ANC has had Xhosa ANC President's since Oliver Tambo thus they must be stopped and replaced with another Nguni group or any other tribe etc." (This was mainly said by those of other tribes who wanted a reflection of their tribe in the leadership echelons and of course some of which tickled in by some senior leaders who opportunistically ventured into an already existing sociological gap for political expediency"
  2. "President Jacob Zuma is a tribalist, (he) only supports Zulu people and has brought Zulu nationalism." These are sweeping statements mostly said by people in an attempt to discredit the persona in question and dislodge him on a perennial problem existing in the organisation, the very statement is also used by those who might have found a genuine matter to be addressed in this regard but always choose a wrong route to tackle and resolve their observation, in another contrast there are those who are rising in defence of the latter but like those who are identifying it genuinely they also fail to detail their observation into a proper resolve or rather an attempt to approach the issue properly they do nothing to the issue but bustardise the discussion.
  3. Another example is the one that happened in the student movement the South African Student Congress (SASCO) in its 16th National Conference at (UKZN Edgewood Campus, KZN Province) wherein a sour attempt by some raised their perhaps bitter concern as to why the organisation should elect/elected two "Xhosas" (for the record a matter that has been tested and proven to be untrue and misleading) from the Eastern Cape (EC) province as President and Secretary General of the organisation respectively. In the main most of those who advocated or questioned the wisdom of SASCO members to elect those two comrades never profusely raised it in plenary at the very congress or constitutional platform, but noticeable it made way into the ears of many comrades through caucuses and all other forms of lobbying at that particular conference. It is worth noting that this attempt was crushed with a huge political hummer it deserved; however it is also worth noting that it was not necessary removed and rehabilitated in that congress as it could have been subjected by material conditions at that time which can later alter and manifest quite radically into the future of this organisation when this pseudo debacle perhaps hits the shores of SASCO once again.

In all the three examples I gave; it is worth noting that in reality and essence most (essentially all) those who have previously ventured into such tribal debates with either one political or ideological eye being closed have mostly fell to the obvious but unforeseen trap of either being viewed and actually becoming defenders and advocates of tribalism, anti-tribalists tribalists. In this case I'm trying to point out that any political and revolutionary organisation which in its uterus carries ideologues; intellectuals and a broader mass orientation it will overtime and mostly being based on material conditions organically refuse tribalists, anti-tribalists and their foreign but consistent tendencies.

It is an open secret and cast down reality that most comrades in the movement are firmly against tribalism well basing it on resolutions and declarations of past and recent congresses (conferences), councils and other political podiums. It is however unfortunate that the very comrades who seem to stand firm against tribalism are the ones who wittingly or unwittingly advocate anti-tribalism tribalism (herein referred to as the destruction and questioning of the legitimacy of a particular tribe with a narrow attempt and interest to replace it with your very own tribe). As we have indicated this spurious act of anti-tribalism tribalism may not be done deliberately by most comrades but whichever way it remains incorrect.

The Essence of Anti-Tribalism

As extensively purported in the paper we must never alienate tribalism from an element of societal behaviour as detailed in the first and second elements (an element detailed in order clarify the dialectic relations of internal and external societal influences thereof). The third element simply highlights the manifestation of these negating factors contradicting and complementing each other both in the first and second elements as pointed out in the paper a bit earlier.

Anti-tribalism should never be about which tribe is at the benefit or helm of societal and political metastasizes but about the realm and the advocating of anti-tribalism with no intent to replace the other with another. One would ask how that is possible when we all know each other's tribes and thus it would be difficult to just ignore that factor? The immediate response should be we are revolutionaries, combatants, liberators, comrades, democrats, liberals, communists and human beings in general; it is in this regard and mentality that we can dispose and dislocate the deafening tribal hegemony this tendency has over our ideological and political discourse in resolving, analysing complex national and international balance of forces and contradictions confronting us.

Anti-tribalists are essentially people who regard themselves as human beings whilst withstanding and noting all their cultures, religions, beliefs and all other societal cleavages as necessary but subordinate to their uncontested status of being human beings thus cannot position those subordinates with their noted existing limitations as a microcosm upon which society and its challenges can approached and developed.

In the main anti-tribalists see no tribes but see a people having different ways (subjected as culture) of doing things thus can't be the basis upon which we seek to chastise the other under the guise that we are advocating the suppression of the other whilst separately advocating our own upward mobility as a tribe.

Marx reminds us that in order to correct tribalism in others, we first must correct it in ourselves. "We have to emancipate ourselves before we can emancipate others" from such dysfunctional thinking. After all, in the end, the worst thing is hypocrisy exploiting others for our own aggrandizement.

Presumably, then, one cannot criticize another person for his tribalism until he or she had taken care to liberate themselves from their own tribalism.

Imagine the possibilities if everyone were to do this.

Zwelo Masilela is Head of Research and Policy at SASCO Mpumalanga Province

African Sociological Review ISSN: 1027 4332
Marx's seminal essay, On the Jewish Question
Marson Scott essay on ethics and society 2001
Oxford Dictionary (Latest Version)


Nombulelo NyathelaOur Democracy is not under threat, it is simply being tested

By Nombulelo Nyathela

18 years after our first democratic elections the country is buzzing with discourse around our democracy, the constitution and constitutionalism as it were. We have termed our democracy a constitutional democracy which means that we have centered our democracy around the document that was adopted in 1996 and in the document is the bill of rights which is the cornerstone of our democracy. All sectors of society have direct interest in what happens to this democracy because we come from a history where there was no democracy at all, to a present where the bill of rights and the constitution has lived as the hope for many of our South Africans and this is because many have found justice and protection and belonging because of our constitution. However it has been almost 2 decades now and the cracks are starting to show, it is only fair that we give an analysis of where we are as a country in relation to this democracy.

If we can go back to the introduction of the Protection of State Information Bill where some sectors of society were up in arms about their freedom of expression being encroached and denying South Africans the right to information, we will remember that this topic had our media occupied for months and everyone had an opinion. This was basically a defining moment because many South Africans were not only talking about the bill itself but were questioning what the bill meant for a democratic state and what democracy actually means to us as South Africans. All of us were then beginning to question the democracy we had adopted and had been fighting to preserve as is since the constitution came into effect in 1996.

Around the same time the media tribunal was proposed following scandals in the newspapers that were supposedly not factual and again the country was talking about it in the context of one of our most treasured right, the right to freedom of expression and freedom of the media. Fast forward to 2011 and 2012 we are now not only discussing the limitation of rights but are now discussing one right versus the other, and who can say really which right supersedes which one? The courts have their work cut out for them! An example is the recent incident of the spear where we had to consider the right of the artist to freedom of expression in apposition to the right of the president to his dignity. When the ANCYL brought into the public domain the debate for nationalization of mines the country had to discuss the right of the majority of South Africans to own and benefit from the countries minerals in opposition to the rights of business owners to their own private capital. The proposals around the expropriation of land without compensation being considered are the rights of individuals to their private property versus the historic right of black South Africans to their rightful land and lastly of course the famous case against Julius Malema to ban an ANC song because it "incites violence towards farmers" brought the race question back on the table in a big way. In a nutshell we have all had to seriously think about how we want this democracy exactly and whether it is working for us in its current form.

All the incidents cited above are discussions we can have ideological and philosophical debates about and as progressives we can for sure come to the same understanding and conclusion. This should however not be mistaken to be societal consensus cause there is a serious diversity of thought in our country. Liberals, for instance, have uttered statements like "we are running into a banana republic" or "our democracy is under threat" and my personal favourite "this is not what Mandela went to jail for, he would be disappointed". All this liberal panic, sometimes finding its way into the masses, is because things seem to be changing and we are not all "agreeing" like we did in 1994 and we have just realised that there is no rainbow nation after all.

Perhaps one should cite a few cases of law that demonstrates that every time we have tested the constitution and our democracy in general we have come out of it a better nation. The S VS. Makwanyane case which asserted the right to life and dismissed the death penalty, the Modderfontein squatters cases which reminded us of the government's responsibility to provide people with basic shelter, the NICRO case which cautioned us against limiting a right like voting even towards incarcerated persons and of course the Prince case which in its minority judgement reminded us that the constitution has a responsibility to protect minority groups in the country. All these cases have helped deepen our democracy, not put it into shambles! It is therefore unnecessary for anyone to be in panic at this point because it is ok for us to put all these questions into consideration and find answers to the pressing questions of the day. How else would we move forward as a country?

Democracy is a highly contested term always in need of a qualification. We must remember that before the birth of anything great there is always great struggle and pain. Those who are sceptical about our democracy and are ready to give up have done so too quickly. The South African democracy is very young and will only grow from at times scary and daunting discourse but is necessary for progress. Documents like the constitution must not be put on a pedestal. The document was a product of the material conditions then, but with new struggle and new discourse the constitution may change and this must not be seen as an insult to our democracy in fact it would be worrying if nothing was allowed to change at all. The ideals of our constitution must stay intact: striving for a non-sexist, non-racial and democratic South Africa. On the other hand this democracy is a constant work in progress and thus we must rest assured that more discourse is to follow and we must take it in our strides! The revolution is more demanding than ever! Aluta!

Nombulelo Nyathela is the Chairperson of the Johannesburg Region of SASCO in Gauteng


Sibusiso ManeliThe higher education system: Pushing the frontiers towards a revolutionary liberating tool

By Sibusiso Maneli


Education is part of those driving institutions that produce and reproduce the current socio-political threads as a hub of knowledge creation and dissemination. But part of the responsibilities of this paper is to outline and explain the state of our education, its role in this post-apartheid era characterised by a capitalist economic system. It has also got to craft a politically and ideologically coherent and consistent pathway towards the socialisation of education for people's education towards people's power! Moreover we have got to make the purpose of education to liberate and uplift our society from the economic bondages of the tenets of apartheid capitalism.

However, part of our tasks as Marxist-Leninist scholars is to be at the forefront of the revolutionary change for a system that accommodates and is inclusive of every section of society. The education system should be part of that section that is to be transformed in form and in content, meaning the character and the type of education that we are to advocate for should be a direct representation of society as a whole. The Higher Education system remains a microcosm of the broader society; what happens in this system is a direct reflection of the socio-politics of the entire society. In 1901 May Wood Simmons stated that "Like all things, however, education has been shaped in the past by the economic conditions and needs of society." Neo-liberalism in our case has the most dominant ideas in society just like in the Higher Education system. The education system has been the incubator for capitalism to thrive and flourish throughout its inception after the fall of feudal system. Capital has always been using education in order for it to produce and reproduce its bodyguard soldiers. It is through this that education under capitalism has got to be exclusive and elitist in character for it to train diplomats that would be at the helm of safe-guarding the interests of the ruling class.

Post-apartheid: The pitfalls of our education system

Lena Mossow Lewis states that, "While economic and material benefits have accrued to the master class through the education of the workers; while large profits were only possible through a trained and skilled labouring class, yet in this very thing which makes for the triumph of the master class financially, we see a potent and powerful factor in bringing about the political and industrial supremacy of the working class." Be this as it may, a question remains how then do we use the racially democratised education system in order to propel for a socialised education system for the attainment of working-class supremacy over the current status quo? But for us to reach that point we have got to thoroughly understand its character.

The education system of South Africa is controlled and its direction determined by marketing forces, the democratic dispensation inherited a system that was used for the benefit of the few, it thus remains a racialised education system and class orientated as well. The exclusivity of education in the current has been complicated for it is about the class background unlike in the past it was more in the main about race, the ruling class has been using policies of the democratic state to exclude the majority of the working-class off-spring through policies such as Institutional autonomy and Academic Freedom. These policies are liberal and advance the interest of the market forces as they allow the bureaucratic management to manage a public institution that is instituted to respond the socio-economic problems that are faced by society.

Let us then outline the shortcomings of this education system. First and foremost, its character is abstract and shallow; this is because in its curriculum outlook and its response capacity to its responsibilities falls short because South Africa still has a huge skills inadequacy and inefficiency. In the science and technology sector we still fall short with about 43%, in the financial sector we are roughly 36% lacking behind, in following that South Africa contributes approximately 2% of the world's knowledge. Now that says in a simple nutshell of how the education system of South African is falling short to its own historic tasks, secondary to that, our universities have got to respond to the socio-economic problems that are faced by their geographic locations.

In the paragraphs that follow we will be dealing with the political and bourgeois democratic limitation of academic freedom and institutional autonomy. These are benchmarking policies in the systematic exclusion of those coming from the poor backgrounds:

Institutional autonomy

Institutional autonomy refers to the administrative, academic and management independence of the Higher Education Institutions to govern and manage themselves as they want, through policies that are crafted to accommodate the market demand. Having the understanding that no social institution exist outside the boundaries of the ruling class at that point in time, also the education system inclusive of the curriculum content are a product of the dominant ideas in society and in this instance bourgeois ideas with are in contrast with the transformation agenda of the general toiling masses.

Institutional autonomy in this case is the red-tape mechanism used by bourgeois academics and intellectuals to restrict the state that is run by the ruling party from intervening in matters of the functioning of the institutions yet funding these very same institutions. In essence this says the government has no say on how to run these universities but still finances them.

What is to be done in this instance? Firstly we should not completely scrap the policy but rather use it for the benefit of the majority by ensuring that:

  • All access requirements are dealt with by the state, including the access point system.
  • Create academic programmes that respond to socio-economic challenges of the geographic location of each universities
  • A thorough transformation of the academic staff

These are starting points in allowing access to institutions of higher learning, but outside of the strategic challenges we have tactical challenges as well as enforce by the above policy. We have challenges of equity within the broader spectrum of the Higher education, the Report by the Higher Education Task Team: Towards a new Higher Education Landscape asserts the following "Equity should mean more than access to Higher education. It must incorporate equity to opportunity-environments in which leaners, through academic support, excellent teaching and mentoring and other initiatives genuinely have every chance to succeed" through this well transformed education system we will then be able to respond to the question of equity not only for access but for success as well.

Our education system, our pathway towards the working-class victory

Remembering the fact that our call for the transformation of the Higher Education is dialectically interconnected to our quest to a direct shift from capitalism to socialism, education should be at the centre of that transformation process. Eden and Cedar Paul in 1918 say "But we certainly lean to the view that there is more to be hoped from the average child than from the average adult; we think that there is good ground for believing that the larger the number of those who receive a genuinely socialist education, the speedier will be the coming of the kingdom of man." Now the relevance of the education system comes to light if we have the broader strategic goal in mind, the attainment of socialism. All societies bear imprints and birthmarks of the past societies if that notion is to be true then it means all social institutions will bear birthmarks and imprints of the latter institutions, but all these elements of history should not drivers of the present.

"The crux of socialism, and the means of its realisation, has ever seemed to us to be intimately interconnected with this question of socialist education."

I pause

Sibusiso Maneli is a former Branch Chairperson of SASCO Claude Qavane Branch in the Eastern Cape