Education for Liberation in Black Africa

February 24, 2014 § Leave a comment

 By Chinweizu

© Chinweizu, 2010

Paper presented at the Codesria Conference on 50 years of African independence, Legon, September 2010

“The major function of education is to help secure the survival of a people”


–Amos Wilson, “The Sociopolitical context of Education”, in

Awakening the Natural Genius of Black Children, 2nd Edition, New York: Afrikan World InfoSystems, 1992, p.1.

“Know yourself, know your enemy; and in a hundred battles you will never be defeated”

–ancient Chinese military adage

“Our youth from the primary schools, through the secondary schools to the universities and higher institutions of learning, . . . must be taught to know the workings of neo-colonialism and trained to recognize it wherever it may rear its head. They must not only know the trappings of colonialism and imperialism, but they must also be able to smell out the hide-outs of neo-colonialism.”

–Nkrumah, [

Revolutionary Path: 190]


I wish to make some observations and raise some questions that should, I hope, help us to design an education system that would help us to build a Black Africa that is liberated from imperialism, neo-colonialism, powerlessness, and from the world’s contempt—a Black Africa that has a technologically robust culture; is autonomous in its economy, culture and politics; and is prosperous and Afrocentric.


For a people to be truly liberated, they must be independent: they must be powerful, and powerful enough to deter or defeat any attempts, by anyone whatsoever, to impose on them in any way. In other words, they must be truly sovereign; i.e. they must be able to act independently, without outside interference. For Back Africa to be truly liberated, it must have at least one superpower among its countries.


Some questions to ponder


1] Is Black Africa liberated?


The short answer is no! Let me explain by commenting on some key aspects of our far-from-liberated situation of today.


We are not politically liberated: we belong to their “Commonwealths,” their “Communities,” and especially to their UN which was set up, and still operates, as a syndicate of imperialisms led by the USA. Our national budgets are heavily subsidized by western donors, thus giving them the controls to dictate our policies. Our NGOs and CSOs are also funded by the imperialist “donors”, thus compromising their autonomy.


We are not socially independent: their NGOs have unfettered and unsupervised access to even the remotest villages in our rural areas.


We are not culturally or mentally independent: we are ruled by their ideologies and religions; their music, ideas and images dominate our airwaves and our minds. Their cultural missionaries, and the evangelists of their religions are everywhere–on TV, on radio, in schools, in village meetings–instilling in our minds the subversive and anti-African idea that anything African is inherently inferior, degraded and evil. Their books, their movies, their newspapers and media shape our values and desires; our parrots echo their fads and denounce patriarchy, homophobia, circumcision, etc; our languages, our architecture, our literature, are becoming more and more Europeanized; our governance institutions and norms imitate the European models; our discourse is saturated with Neo-Liberal concepts, prescriptions and jargon like transparency, public private partnership, global best practices, training in entrepreneurship, NGO, CSO, Freedom of Information, stakeholders, human rights defenders (i.e. missionaries), HIPCs, MDGs, and poverty alleviation; yet we lie to ourselves and say we have become free from Europe. But are you free from the person who thinks for you and controls your mind and aspirations? Like Dessalines mockingly pointed out to the Haitians in 1804: “our laws, our customs, our cities, everything bears the characteristics of the French –and you believe yourselves free and independent of that Republic!”


2] Should Black Africa be liberated?


Why not? Why must we remain forever under the thumb or boot of others? Why must we allow ourselves to suffer the contempt of the other races of humanity? Why should we deny ourselves the material and psychological benefits of being a powerful people? We must understand that, without liberation, Black Africa will not achieve prosperity or power or self-respect, let alone the 3


respect of the world. And Black Africans will not savor the material and psychological satisfactions that only prosperity and power can give.


For example: why should each Black person not gain self-respect as a member of a powerful race; or lose the inferiority complexes and insecurities that undermine the confidence and life performance of black people? And why should we not experience the quiet confidence that comes with knowing you can defend yourself and your loved ones against all comers? Others sense this confidence without any immediate proof. If they know there are people in your race with that capacity, they automatically wonder if you are one of them, and give you the benefit of the doubt. Their caution is warranted, for your weakness can then not be taken for granted, as it presently is, and will continue to be for as long as your black skin is indisputably a badge of chronic powerlessness.


3] What should a liberated Black African society be like?


A liberated Black African society is one in which the Black population is in full charge of all its affairs, internal and external—from growing enough food to feed its population to making the armaments that enable it to defend its territory. The people should not feel subservient to any other people on earth, and should have no inferiority complexes. They should feel confident that their prosperity and autonomy cannot be destroyed by any other people.


4] Have we significantly de-Europeanized and re-Africanized our institutions?


Not at all. After 50 years, our laws, our customs, our cities, everything bears the characteristics of European colonizers. Our administrative, judicial, military, educational institutions and procedures have not significantly deviated from those implanted by the colonizers. We have followed the European fashion in every aspect of life. When they sponsored military government, we went along. When they changed their mind and demanded electocracy, we went along, and dutifully imported constitutions and legislative institutions that imitated those in Paris, London, and Washington. In popular culture, we have imitated the break dance, hip hop, sagging pants, and whatever else we saw was fashionable in Europe or America. Hence we are, on the whole, drowning in European culture more deeply than 50 years ago. Just as Fanon predicted, our lumpen-bourgeois “caste has done nothing more than take over unchanged the legacy of the economy, the thought, and the institutions left by the colonialists.” [Fanon, Frantz


The Wretched of the Earth, (New York: Grove Press, 1968), p.176.] 4

5] Have we significantly de-Europeanized and re-Africanized our colonial education systems and curriculums? Let us find out through answering a few questions:


Do our schools make us proficient in our African mother-tongues? Do they ground us in our African heritage? Do they steep us in the myths, legends, proverbs, ethical and aesthetic values bequeathed by our ancestors? Or in the cosmological and philosophical assumptions of our ethnic groups? Do they teach and commend the African architectural, agricultural and ecological wisdom that our ancestors harvested in the course of millennia of living in Africa? The obvious answer to each of the above questions is NO! In not doing these things, our education is still colonial. In 50 years, no conscious campaign has been made to change the colonial character of our education. If anything, change has been in the other direction. For example, within the last decade, European and American universities have opened branches in Black African countries, and are disseminating their view of the world among us. So we still produce Black Africans who are fascinated with European ways, who are mindlessly obedient servants of Europe; who are filled with inferiority complexes; who are culturally de-Africanized, Europhile and Afrophobic, just like those produced by colonial schools.


6] What kind of education must we institute to re-Africanize our cultures?


If we claim we are still African, then how are we relating to our African heritage? Are we shaped by it through an education that, in the words of the 17

th century Songhay scholar es-Sadi

“tells men of their fatherland, their ancestors, their annals, the names of their heroes and what lives these led.”

—Abderrahman es-Sadi, quoted in Chinweizu,

The West and the Rest of Us, p.226

Furthermore, if indeed we are still Africans, we need to teach and dialogue with our pre-colonial African heritage. For our lives today, we need to draw inspiration from the entire African legacy. We need to learn from all extant African works: starting with works from Ancient Egypt and on through the epics, proverbs and wisdom texts of non-Islamic, non-Christian 19

th century Africa. Are we constantly dialoging with African culture? What do I mean by that? Let Maulana Karenga explain:

“For us, Africa, more specifically ancient Africa, is our moral ideal, the foundation and framework on which and within which we understand ourselves and the world, conceive our purpose and obligations in life, ground our hopes and forge our future in effective and expansive ways. We take seriously [Malcolm X’s] teaching that even if we can’t or don’t 5

go back to Africa physically, we should go back mentally, spiritually and culturally. And this is not to escape into the past or to neglect the real challenges of the present or avoid decisions that will determine our future. Rather, it is to ground and center ourselves in our own culture and to extract from it models and messages of human excellence and achievement and to use them to confront and solve problems and to enrich and expand our lives. It is not an uncommon practice for persons to consult ancient texts for grounding and guidelines for how they live their lives. It is only with ancient African texts that some question the value and validity of the practice. Indeed, every day people read ancient texts of Greece, Rome, Palestine, Israel, Arabia, India and elsewhere for insight, inspiration and grounding. And we have read and read them too, but with Cheikh Anta Diop we ultimately ask what does Africa have to say about this or that critical issue? . . . In Kawaida philosophy, we call this dialoging with African culture, asking it questions and seeking from it answers to the fundamental concerns and issues of humankind.”—Dr Maulana Karenga,

Los Angeles Sentinel, 04-15-10, p. A7

Unless our education introduces us to these African texts—and they don’t– we will not be in a position to dialogue with them and harvest and apply their wisdom.


7] We have talked much about unity but done little to forge it. How do you unite people?

What kind of education forges a sense of one-ness in a population?

According to Cheikh Anta Diop, you give them a shared history, a shared culture, a shared language and values. If you don’t do that, you can put them under one government and they’ll still be disunited. Look at Sudan. It is under one government, but its different sections have been fighting to get away, some for more than 50 years. Why? Though all are black, some accept they are culturally African; others deny they are African and claim they are Arabs, because they have imbibed Arab culture. Hence there is no proper cultural basis for unity in Sudan.

In addition to a shared culture, you give them a shared historical project working together at which gives them a feeling that they are one team.

8] What are the flaws of the neo-colonial education we have entrenched?

These are the same as the flaws of colonial education. A primary flaw was that colonial education was focused on producing clerks and auxiliaries for the colonizers, and not focused on 6

providing creative economic producers of necessary goods and services for the colonized Africans. Furthermore, under colonialism Africans were educated so that they could be better enslaved and Europeanized. As Governor Cameron of Tanganyika put it in the 1920s, the intention [of colonial schooling] “was that the African should cease to think as an African and instead should become ‘a fair minded Englishman’” . . .

—quoted in Walter Rodney

How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, (London: Bogle L’Ouverture, 1988), p.248


“a French ordinance of 1899 indicated that the purpose of schooling in Madagascar was: ‘.. . to make the young Malagasy faithful and obedient subjects of France …’ [and] in 1919, Henry Simon (then Colonial Minister) outlined a program for secondary education in Africa with a view to ‘making the best indigenous elements into complete Frenchmen’”

—Walter Rodney

How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, London: Bogle L’Ouverture, 1988, p.257

“the colonial education corrupted the thinking and sensibilities of the African and filled him with abnormal complexes”—Abdou Moumini, quoted in Walter Rodney, ibid. p.249


“those who were Europeanized were to that extent de-Africanized, as a consequence of the colonial education and the general atmosphere of colonial life.. . . the colonial school system educated far too many fools and clowns, fascinated by the ideas and way of life of the European capitalist class. Some reached a point of total estrangement from African conditions and the African way of life, and like Blaise Diagne of Senegal they chirped happily that they were and would always be ‘European.’”

— Walter Rodney,

How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, (London: Bogle L’Ouverture, 1988), pp. 248, 249.

In the colonial period, “being educated meant, in the eyes of the populace, an escape from the visible and perceived backwardness of traditional life and society.” –[Kwesi Prah,

The African Nation, p.94] 7

As Samuel Chiponde of Tanganyika put it in 1925, ” to the African mind, to imitate Europeans is civilization.”

Quoted in Ralph A. Austen. “Notes on the Prehistory of TANU,” Makerere Journal #9 (March 1964), p. 2.; [See Chinweizu, The West and the Rest of Us, p. 86]

Now, 50 years from 1960, we have achieved neither the disappearance of colonialism nor the disappearance of the colonized African. Our task remains to achieve both. And the job of disappearing the colonized African belongs primarily to our education system.

However, and unfortunately, till today, our education does not question the beliefs fostered among us by imperialism, does not liquidate the ideas put forward by imperialism to influence us in its favor. Our education induces uncritical admiration for everything White (European or American or Arab); our education, through the school, the church, the mosque and the media, teaches reverence for whites and their culture; it subliminally teaches that the white man is the true man; that the white man is god; that Arabic is the language of god. As the Fanti saying, from colonial times, expressed it: “Bronyi ara na oye nyimpa”; literally “the white is indeed human”, which is to say that the white man is the model or archetype of humanity and, by implication, that the blacks are not quite it, don’t measure up. We behave as if we still believe in this tenet from the colonial era. We seem to have “no greater desire than to resemble the white man as far as possible”—culturally, and even physically. [Prah,

The African Nation, p.126]


our neo-colonial education does not teach us how to face the perils of today; does not teach us to create our own future; does not prepare us to face the perils of the future.

Our worldview is still pro-imperialist. We still talk of the “Slave Trade”. We still think that colonialism brought us the gift of civilization. Our youth don’t know our enemies. They think colonialism is over. They think of the imperialists as our generous and benevolent ‘development partners’; they think that race doesn’t and shouldn’t matter; they are desperate to escape to Europe and America in search of golden opportunities.


Principal flaws in our neo-colonial education:


It is said that “by their fruits ye shall know them”. Let us therefore judge the failings of our neo-colonial education system by the behavior of its products:


It doesn’t teach us loyalty to our race, the Black race –which is why a grown up Nigerian Muslim could say: “I am a Muslim and I worship Allah and I follow the way of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). I have no relationship with you, except that your skin is black. 8

The lightest Arab is closer to me than you. If there were to be war between Muslims of any shade of color and the darkest of black people, I will be on the side of Muslims.”

–Najib Bilal in email to B Bankie, Date: Mon, 11 Jun 2007 04:53:45 -0700 (PDT)


It doesn’t teach us racial solidarity, which is why we have been unconcerned, and have shown no outrage at– let alone tried to do something to stop–the current torture of Haiti by the USA, France, and their UN, a torture which has been going on for the last two decades, since President Aristide was first deposed by a coup in 1991; that is also why we have not rallied to defend the African peoples of Darfur and South Sudan who, for decades, have been under military attack by Arab expansionists.


It doesn’t teach us that we as a people have enemies, let alone who our enemies are; in particular, it doesn’t teach us that the Arabs and Europeans are our enemies, and have been so for thousands of years—which, for instance, is why we embrace the Europeans as our “development partners” despite their success in diverting us from pursuing industrialization policies, and despite their pressuring us to sign economic partnership agreements (EPAs) that will push African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries deeper into poverty and negatively affect the livelihoods of people living in ACP countries. In other words the EPAs are instruments of economic war on the ACP countries, yet we refuse to see their imposers as our enemies.


It doesn’t teach us how the world is structured and functions against us—which is why we are not suspicious of the UN and such of its key agencies as the World Bank, the IMF, the WTO and the WHO (the WHO—World Health Organization, during an anti-smallpox vaccination campaign, vaccinated 97 million Black Africans with HIV-contaminated vaccines and thereby brought AIDS to Black Africa). Being unsuspicious of these UN agencies, we naively seek guidance and take orders from them.


It doesn’t teach us how to triumph against the forces arrayed against us;


It doesn’t teach us about ourselves and how to overcome our weaknesses;


It doesn’t teach us who we are as a people, and how we came to be in the despised condition in which we find ourselves in the world; 9

8] It doesn’t teach us why there are no jobs in our country for the teeming millions of our youth,

or what we must do to create jobs for everybody —which is why our governments have no inkling about what to do to end the situation.


It doesn’t teach us why we stay poor despite our abundance of resources;


It doesn’t teach us how we can make our country and Black Africa prosperous and powerful;


Our education does not teach economic patriotism, which is why our leaders loot and plunder our countries and export the loot abroad, to “safe havens” in Europe, America and Arabia.


It doesn’t teach us how we can defend our country and our race from every form of attack.


It doesn’t teach us about our enemies and how they have been defeating and exploiting us for centuries.


Our neo-colonial education doesn’t give us an understanding of the world in which we live, and of how it came to be the way it is.


It does not equip us with a world picturea global-political picture of the way the world is structured, and how it functions, and our Black World’s place within it–let alone an understanding of how the world is rigged against us. If it supplies any coherent global-political picture at all, it is the vague pro-imperialist picture in which the UN system is presented, quite falsely, as serving the interest of all of humanity rather than just the imperialist interest.


Its cardinal failure is that it leaves us oblivious of global power realities. In particular, it doesn’t teach us that those who have vital and highly desired assets, but lack the power to defend those assets, are prone to exploitation and even extermination by the powerful.

Specifically, it has failed to acquaint us with what Marcus Garvey taught us a century ago: 10

“The attitude of the white race is to subjugate, to exploit, and if necessary exterminate the weaker peoples with whom they come in contact. They subjugate first, if the weaker peoples will stand for it; then exploit, and if they will not stand for SUBJUGATION nor EXPLOITATION, the other recourse is EXTERMINATION.”

–[ Amy Jacques-Garvey, ed..

Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey

(New York: Atheneum, 1992), Part I, p. 13.]

And Garvey further elaborated:

“When the colonists of America desired possession of the land, they saw that a weak aboriginal race was in their way. What did they do? They got hold of them, killed them, and buried them underground. This is a fair indication of what will happen to the weaker peoples of the world in another two or three hundred years when the stronger races will have developed themselves to the position of complete mastery of all things material. They will not then, as they have not in the past, allow a weak and defenceless race to stand in their way, especially if in their doing so they will endanger their happiness, their comfort and their pleasure. These are the things that strike the thoughtful Negro as being dangerous, and these are the things that cause us who make up the Universal Negro Improvement Association to be fighting tenaciously for the purpose of building up a strong Negro race, so as to make it impossible for us to be exterminated in the future to make room for the stronger race, even as the North American Indian has been exterminated to make room for the great white man on the North American continent.”

–[ Amy Jacques-Garvey, ed..

Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey

(New York: Atheneum, 1992), Part I, pp. 63-64.]

Furthermore, our education doesn’t teach us that the Arabs and Europeans are our cardinal enemies. As Chancellor Williams concluded after documenting the facts:

” ‘

the whites are the implacable foe, the traditional and everlasting enemy of the Blacks’. . . The necessary re-education of Blacks and a possible solution of racial crises can begin, strangely enough, only when Blacks fully realize this central fact in their lives: The white man is their Bitter Enemy. For this is not the ranting of wild-eyed militancy, but the calm and unmistakable verdict of several thousand years of documented history.”

–Chancellor Williams,

The Destruction of Black Civilization, p.310

—————– 11

The above are some of the fundamentals we must know about our global-political environment if we are to organize ourselves to survive as a people in this world. And yet the education system we inherited half-a-century ago from the European colonialists, and have foolishly retained, does not supply us with such knowledge. What good is an education that keeps us blind to reality, that alienates us from our group, that fails to teach us our basic interests?

Have you educated a child if you don’t teach him about the situation he is in; or about the geography of his home; or about the snakes and scorpions and mosquitoes that abound in his environment; or about the habits and tricks of the liars and thieves and armed robbers that he will meet every day?

As we need to know all these things in order to survive as a race, needless to say, we need to create the type of education that will teach us all these things, and more.


Political education, education about our global-political environment, is indispensable.


Without it, we are like a farmer who does not know his soil, his crops and the weather under which he farms; like a hunter who knows nothing about the behavior of the animals he encounters; like a plane whose crew know nothing about the sky and the weather through which they fly.




Knowing Ourselves


In addition to not knowing the world in which we live, we also do not know ourselves. In particular, we do not know our weaknesses, weaknesses which our enemies have studied and still exploit to get their way with us. As Cabral insisted:

“One type of struggle we regard as fundamental is . . .

the struggle against our own weaknesses.

–Amilcar Cabral, [

Unity and Struggle: 121]

We therefore need to admonish ourselves:


Black Man, Know thyself; study your weaknesses and get rid of them!


We must ruthlessly eliminate all the traits in our character and in our culture that enable others to dominate our race. Below are some cultural flaws we must fix by education if we want to get and stay liberated, flaws that have made us easy prey for Arab and European predators for the past two millennia. 12

Here are some of the traits that must go:


(a) “We are not a suspicious race. We believe in the inherent goodness of man.”

–Steve Biko,

I Write What I Like

, p. 42

We have to stop being naïvely trusting. We need to learn, as John Le Carre said somewhere, that “survival is an infinite capacity for suspicion.”




(b) Mollie West, writing in 2009, said:

“It’s hard to believe how (forgive my language) fucked up many of us are in our heads. I no longer wonder why we haven’t achieved liberation as a group.

We cling to unreal ideas about existence and who we are.”

(c) “black people are the biggest stumbling block to their own liberation. We’re humane to the world and yet traitors when it comes to one another. It’s madness.”


(d) As Steve Biko pointed out:

Africans are a deeply religious race. –Steve Biko,

I Write What I Like, p.44

And Mollie West elaborated:

“Somehow Blacks have the strange notion that ‘everything will fall into place for them if they just pray.’ Ha! Prayer certainly has its place, but we’ve been complacent for far too long now, and if the end came tomorrow for us as a people, I wouldn’t be surprised one iota. I’d say, ‘We had enough time!’”


(e) Our programmed craziness

As Amos Wilson diagnosed, we are a crazy people: “Our mentality has been reversed and our behavior made backwards because we take the lie for the truth, and the truth for the lie.” [See Amos Wilson,

The Falsification of Afrikan Consciousness, New York: Afrikan World InfoSystems, 1993, p. 25] We won’t even accept the fact that the Arabs are not part of us, let alone that they are our permanent enemies. And as Mollie West perceptively said, we “cling to unreal ideas about existence and who we are.” Such are the attributes of crazy Niggas. And while we cling to our maladaptive nigga behavior, we want to stop being called niggas; we want to be respected and treated as equals by the sane sections of humanity! No way!! 13

(f) Another Afrocidal trait is a fatalistic patience, especially under misrule, which General Jan Smuts, that white supremacist promoter of imperialist Pan Africanism, described in 1930 as “one of the world’s marvels, second only to the ass’s”.

Any shortlist of our weaknesses must include what Nkrumah described as

(g) “a lack of malice, an absence of the desire for vengeance for our wrongs”. [Nkrumah,

Revolutionary Path: 114]. Though Nkrumah lists this among the admirable traits of the African Personality, we need to take a critical look at it, for it is, in fact, Afrocidal.

Other observers have described it more candidly and in more revealing detail. For example, an American reporter, David Lamb, after 5 years traveling and observing Africans in 48 countries during the late 1970s, said:

“Given all he has had to endure from the beginning of slavery to the end of colonialism, the African displays a racial tolerance that is nothing short of amazing. He holds no apparent grudge against the European as an individual, and it is rare indeed for any white person to experience even the slightest indignity because of his color. . . . The African has forgiven, if not forgotten.”

As a white settler in Kenya, a former hunter of Mau Mau freedom fighters, explained to Lamb:

“Why has it been forgotten? Well, partly I think, because the African isn’t capable of the depth of emotion that the European has. He doesn’t love his women or hate his enemies with the same intensity. You look at a good solid white hatred and it can last for generations. Africans don’t hate that way.”

But, on the other hand, Lamb notes:

“For a people who have had to tolerate so many injustices over the centuries, yet have remained basically gentle, polite and racially equitable, I was constantly shocked to see the cruelty, even sadism, that Africans inflict on one another so willingly.”

And he wondered what makes the African “a fatalist, intent on his own survival but caring little for those who are less fortunate.”

–[David Lamb,

The African, 1985:161-162,164, 235,236]

Likewise, from Canada in the 1980s, another investigator, O. McKague, reported: 14


As one female member of the Nationalist party told me, one can treat blacks like dirt for years, cease such treatment, and almost immediately they are willing to be your best friends. This, she explained, is because blacks do not have the capacity either to feel injustices or to remember them. Jews, she stated, are quite



[a different matter]



–- [McKague, O. ed.,

Racism in Canada, Saskatoon: Fifth House,1991: 93]

This obscene rush to forgive and forget even the most grievous wrong, provided it is done to us by the white enemy, was most publicly exhibited in Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission which, quite sacrilegiously, placed on the same moral level both the violence of the Apartheid oppressors and the counter violence of those who fought their oppressors! The armed aggressor violence of the Apartheid state criminals who inflicted the Sharpeville and other massacres and who murdered Steve Biko was treated as no different morally from the unarmed, defensive counter violence of the children of the Soweto uprising.

Tutu’s approach is as obscene as condemning equally for violence the soldier’s hand that is strangling a baby and the milk teeth by which the baby tries to bite off the strangler’s hand!


(h) “the resignation and the apathy of too many of our people are part of the means by which the system maintains itself. The fear of trusting and uniting with each other, the fear of coming together and solving our problems together, the belief that it is just not in us to unite and solve our problems and overcome the dominance of European imperialism itself becomes a part of the problem and helps to maintain the system.” — Amos Wilson,

The Falsification of Afrikan Consciousness, New York: Afrikan World InfoSystems, 1993, p. 75


(i) According to Cheikh Anta Diop, “one of the weaknesses of black civilization, particularly during medieval times, was the openness, the cosmopolitanism of these societies. . . . And today, one of the basic weaknesses of African societies is that they still maintain this inherited cosmopolitan trait.” –[

Great African Thinkers, p. 243] which is why we welcome, even invite, Arabs, Indians etc into our Pan-African movement, on the grounds that anybody born in Africa is an African. On this principle, we would suicidally embrace and welcome a python into our family meeting simply because it has made its nest in a corner of our compound. We thus disregard the basic fact, as is said in Jamaica, that ‘simply being born in Jamaica does not make one a Jamaican, in the same way that a chicken hatched in an oven is not a biscuit.’ 15

Our enemies have studied us thoroughly, which is why they easily defeated and continue to dominate us. Let us avail ourselves of what they have found out about us, however painful and distasteful their findings may be, and let us consciously work to give up those self-defeating traits.

Here are two sketches of the Negro/Black African character; one by P.W. Botha, the last-but-one President of Apartheid South Africa, and the other by Frederick Lugard, the conqueror and founder of Nigeria.

“the Black is the raw material for the White man. . . . Blacks cannot rule themselves. Give them guns and they will kill each other. They are good in nothing else but making noise, dancing, marrying many wives and indulging in sex. Let us all accept that the Black man is the symbol of poverty, mental inferiority, laziness and emotional incompetence.. . most Blacks are vulnerable to money inducements. . . . His inferior sense of morals can be exploited beautifully. And here is a creature that lacks foresight. There is a need for us to combat him in long term projections that he cannot suspect. The average Black does not plan his life beyond a year: that stance, for example, should be exploited.”

— President P.W. Botha, of Apartheid South Africa, to his Cabinet,1985


“In character and temperament” wrote Lord Lugard, “the typical African of this [Negro] race-type is a happy, thriftless, excitable person, lacking in self control, discipline, and foresight, . . . His thoughts are concentrated on the events and feelings of the moment, and he suffers little from the apprehension for the future or grief for the past. . . . He lacks the power of organisation, and is conspicuously deficient in the management and control alike of men or business. He loves the display of power, but fails to realise its responsibility. His most universal natural ability lies in eloquence and oratory. . . . He is very prone to imitate anything new in dress or custom, whether it be the turban and flowing gown of the Moslem, or the straw hat and trousers of the European, however unsuited to his environment and conditions of life. . . .In brief, the virtues and defects of this race-type are those of attractive children, . . . they bear no malice and nurse no grievance.. . .”

–Frederick, John, Dealtry Lugard,

The Dual Mandate in British Tropical Africa, (London: Frank Cass & Co. Ltd, 1965, 5th Edition), pp. 69 –70. 16

Any honest assessor of how Nigerians have mis-managed Nigeria in the fifty years since they got self-government in 1960, will acknowledge that Lugard thoroughly understood the people he conquered and ruled so easily.

I have presented above a list of some self-defeating traits of the Negro/Black race. Some of these traits were pointed out by Negroes/Blacks, some were pointed out by Whites. We need to be aware of all of them, and must resolve to correct these weaknesses.

What our education must do and become

Think of the issues I have raised thus far in this paper. They should properly determine the core aspects of an Afrocentric education, of any education of Black Africans in the interest of Black Africans, any education that aims to carry out what, according to Amos Wilson, is the major function of Black African education, i.e. to help secure the survival of Black people.


Bearing in mind the fact that the countries, societies and races on earth are in an unceasing struggle for power, prosperity and status; and also bearing in mind the ancient Chinese military adage: “Know yourself, know your enemy; and in a hundred battles you will never be defeated”, we must consciously invent an education system that will serve us well in that inescapable struggle.


We must invent an education system that gets us to understand, not only ourselves and our European and Arab enemies, but also the way the world of today works and was put together. It must get us to understand all the other peoples with whom we must share this planet Earth. Such an education is a strategic necessity for our survival.

We must also consciously fashion an Afrocentric education system, formal and informal, that will repair the colossal damage that centuries of defeats and enslavement, and a century or more of Eurocentric education has done to the Black African psyche.


In summary, what is needed is an Afrocentric education that grooms the young to be loyal to the Black race, to feel responsible for ending the humiliations of the race and psychologically prepares them to take full control of our societies and our destiny, and grooms them not to tolerate dishonor to the race, and makes them psychologically driven to independently define Black Africa’s interests and go forth, boldly and skillfully, to defend and advance them.


I shall comment on these core aspects under the following ten headings: Afrocentric Political Education; Education for race loyalty; Education for the unification of our peoples; 17

Education for strong racial consciousness and solidarity; Education for security consciousness; Afrocentric re-orientation of disciplines; Education for productivity; Education for social responsibility; Education for autonomous modernization; Education for an Afrocentric governing cadre.

1] Afrocentric political education


n political education, Nkrumah correctly urged:

“Our youth from the primary schools, through the secondary schools to the universities and higher institutions of learning, . . . must be taught to know the workings of neo-colonialism and trained to recognize it wherever it may rear its head. They must not only know the trappings of colonialism and imperialism, but they must also be able to smell out the hide-outs of neo-colonialism.”


–Nkrumah, [

Revolutionary Path: 190]

Lest we forget, Nkrumah set a worthy example

by founding the Winneba Institute, and the Young Pioneers. Have we been following his wise prescription and example? Are we teaching Pan-Africanism, or colonialism and neo-colonialism in our primary schools, secondary schools and tertiary institutions? Are we implanting in the minds of our children the motivating vision of an industrialized and powerful and respected Black Africa? Do we teach them to defend, at any price, the honor and the land of the Black race? Are we updating our knowledge of imperialism as it evolves?

2] Education for race loyalty

We need to effectively compete for the emotional loyalty of African children – that is, their loyalty to Black African people, Black African culture and Black African interests. In the past century, through television, school curriculum, religious institutions, and “social inertia”, black children have been routinely, and very early, imbued with loyalty to non-African peoples and cultures, and most importantly, to non-African

interests. This needs to be changed by effective educational measures. These should be carefully and imaginatively worked out.

3] Education and the unification of peoples:

The teaching of history, culture and languages should be guided by the need to unify the peoples of Black Africa through shared languages, values and histories. Diop’s prescription should be followed. 18

4] Education for strong racial consciousness and solidarity

As Chancellor Williams pointed out:

“Caucasians will wage frightful wars against other Caucasians, but will quickly unite, as though by instinct, against non-whites, not only in wars but in international politics. They have developed a kind of built-in solidarity in their relations with non-Caucasian peoples. This fact, as much as anything else, helps to explain their position as masters of the world.” –Chancellor Williams,

Destruction . . ., p.298

We need to emulate this racial solidarity of the Caucasians. One important way to bring this about is by consciously designing education curriculums that foster Negro or Black racial solidarity.

5] Education for security consciousness

The average Black African today, military leaders included, is obsessed with personal prosperity.

The security of his country or race from enemy attack is the last thing on the mind of the Negro/Black African; but given the dismal history of the Negro, it ought to be his paramount concern; it ought to be the framework within which all else, especially personal wealth, is subordinately situated since, as Cheikh Anta Diop pointed out, it is on the public welfare that the individual welfare depends. And, after all, isn’t it much better to be a poor member of a strong country or race than to be a rich member of a weak and defenceless country or race?

In the 1930s, following the Italian attack on Abyssinia, Garvey warned us that “unpreparedness is a crime”. It is a warning we still need to heed. What is needed is an education that produces in each person a state of preparedness for the likely dangers to the country and the race, and of watchfulness for the unexpected. We desperately need an education curriculum to produce habits of alertness and careful observation; logical and comprehensive situation analysis; problem solving aptitudes; facility for logistics, [Chess would be helpful here]; security consciousness [through early training in martial arts together with a year of compulsory military service for all 18-year-olds.]

6] Afrocentric re-orientation of disciplines-e.g. history, economics

Every discipline taught in Black Africa should be deliberately re-oriented to serve Black Africa. 19

History and economics, especially, need to be re-oriented. History should be obliged to teach African and world history from an Afrocentric perspective. Economics should be reorganized away from the allegedly universal doctrines and principles that promote European power and wealth; it should be obliged to explain how Black Africa can escape from the tyranny of the world market that has been designed by Europeans for European global hegemony. Afrocentric Economics should be specially charged to show us how to transform our abundant resources into wealth and economic security, with full employment, for all in Black Africa. Rather than mislead us with neo-liberal doctrines and theories of ‘development’ that have never produced industrialization anywhere, it should emphasize economic history, particularly case studies of industrialization, so we know why and how it was actually accomplished in the already industrialized countries.

7] Education for productivity to meet Black Africa’s material needs

Education should be re-designed to emphasize practical and management skills, to prepare each of its products for making some simple necessities like food, clothing, environmentally suitable houses, household goods, etc. This redesign should result in a high density of applied productive and management skills in the population, and prepare the way for every village or town to become dense with goods-producing enterprises. It should make a healthy break from the prestige-laden academic education that the colonizers introduced to provide them with clerks and administrative auxiliaries.

8] Education for social responsibility

Every school leaver, whatever the practical skills acquired, should be burning with a desire to take responsibility for the entire society and the Black race. Needed is an education designed to instill in the population, and especially in the elite, a devotion to meritocracy and a deep sense of responsibility for the whole country and the whole race; an education that teaches that the survival and power of the Black race, and the autonomy of the community are supreme values, supreme because they are the indispensable guarantors of individual wealth and liberties; an education that teaches that it is the responsibility of each member of the community to look out for and help guarantee the survival of the race and the autonomy of the community.

9] Education for autonomous modernization

Examples to learn from. 20

Meiji Japan—selective adoption of foreign practices. We should adapt and adopt their slogan: “wakon yosai”= Japanese spirit, western technology/technique/knowledge.

Maoist China—Socialism with Chinese characteristics (China resisted Russian pressure to get China to toe the Russian line, and this led to the Sino-Soviet rupture.) We should be taught to find and stick to our own path of modernization, without yielding to any hegemonists, even if they are our allies.

Castro’s Cuba—Worked out its own path to modernization after overthrowing US neocolonialism.

South Korea

To achieve the industrialization of South Korea that he thought was necessary for defense and prosperity Park Chung Hee, when he seized power in 1961, generally relied upon private businesses, the chaebol. The Park regime initiated a successful program of industrialization for South Korea based upon export-oriented industries which were guided and aided by the government.

10] Education for an Afrocentric governing cadre

One of the roots of Black Africa’s problems is the unnoticed fact that its elites are not governing cadres but self-seeking individuals addicted to possessive individualism. A governing cadre is a tightly-knit group of persons trained for a government of service and duty; trained to take collective responsibility for the survival and the long-term welfare of the country it governs; trained to a sense of duty to serve and safeguard the public interest; and trained to approach its governmental responsibilities with deliberation and seriousness; an elite is not trained to these things. Though composed of the best and brightest individuals in their fields, and though dominant in the pinnacles of the power institutions of its society or country, an elite is not necessarily imbued with a sense of group responsibility for their country, or with a sense of duty to serve the public interest. Only when it is so trained does it become a governing class. As Walter Rodney pointed out:

“Any socio-political system needs its cadres. That was the role played by the youngest age-grades in Shaka’s armies and it was the role played by the Komsomol or Young Communists in the Soviet Union. Being a cadre involved not just training for a practical job but also political orientation to serve as a leading element in the system.”— Rodney, Walter

How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, (London: Bogle L’Ouverture, 1988), p. 258

Other countries have their unique ways and their elite schools for indoctrinating the cadres that eventually take total charge of their country. Think of Britain’s public schools with 21

their character-building game of cricket. Think of the handful of elite schools (grandes ecoles) that have produced most of the political, intellectual and administrative leaders of France in the last two centuries. Think of the imperial examination system that produced the Confucian-indoctrinated mandarins that governed Imperial China. Think too of the education system that indoctrinated the scribes and bureaucrats who governed Pharaonic Egypt for thousands of years.

50 years on, the elites of Black Africa are a far cry from the cadres we need: men and women with the standards of public service and capacity for leadership which self-rule requires. The absence, in Black Africa, of an Afrocentric and Pan-Africanist cadre has meant that no functional Pan-African programs or political movements can be sustained, or presented as viable alternatives to the neo-colonial status quo. There is, therefore, a paramount need to organize leadership training to produce an Afrocentric governing cadre that is indoctrinated to take full responsibility for every aspect of a Black African country.

Concluding remarks

In educating our children, let me recommend an approach which I found useful for decolonizing my own colonially mis-educated mind. Here is what I wrote in the preface to

The West And The Rest Of Us, (1975) :

[Black] Africans especially, must endeavor to see clearly the larger system of things in which we are enmeshed or be irretrievably lost in catacombs of irrelevant details; and . . . we must understand the awful predicament that binds us together or we shall be repeatedly manipulated to fight one another and so hasten the march of disaster upon ourselves. . . .I have found it invaluable to focus upon the arsenal of techniques accumulated to serve western imperialism, and upon the structures and processes whereby the West constrains events, determines our views and actions, and shapes our realities. If this approach should contribute to clarifying for the reader . . . how that world stage was put together and is managed upon which African and other Third World nations have to perform to regain their liberty; if it should help us decrease, even by one jot or tittle, our susceptibility to being lured by carrots, intimidated by the lash of sticks, or stampeded by hysteria into collaborating in the defeat of our enlightened [Black African] interests, then this work would have done more than I could seriously hope for.


The West And The Rest Of Us, (New York: Random House, 1975), preface , p. xxii)

———– 22




Biko, Steve

I Write What I Like, (Oxford: Heinemann African Writers Series, 1987)

Cabral, Amilcar

Unity & Struggle, (London: Heinemann Educational Books, 1980)


The West And The Rest Of Us, (New York: Random House, 1975; New ed.,

Pero Press, 1987)

Fanon, Frantz

The Wretched of the Earth, (New York: Grove Press, 1968)

Jacques-Garvey, Amy ed..

Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey (New York:

Atheneum, 1992),

Lamb, David

The Africans, (New York: Vintage Books 1985)

Lugard, Frederick, John, Dealtry

The Dual Mandate in British Tropical Africa,

(London: Frank Cass & Co. Ltd, 1965, 5th Edition).

McKague, O. ed

Racism in Canada, (Saskatoon: Fifth House, 1991); quoted in

Bankie, F. and Mchombu, K. eds

Pan Africanism, (Windhoek: Gamsberg Macmillan, 2006)

Nkrumah, Kwame

Revolutionary Path (London: Panaf Books, 1973 )

Prah, Kwesi

The African Nation (Cape Town: CASAS, 2006)

Rodney, Walter

How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, (London: Bogle L’Ouverture,


Van Sertima, Ivan ed.

Great African Thinkers, (New Brunswick: Transaction Books, 1986)

Williams, Chancellor

The Destruction of Black Civilization, (Chicago: Third World

Press, 1987)

Wilson, Amos

The Falsification of Afrikan Consciousness, (New York: Afrikan

World InfoSystems, 1993).

Wilson, Amos “The Sociopolitical context of Education”, in

Awakening the

Natural Genius of Black Children, 

2nd Edition, (New York: Afrikan World InfoSystems, 1992)

  ©Chinweizu 2010


New light on Nelson Mandela’s autobiography

February 11, 2014 § 1 Comment


A new light is now shining on Nelson Mandela’s political biography and on the history of South Africa as the result of the release of an important document by the Mandela Centre of Memory. 

The document in question is a 627-page typescript that seems to have been placed online just a few days before Mandela’s death in December 2013.  Why the Centre of Memory decided to place such an important and even explosive text online at that juncture is unclear.  The Centre made no attempt to publicize the move, for example by announcing the publication on its homepage (see the Centre’s response here – Editor).

The document that can now be consulted by internet users here is a draft autobiography that was secretly handwritten by Mandela in Robben Island prison before being smuggled out, typed up, and handed to Yusuf Dadoo, chairman of the South African Communist Party, in August 1977.  This was the document that was re-worked in the years after Mandela’s release from prison to form the basis for Long Walk to Freedom, the best-selling autobiography published in 1994. 

It is clear from even a quick read that the prison manuscript, on which Mandela started work in 1974, is the product of a collective effort since it is strewn with editorial notes.  To judge from information already in the public domain, the original editorial team that got to work on Robben Island included, in addition to Mandela himself, Ahmed Kathrada, Walter Sisulu and Mac Maharaj.  The manuscript was originally intended as an inspiration to potential readers to join the fight against apartheid.

A still deeper mystery is why the document remained unpublished after being smuggled out of prison in 1977.  Who knew of its existence throughout the long years before its publication, other than Yusuf Dadoo and a handful of others who are known to have had sight of it or to have worked on it?  Why did they not publish it at once? 

Who made the crucial decision to bring in an experienced journalist, Richard Stengel from Time magazine, to give the manuscript the expert makeover that enabled it to sell over 15 million copies worldwide?  The book Long Walk to Freedom was far more than a publishing sensation in terms of the money it generated.  Appearing while the transition from apartheid was not yet complete, it was a powerful propaganda tool on behalf of the ANC.

Study of the untitled Robben Island typescript tells us about far more than the process of literary creation.  It reveals some of the dynamics concerning Nelson Mandela’s relationship with the Communist Party in particular. 

For anyone interested in history and politics, the main differences between the 1970s manuscript and the 1994 book could perhaps be grouped in two.  First, there are key historical details.  The prison manuscript contains information that help us to fill in the chronology of some key moments in South African history, most obviously the turn to armed struggle in 1960-1961 and Mandela’s historic tour of Africa in 1962 – his first-ever journey outside South Africa – when he had important second thoughts on the nature of the ANC’s relationship with the South African Communist Party (SACP). 

The second key point of interest is the abundance of information in the prison memoir on Mandela’s personal relationship with the SACP and his embrace of the main tenets of Marxism-Leninism.

The chronology of struggle

The 1970s manuscript makes plain that Mandela began thinking about the possibilities of armed struggle at an early period.  In one of the many drafted passages in the manuscript that were not taken up or were somewhat relegated in Long Walk to Freedom, on pages 141-42, Mandela informs us how, when he learned that his friend Walter Sisulu had been invited to Romania to attend the World Festival of Youth and Students for Peace and Friendship in 1952, “I took advantage of this opportunity to put him [sic] my views on alternative methods of struggle and suggested that from the Festival he should visit the People’s Republic of China and arrange for arms”. 

Sisulu did exactly that. “The Chinese leaders received him warmly”, the Mandela text continues, “and took pains to warn that an armed struggle was a very serious matter to undertake and questioned whether the conditions in South Africa had matured sufficiently to justify such an undertaking”.  The Chinese were correct in thinking that an armed struggle in South Africa would be premature, as later events were to show.

While Mandela’s thoughts were turning to the use of violence at this relatively early stage, in the same passage he mentions that “he defended the [ANC] policy of non-violence until the three Day Strike of May 1961”.  Reflection on this apparent contradiction needs to be based on awareness of a crucial historical event, knowledge of which became public only quite recently. This was the convening of an SACP conference in Emmarentia in December 1960 at which the Party adopted a secret resolution instructing its Central Committee to prepare for armed struggle.  Mandela was a Party member at that time and one of just 25 or so people present at that crucial meeting.

Moreover, the decision to take up arms had been preceded by discreet soundings taken by SACP delegates visiting Moscow and Beijing, including a meeting between Party delegates Yusuf Dadoo and Vella Pillay with Mao Zedong in person on 3 November 1960. 

In effect, then, as from December 1960 the SACP was set on a course of armed struggle with guarantees of support from the Communist superpowers of the day.  Mandela was one of the few people aware of this fateful decision.  Since he was a member not only of the Central Committee of the SACP but also of senior organs of the ANC, he was crucially placed in both organizations.  Knowing this, how are we to understand Mandela’s assurance, quoted in the previous paragraph, that he defended the policy of non-violence until May 1961, six months after he had backed a Communist Party resolution in favour of armed struggle? 

The reader needs to be attentive to the precise wording of the sentence, suggesting that Mandela was publicly defending the formal ANC policy of non-violence even while, as is known, he was in his capacity as a senior member of the SACP preparing for exactly the opposite.  This explanation also throws light on other passages, such as at page 411 where he recalls travelling to Port Elizabeth, apparently in April 1961, and spending a day with Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba and others “discussing problems relating to the new structure of the ANC as an underground organisation”. 

Given that Mbeki and Mhlaba were among the magic circle of ANC people who had also been present at the December 1960 SACP that had resolved to prepare for war, it is hard to imagine that these two and Mandela did not also discuss military affairs.  When Mandela moved on to Cape Town in the same trip, meeting Archie Sibeko, Oscar Mpeta, Reggie September, Alex La Guma, Brian Bunting, Fred Carneson and others, it is likely that the same was true. 

As the Robben Island manuscript puts it (page 417), “some of our dedicated men were becoming impatient with passive forms of action. I had realised that this was a trend that had come to stay and that in due course it would become irresistible”.  Remarks and details such as this acquire new significance when we know that Mandela had effectively been mandated by the SACP six months earlier to canvass support for armed struggle within the ANC. 

In short, the release of the Robben Island manuscript gives us new material to make a detailed reconstruction of how South Africa embarked on its long armed struggle, via careful re-examination of the sequence of events from early 1960 until the formal unveiling of Umhonto we Sizwe in December 1961.

Mandela and the SACP

Certainly the Robben Island manuscript reveals the intensity of Mandela’s attachment to Marxism by the late 1950s, if not earlier.  On page 100 he recalls, when mentioning his early reading on Marxism, that “[l]ater I was to embrace dialectical and historical materialism as my philosophy”.  He goes on to describe the dialectical method as “a mighty weapon which puts me in a strong position to realise all my aspirations as a nationalist and as a member of the human race” (page 102). 

It is apparent that Mandela had moved very close to the Communist Party by the late 1950s.  The text stops short only of stating that he actually joined the SACP, as his friend Walter Sisulu had done in 1955.  Another prominent Communist, John Pule Motshabi, once recalled that the recruitment of both Mandela and Sisulu into the SACP had occurred “after the 1950 campaigns”.  The South African Police was eventually to conclude that Mandela’s recruitment was not until 1960.

Inherent in Mandela’s philosophical and political embrace of Marxism was a series of positions on political matters consistent with an orthodox Marxist-Leninist view at that time.  Following on from the passage in which he made explicit his embrace of dialectical and historical materialism, there comes an extended passage-needless to say, not included in Long Walk to Freedom-in which Mandela praises Soviet foreign policy, which “fully supported the national struggles of the colonial people”. 

Elsewhere, on page 194, when he casually names a string of imperialist countries, it is notable that all of them are in the Western camp of the Cold War, implying that Communist powers by their very nature cannot be imperialist.  This was in fact an argument that Mandela maintained in some of his public utterances during the late 1950s, such as his piece “A New Menace in Africa”, published in the monthly journal Liberation in March 1958.  Page 180 of the Robben Island manuscript provides a justification of the two-stage theory of revolution, a key plank of SACP policy that was also to become popular within the ANC in course of time. 

In light of later events, perhaps the most interesting passage regarding policy matters is a discussion of the use of coercion-in this context, a synonym for violence-in politics.  The passage in question, on page 327, arises from a description of the ANC’s organisation of a strike in 1958.  Mandela tells us that he and his colleagues in the ANC “have often discussed the question to what extend [sic] we should rely on coercive measures in organising political demonstrations” (page 327).  ANC policy was “against the use of coersive [sic] measures as a means of mobilising the support of the people”, the text notes. 

However in debating the question Mandela comes to the striking conclusion that “the real issue is whether the use of force will advance or retard the struggle”.  In the last resort, if the use of force will advance the struggle, “then it must be used whether or not the majority agrees with us” (page 328). 

While many governments may adopt the position that it is permissible to use force even though it has only minority support if it is deemed necessary by those in authority, such a statement in the context in which it occurs in the Robben Island memoir is tantamount to a ringing endorsement of one of the most outstanding features of Marxism-Leninism-that it is morally permissible to use violence provided only that it will help “the struggle”. 

The means by which the true direction of the struggle may be discerned are not made explicit at this point, but given other statements in the manuscript we are forced to the conclusion that, in the thinking of Nelson Mandela at least until the mid-1970s, this was by correct application of the method of historical and dialectical materialism. 

Some other passages in the Robben Island text that touch on the subject of violence are also quite vehement.  At times, Mandela tells us, he was bitter against South African whites in general, feeling that they “need another Isandhlwana” (page 194)-a reference to the bloody defeat of British troops by a Zulu army in 1879.  “South African whites”, Mandela continues in another passage, “have been bred on racialism for 3 centuries, and mere speeches alone….will never make them surrender and share political power and the natural wealth of the country with the blacks” (page 399). 

It is indeed hard to deny that the obduracy of the South African government for many years made it hard to imagine how apartheid could ever be overthrown without recourse to violence. But remarks this virulent had become somewhat off-message by the time Mandela’s autobiography was eventually published in 1994.  No doubt Mandela’s own thinking had evolved in the twenty years that had by then elapsed since he started work on his memoir. 

He once told US President Bill Clinton how angry he had been during his first 11 years of his imprisonment on Robben Island, which would mean until about 1975.  Among the experiences that appear to have mellowed him thereafter was the shock of seeing the 1976 cohort of young revolutionaries, veterans of the Soweto rising who began arriving on the Island and who shocked Mandela and many others of his generation by the depth of their anger. 

By publishing the Robben Island draft of Mandela’s autobiography, the Nelson Mandela Foundation has performed a service to scholars intent on better understanding the nature of the anti-apartheid struggle and even its basic chronology.  Neither of these are well understood.  People always find it hard fully to understand the times they live in, leaving history to unfold its meanings only gradually.  But in this case something more is afoot, namely how the history of the struggle was so skilfully hidden for so long as the South African Communist Party and its allies deployed the strategic use of deception and propaganda. 

Thanks to the internet publication of the Robben Island manuscript, we can now see a little more.

Stephen Ellis is Professor of social sciences at the Free University, Amsterdam, and author of External Mission: The ANC in Exile, 1960-1990  (Jonathan Ball).

Missing Manuscripts Reveal Real Mandela

February 11, 2014 § Leave a comment

By Rian Malan

This is a story about Nelson Mandela, and it begins on Robben Island in 1974. Prisoner number 466/64 is writing up his life story, working all night and sleeping all day. Finished pages go to trusted comrades who write comments and queries in the margins. The text is then passed to one Laloo Chiba, who transcribes it in ‘microscopic’ letters on to sheets of paper which are later inserted into the binding of notebooks and carried off the island by Mac Maharaj when he is released in 1976. Outside, the intrepid Mac turns the microscopic text into a typescript and sends it to London, where it becomes the Higgs boson of literary properties, known to exist but not seen since it passed into the hands of the South African Communist Party, or SACP, in 1977.



Years pass; the mystery deepens. Mandela goes from being an obscure South African prisoner to possibly the most famous living human, subject of global adulation and a ghostwritten autobiography that sells 15 million. His cult is such that prints of his hands are sold for thousands, and yet the prison manuscript stays missing. Until last week, when Professor Stephen Ellis of the University of Leiden sent out an email saying: ‘You’ll never guess what I’ve just found in the online archive of the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory.’

So yes, the lost manuscript has come back to us and, with it, a range of fascinating questions. Why was it not published earlier? Why did it surface now? And above all, what light does it shed on Mandela’s Awkward Secret, first reported by Professor Ellis in 2011? Everyone thought Mandela was a known entity, but he turns out to have led a double life, at least for a time. By day, he was or pretended to be a moderate democrat, fighting to free his people in the name of values all humans held sacred. But by night he donned the cloak and dagger and became a leader of a fanatical sect known for its attachment to the totalitarian Soviet ideal. When Ellis first aired this theory, it read like a Cold War thriller, but when Mandela died last month, the African National Congress and the SACP both issued statements confirming that it was true: at the time of his arrest in 1962, Nelson Mandela was a member of the SACP’s innermost central committee.


This, then, is why Ellis and I were dizzy with excitement when the prison manuscript turned up last week: here was a rich new source of virgin material to be scanned for the smoking gun, the inside and untold story of Mandela’s secret life as a communist plotter. Alas, the smoking gun was not there. But the prison manuscript does offer insights into the manner in which Mandela’s image has been manipulated over the decades. It is common cause that the ANC decided in the 1960s to use Mandela as the anti-apartheid movement’s official poster boy. He was the obvious choice, a tall, clean-limbed tribal prince, luminously charismatic, married to the telegenic Winnie, and reduced by cruel circumstance to living martyrdom on a prison island. All you had to do was cleanse him of the communist taint and Bob’s your uncle: four decades down the road, you have the president of the USA getting weepy as he describes Mandela’s lifelong struggle for ‘your freedom, your democracy’.


There’s no accounting for taste, but one wonders if Barack Obama would have said that if he’d known his hero batted for the opposition during the Cold War. ‘I hate all forms of imperialism, and I consider the US brand to be the most loathsome and contemptible.’ ‘To a nationalist fighting oppression, dialectical materialism is like a rifle, bomb or missile. Once I understood the principle of dialectical materialism, I embraced it without hesitation.’

© 2014 The Spectator (1828) Ltd

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