By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(“Plain Talk” Feb. 4, 2022)
Thirty-three months after this piece was first published, the question in the caption is more important now than ever before. Progressives have offered no leadership during the COVID pandemic. Here’s why.
Mandela is to Obama, as Obama is to Gonsalves…
We don’t mean that each is of equal stature deserving of universal acclaim. On the contrary, none has attained god-like status, placing them above criticism or beyond interrogation. Sadly, however, one stands on hazardous terrain if the tried and tested journalistic tool kit — who, what, when, where, why and how — is directed at either man or his work.
A year before Mandela’s death in 2013, Lukhona Mnguni, in a piece entitled “Mandela’s Legacy is a Threat”, wrote:
“It is difficult to disagree with or criticise the legacy of Nelson Mandela without opening up yourself to all kinds of insults. The minute people detect that ‘oh that’s anti-Mandela’, they often lose all rationality and go on the insulting tirade.”
As Lukhono correctly points out:
“There was a fundamental difference between the freedom fighter Mandela and Mandela, President of South Africa. The Mandela who went to Robben Island (radical, pro-black, non-racialism advocate) is different to the Mandela who was sworn in as the first black president (a pacifist, half pro-black, reconciliation proponent).
“What Mandela preached in 1994 going forward was reconciliation, without focusing on the real causes of racism in South Africa? You cannot focus on reconciling the oppressor and the oppressed without dealing with the cause of oppression, which is segregation to alienate one race from living equally with the other race…
“The bridge (i.e. Mandela) that was meant to transit South Africa from a painful and horrendous past to a prosperous future, was not well-equipped to handle the traffic of complexities. As a result, Mandela became narrowly focused on reconciliation of the ‘elite’ through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
“What project did Mandela start to bring about reconciliation of the ordinary masses? What closure did the black masses, forced to live in slums and rural places; in destitution and economic deprivation, get? That project remains deferred, and people refer you to Mandela’s legacy when you bring it up.
“It is for this reason that I cannot celebrate Mandela’s legacy. I can only acknowledge it. Racism is not dead in this country, and it is not about to die because we were hastily arranged to non-existent integration. Black people were forced to forgive white people, who never showed remorse, nor asked for forgiveness.”
Few have stomach for such piercing analysis. And so it has been with Barrack Obama.
To question anything Obama invited the wrath of black people and the white liberal establishment. To say people of colour got a bad deal by Obama was to lack knowledge, be jealous, and underestimate the power of racism. The vast majority of Black people, especially those who ought to know better, attempted to crucify anyone who placed Obama’s policies and legacy under the microscope.
Cornel West, progressive activist and intellectual, has felt the full brunt of these attacks. He keeps on fighting for a people-centred praxis. Referencing President Obama, West made this critically important point:
“We called Bush a war criminal for forty-five drones, and they killed some innocent folk. And Obama ends up with 547 drone strikes that killed innocent folks. Well, those are war crimes too. To say that was to pit you against 98% of the black community… You know, our hero can’t be a war criminal.
“Come on, brother West, you’ve really gone too far. You call him a black mascot of Wall Street, that was crazy. Nope, he’s been fighting Wall Street.’ I say, what are y’all talking about? What evidence you got? How many Wall Street executives went to jail? You’ve got folks wrapped in all of these different lies to protect him.”
A similar disease has stricken Vincentian progressives.
The year 2001 has been canonised. It was, is and remains our watershed moment. Our nation had arrived. Nothing remains to be discovered. High unemployment and stubborn poverty levels are not worthy of mention. The exploitation of workers and the sexploitation of our women are rationalised. To warn against the fire sale of our lands and caution against specific deals, especially with foreigners, are taken as opposition to foreign direct investment. Nothing better could be done with agriculture; the education revolution has neither kinks nor blemishes, and our tourism policy is beyond reproach.
Our democracy has been perfected. The tyranny of a razor-thin majority is celebrated as a masterstroke of a political genius. Parliamentary conventions, traditions and practices are scoffed and trampled. Our leader is the last of the best. We have triumphantly come to the end of history.
In our formative years, the progressive leadership encouraged cadres to question everything, speak fiercely, truthfully and honestly. Today, critical thought has lost its meaning, relevance and vitality. Woe be onto thee who question the power motives of a leader who bans protest and arrest demonstrators on a whim.
In these times, ‘Progressives’ argue that any objective assessment of reality, except the dull drumbeat of governmental successes, is a reckless adventure that aids the derailment of a people-centred process. The new litmus test is not where you stand regarding political hygiene and economic justice but your alignment with the power elite.
All progressives know that the unchallenged official propaganda of ‘paradise on earth” was insufficient to prevent reversals in the Soviet Union, Eastern Bloc socialist countries, Angola, China, Grenada, Libya, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
Consequently, any attempt to iconise any leader or canonise any process, no matter how revolutionary or progressive, is inherently reactionary. Any such plan kills off the kind of mental agility needed to address the complexities of the 21st Century. Such practices hoodwink the people and set them up to time certain disappointment.
Where have the progressives gone? Their support for the assault on our people’s rights during the pandemic proves yet again that they have suspended their critical faculties. Some have lost their way and become exhausted. Ideological and political confusion sapped the fighting spirit of others while the honeycomb of power seduces another bunch.
Our salvation lies with the training of the next generation of change agents as we struggle to regain our voice.
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].