The Black First Land First movement is dissapointed by the revelations in the anonymous letter below and hopes they are not true. We also hope without delay Prof Mbembe shall dispel the serious accusations of snitching, double dealing and total intellectual dishonesty. Black senior academics from UCT to Wits have in general been very disappointing during this important student revolt. At UCT people like Dr Xolela Mangcu supported students just enough to get his full professorship and then turned against the revolt, calling it vile and violent. UCT put their denunciation of the students at the front page of it’s publication. At Wits Prof Adam Habib is a little Hitler, good people like Prof Tawana Kupe put their signatures on measures to brutalize students. Now, the doyen of thought and globally admired Prof Mbembe is accused of aiding repression at Wits in ways that recall the old apartheid spies who wrecked havoc in the liberation movement. Where does Prof Achille Mbembe stand? With the students or with the administration that has chosen repression to engagement? This makes us to ask, is Achille a Dr Goebbels of Wits?
BLF has taken the firm position to support the revolutionary call to decolonize the university as a step towards the decolonising of racist South Africa. BLF supports the truth, the right to rebel and demands free education for all. Therefore the #FeesMustFall movement is a necessary development that must be supported by any means necessary.
We publish this “expose” on our official blog from the anonymous authors out of our belief that the truth must be protected and the students struggle advanced. We share with the anonymous authors the concern for free flow of ideas. We have seen how our own members have been treated at Wits by Habib’s askaris. Therefore, publishing this exchange is in defense of the obliterated freedom of thought at Wits. Until the state of emergency is lifted and freedom of thought and protest protected, we believe those writing under pen names are engaged in legitimate practice to make sure the truth comes out. Prof Mbembe has many avenues to respond to these allegations and we shall also publish his response in the interest of fairness because we believe in revolutionary truth.
Read the full anonymous email below.
——- Forwarded message ——-
Habib and the Intellectuals at his Heel.
It may seem unfair that the sentries called onto campus to crush #FeesMust Fall must wear the face of Adam Habib. Other Vice-Chancellors did it before him. And it is not as if Habib came up with the idea to saturate concourses and plazas with guards himself. This is exactly what government advised him to do. However Habib is the first person to own the tactic as a necessary philosophical act. And so, in Part I of our exposè, it becomes necessary to peer very closely into the face university authoritarianism wears.
Adam Habib, the son of merchants, grew up in relatively comfortable surrounds. Ambitious, quick-footed in debate, if tending to bravado, Habib started his political life as a fire-breathing revolutionary. With a lush mop of hair bouncing as he spoke, he railed against Mandela’s compromises with the Boers. He penned long pieces tearing apart the Communist Party’s two stage theory. In 1994, with some Trotskyist bedfellows, he founded the Workers Organisation for Socialist Action (WOSA). Besides the ‘socialist’ part, Wosa most unhappily lacked the three other ingredients to its name.
But never mind. Habib’s crowning glory was when he held aloft a huge WOSA banner at the front of a march in Maritzburg. The ANC were peeved. After all, it took Wosa’s entire constituency to hold aloft their dominating flag. But Habib stood firm. He would not be cowed just because his was a minority of six in a march of six thousand. You see, Habib was part of a vanguard who did not need mass suport to be correct.
Still, it was a terrible shock when WOSA participated in the first general election and got no seats. Familial instincts kicked in. Habib, started casting around for new markets.
Through old Left networks, he landed himself a junior lecturer’s job at UDW. At the university, in his maiden speech at a workers meeting in 1995, he called for occupying the administration building. The workers, mainly clerks and secretaries, were aghast. But for Habib, this is what a vanguard must do – push and prod consciousness along. If promotion came by the way, so much the better. By 1996, he dabbled with the John Saul position: the way to make revolution was to demand reforms that sparked more reforms that could not be contained or assimilated into the prevailing political economy. Until something gave – and revolution arrived.
The UDW struggle reached its acme when 14 of the 16 people on the selection committee voted to appoint Itumeleng Mosala as Vice-Chancellor. The ANC thought this a bad idea and vetoed it in Council. Students and staff mobilised in their thousands. Nobody was ever physically hurt by the mobilisations. The only hurt was caused by Combat Force, a notorious paramilitary outfit led by an ex-Selous Scout with close ties to IFP warlords. Habib’s union, COMSA, made significant gains. Workers were insourced. They could study for free and so could their children. A creche was made accessible to all. Attempts to privatise the residences were pushed back. Student fee increases were stalled. Criticism of neo-liberalism emerged not just in footnotes but by marching students and staff. These events are well documented.
But many progressives could not stand the spectre of the unruly mass. It was good to write about insurrection. It was another thing to go out on a limb, struggling alongside the militant poor. Especially when state repression loomed. A Commission of Inquiry set up and was packed with ANC hacks. It allowed no cross examination. Although no evidence was found to justify criminal prosecution, the Commission found UDW to be the home of an ultra-left group. They wielded too much power over management and had to be stopped. Habib himself was criticised. It was a close call. After getting his PhD, and now finally employable as a manager, Habib was all for suspending the revolution.
At the Centre for Civil Society at UKZN Habib distinguished himself as a first rate fund-raiser. His enthusiasm may have had something to do with the fact that he negotiated a cut of all the monies he brought in. In between he had a heart murmur. He survived. Overnight he went from raging atheist to five times a day namaaz.
Habib escaped Ramashala. He escaped Makgoba. Always leveraging a better deal. When he arrived at UJ, he applied himself to Rensburg like cheap lipstick. When Rensburg was exposed for upgrading his university house for millions, Habib was on hand with a sea of stories.
Today he is Vice-Chancellor of Wits with a fabulous salary. But he must have cursed the timing of it though. Had he been appointed ten years earlier, he would have ridden a gentle tide of sweetheart SRCs and students preoccupied with partying. But his arrival coincided with a generational upswell in student protest. He had a testy relationship with the SRC and, stupidly, tried to impose a huge 10% fee increase. In the middle of all this all, the FeesMustFall movement erupted on campuses countrywide. Demands ballooned. For a while, Habib struggled to keep a grip at Wits. The image of the combative intellectual sitting on the floor of Solomon House shouted at by students had other Vice-Chancellors chuckling. It was one thing to show humility and empathy. It was another to have to ask students if you could go to the loo.
But Habib was not only playing the Wits game of thrones. He was also playing an ANC version on the side. People do not understand this about the man. His insertion into ANC palace intrigues started just before Polokwane when Habib was part of a group mobilising for, (we do not know if there was a cut), Tokyo Sexwale as a compromise candidate between the feuding Mbeki and Zuma camps. His middle-man did not get the job. Since then, he has let his criticism of Zuma be known. As 2015 wound down, knowing it would please the students, he took a populist jab at Zuma. The ANC should recall their floundering leader, he tweeted.
He also got Premier Makura and Blade Nzimande on board by saying that it was the Premier League that was fostering dissent at tertiary institutions, especially the demands for Blade to go. He ended off 2015 with a poignant tweet praising students for the courageous activism they had shown. He was not being gracious in defeat. Habib already knew the tide had turned against the militants. The ANC had reigned the PYA and Sasco in. In the New Year, he’d only have a rump of diehards to mop up. During the festive season already, the process to contract private security to swamp the campus began.
If Habib has an Achilles heel, it is that he desires to still be respected within the Left academic circles he has left behind. He still publishes books and dabbles in theory. Some academics at Wits asked him point-blank how on earth he could justify bringing hired muscle onto campus. Surely the police should deal with students who exceeded their constitutional right to protest and assemble. Surely security men reporting directly to the VC are anathema to the university project? Habib was unsure how to answer these critiques.
But Habib did have an Achilles at his heel. Achille Mbembe, the erudite, great postmodernist, foremost champion of decolonisation and railer against structural violence, offered his services. If anyone could turn a phrase in favour of Habib’s henchmen it was he. And so, in a flurry of emails, Mbembe advised Habib just how to cast the hiring of guards so that the students ended up looking like thugs. Habib lifted Achilles paragraphs directly into his own letter. Is this plagiarism? No, we jest. It’s collaboration.
At the same time, Mbemebe published in the Daily Maverick an extract from a political diary he supposedly keeps as he goes along his thoughtful way, like so many Jewish and Black intellectuals, we are told. Oh, the preciousness of this man! And, given his situation as Habib’s advisor and speechwriter, everything about this article is in bad faith.
Mbembe starts leading his reader astray in the introduction saying his piece “is not a formal analysis of current events. It is an exercise in sympathetic critique, a tradition of reading one’s own times.” What nonsense! It’s an intervention. The article’s true audience is left and liberal academics who might still support FeesMustFall or not wish to be seen to openly oppose it. For them Mbembe poses the choice thus: Should they rally behind a minority of ideologues prone to fetishizing violence or support a crack-down on crypto-facist students masquerading as revolutionaries. He does not have the guts to openly say so, but its plain to see where he wants his readers to go. And many do, brave souls, letting loose on facebook about the ‘thugs’ present and past.
But does Mbembe not owe his reader the knowledge that he has already taken a very firm position on the question, a position he has secretly acted upon as a propagandist for Habib? No, he pretends to set out the debate between Adorno and Marcuse as a disinterested intellectual much like those pro-GMO academics who forget to mention they are in bed with Monsanto do. (Incidentally, he doesn’t do the debate justice. Eloquent man, Achille certainly is. Rigourous, not so much.)
Why does Mbembe not come clean? Because it will ruin a reputation he has so carefully cultivated. Of a theorist who remains above the fray out of sheer intelligence, delicacy even, but who is at heart a radical who would see radical shifts of power in the world around him. Supplying argument to a VC to justify bringing security onto campus with the express purpose of crushing dissent isn’t exactly a revealing site from which to reframe these renewed interrogations of the paradoxical resonances of an affirmative politics that entails the production of social horizons of hope where we will have to take seriously the anthropological embeddedness of such terms in long histories of “the student” as thug. (We kid you not, he writes sentences like these).
It gets worse, Mbembe actually attended a meeting where progressive staff mapped out a response to Habib’s letter, none the WISER that Mbembe himself helped draft the thing. When, over the weekend, Mbembe became aware his emails had leaked, he tried to cover his tracks, quickly posting on Facebook that he is critical of the students’ means, while supporting their ends. At so many levels, this is a disappointing position for the doyen of the post-colony to be in, the great assembler of quotes from Fanon, Adorno and Foucault. We can ony surmise that running off to Wits legal department to check for a hack and change all his passwords interrupted Achille’s aplomb. Once caught out, why not own up to the intellectual position the fright of #FeesMustFall had driven him to, proudly joining les nouveaux réactionnaires of the critical theory set?
Let it be clear, we have no problem with Mbembe taking sides. It is his right. There are parts of Habib’s letter that we do take to heart. If Mbembe openly championed liberal outcomes at Wits we would value engaging with him. However, it is the hypocrisy, the bad-faith, the pretense and what comes very close to spying to which we object.
There are other bit part players too, notably Richard Pithouse who made a name for himself as the uncompromising, democratic Left voice taking on the old authoritarian vanguard. This man who spawned a whole literature on barricades and the blockading of roads now returns as the implied justifier of private security. And as state repression bites, he becomes the weasel-worded legitimator of disciplinary action against “demagogic, authoritarian and abusive” individual militants whose tactics are now ‘ill-advised and reckless’. A while ago he excoriated “the sensitive middle class soul who professes a deep revulsion at all forms of violence” but who “is quite likely to call the police or a private security company if he wakes to the sound of breaking glass. Violence is seldom renounced in the absolute. It is more usually outsourced”. Pithouse counterposes the outsourced violence of the rich with the noble protests of the poor who have few channels of grievance available to them except disruption. And then, per Pithouse, the middle-class have the gall to slander forceful disruptions such as blockades as violent. Stirring words.
We can only explain Pithouse’s volte face on Facebook supporting Habib if we read his post as a job application. Why bother with selection committees, Deans and Human Resources when an opportunity presents to flatter the Wits CEO directly. Audacious move, sir!
Erstwhile Fanonists like Mbembe and Pithouse have revealed themselves as namby-pamby Nimbyists, willing to work for Snooty Buttoos, as long as this is semi-secret. Among the many things #FeesMustFall has achieved is that it has shown, in the face of disruptions by the black youth in the very institutions that these academics inhabit, and not at the comfortable distance from which they usually study their subjects, where their true politics lies.
Unfortunately #FeesMustFall will fall. Let is be fairly recorded who stood where on the social questions it raised. These pressures will not go away. And the tragedy of this country is that, for a lack of more disruptive tactics in the past, the ultimate disruption of complete social implosion still looms.
For his efforts, one day there will be a statute of Habib at Wits. Its inscription will read: ‘Adam Habib marched with the hares, but egged on the hounds’. The statue will face both ways at once. And Achille will be there too. At heel.
[We regret that we must post this anonymously. In this climate, the choice is between saying nothing controversial or cloaking our identity.
If you received this limited edition mail, the one who sent it on thought you should see it. And let you decide to whom it should go next, or be deleted if it serves no good.
Once the guards are gone, we’ll show our face.]
ISSUED BY THE NATIONAL COORDINATING COMMITTEE OF THE BLACK FIRST LAND FIRST MOVEMENT (BLF NCC)
27 JANUARY 2016
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