“The word intellectual has become a swear word”


 South Africa is in a critical period as it stands in a political vacuum caused by the ANC and exacerbated by the end of an epoch of intellectualism among black people, Dr Xolela Mangcu said yesterday at Think!Fest’s Free Thinker series.

“The talk is about the end of history, where black people are in danger of losing the political, intellectual and moral high-ground because of actions that emanate from leadership,” he said in his opening remarks.

Mangcu traced the history of black intellectualism, starting with an 1880 poem by Gcitashe, which signalled the 19th century black response to the introduction of European religion and education, and ended with Black Consciousness leader Steven Biko.

Mangcu argued that we currently lack black researchers who are concerned with issues affecting black people.

“There has been a displacement of intellectualism and a paucity of black intellectuals since the 1980s. Now the word intellectual has become a swear word,” he said.

As a result, we have seen an economic policy that has de-industrialised our economy, he argued. He criticised the housing policy, saying it was worse than during apartheid, as well as the social policy that put 15 million people on social grants. “A radical language was used as a mask or pretence that something is done for the interests of the people,” he said.

Mangcu argued that these challenges were caused by factionalism and the disintegration of the ruling party.

“Nothing is left but the shell of the party – it has turned into a trade union of the self- interested and a far cry from what it was when it was created,” he stated.

He argued that the problems within the party are deep. “It’s not about Zuma, it’s about the extent to which the ruling party has lost control of what is going on,” he said.

In his “Who’s Who” of black intellectuals, Mangcu mentioned WB Rubusana, who started Izwi Labantu newspaper, which became the voice of black people and a springboard for the establishment of the South African Native Party, which in 1923 became the African National Congress.

He also included SEK Mqhayi, who became known as Imbongi yesizwe, poet of the nation, ending with Njabulo Ndebele, Gatsha Buthelezi and Biko in the ’70s.

Mangcu concluded by asking what the future holds for black people if there is no direction in
the party.

“In fact, there is no party to speak of; it’s just factionalism and self-interest. That is the tragedy of the ANC,” he said.


– Abongile Sipondo-