Take the EFF's Fanon infatuation seriously

Paul Maritz says "On Violence" is a manifesto for anti-colonial and post-colonial murderousness

Self-intoxication: The EFF and Franz Fanon

13 May 2022

As the mind governs the body, a political party will be governed by its ideas. A party that runs out of ideas will inevitably stagnate (as might well be the case with the governing party in South Africa), but the party that introduces and celebrates the wrong ideas might well intoxicate itself, thereby becoming a risk for itself, and those around it. This article makes the point that the appraisal of and affinity for the ideas of Fanonism by the EFF is very dangerous self-intoxication and that it must be taken note of by the rest of South Africa.  

In March and April of 2020, while most of the world was locked down and living online, the popularity of online learning all but exploded. The fresh opportunities afforded by a newfound audience was not missed by the EFF, who started an online ideological stream, called the EFF Book Club. 

The model was simple enough: Floyd Shivambu, Dr. Mbuyiseni Ndlozi and various other EFF elite comrades read texts and excerpts which the EFF as a party deem an important source of knowledge, after which the importance and relevance of the particular text is discussed. After starting, rather predictably, with an introduction to Karl Marx on the 1st of April and Vladimir Lenin on the 5th, the third video, which aired on the 7th of April, and which is most relevant to this article, was on the work of Martinique-born author Franz Fanon.

The order of these first three videos poetically echoes the 2019 Constitution of the EFF, which states that “the Economic Freedom Fighters subscribes to the Marxist-Leninist and Fanonian schools of thought on its analysis of the state, imperialism, class, and race contradictions in every society.”

While most readers who are at all interested in the history of ideas will know who Marx and Lenin were, and what consequences their thoughts had, it would seem as if very few people outside of far-left politics have taken note of, or even heard of “Fanonism”, and the so-called “Fanonian school of thought”.

This clear one-sidedness in terms of the interpretation of Fanon has the practical implication that almost all the available literature on Fanon has been written by ardent disciples of his work, who romanticise it, and who do not address head on the clear and present dangers that his work presents to any kind of order, and any kind of stable future in South Africa. Seeing as this author is held in such high esteem by such an important voice in South African and African politics, closer inspection of his work is imperative.

Introducing Fanon

Franz Fanon was born in Martinique under French rule and died of leukaemia in 1961, at the young age of 36. Even though he was a psychiatrist, he is primarily known for his decolonial literature, especially Black Skin, White Masks (1952) and The Wretched of the Earth (1961). While revolution in Europe had mostly taken the form of a revolutionary wave which brings rapid devastation, as was the case in among others France in 1789 and Russia in 1917, Fanon proposes the idea of a “revolutionary war” which consists of multiple phases, and systematically brings the change that is longed for, unfolding over decades, even generations. To this point, he states in The Wretched of the Earth:

The leaders of the rebellion come to see that even very large-scale peasant risings need to be controlled and directed into certain channels. These leaders are led to renounce the movement in so far as it can be termed a peasant revolt, and to transform it into a revolutionary war.

While Dr Kwame Nkrumah, former president of Ghana, famously wrote a book titled Revolutionary Warfare in 1968, the influence of Fanon’s thinking is clear for all to see. This particular thought of Fanon, of protracted struggle, is defended by many who suggest that the readers whom he envisioned were surely oppressed, and that their struggle for freedom was noble, and even necessary - what is so wrong with that?

This popular line of argumentation is typically found among Fanon scholars and disciples, yet it is missing an essential part of Fanonian thought, thought without which this protracted struggle cannot be fully understood. What they leave out is Fanon’s unadulterated romanticising of violence against large groups of people. What they negate to mention is that Fanon proposes what can only be understood as the chasing out or wiping out of anyone who dared by birth to not be part of the historically colonised.

Fanon on violence

“On Violence” is the first chapter of The Wretched of the Earth, but it is often sold (or handed out at conferences) as a separate monograph. While the aforementioned disciples and sycophants defend Fanon by reimagining his gruesome calls for violence as some kind of metaphor (much like the South African Human Rights Commission’s stance on the war-cry Kill the Boer)this presents an unfair reading of the unadulterated and quintessential Fanon, whose work is unambiguous in its lecturing on how colonised ought to liberate themselves. In order to drive this point home, an analysis of the original text is required:

Fanon believes that the process of decolonization is “always a violent event”, and frequently writes that violence is the only method of true decolonization, and that the use of violence for the purpose decolonization is to be seen as fair and just.

Fanon believes true decolonization to be absolute and calls it the “substitution of one species of mankind by another”. At this point we might already ask ourselves what value the EFF aims to add to young and impressionable minds with the reading of this text other than hatred?

Returning to Fanon: “Decolonization… can be summed up in the well-known words: ‘The last shall be first’… the last can be the first only after a murderous and decisive confrontation between the two protagonists”.

A proper reading of Fanon makes it clear that there is nothing metaphorical about this defence of violence. He believes the reality of the colonized can “only by challenged by out and out violence”, which for him means that no union is possible between the “native” sector and the “European” sector.

Furthermore, and in service of unambiguity: “there is no conciliation possible, one of them is superfluous”, as well as that the “colonist always remains a foreigner”. This obviously means that no amount of appropriation, no amount of time, no amount of blood and tears and memories can make the distant descendants of a “colonist” a “native”. What is to happen with the remainders of this so called “colonial world”? Well, Fanon’s plan is that it must be either buried “deep within the earth or banish(ed) from the territory”.

Violence as just

Violence becomes, for Fanon, an instrument by which the native can free himself intellectually and regain his original society. “The arrival of the colonist signified syncretically the death of indigenous society … For the colonized, life can only materialize from the rotting cadaver of the colonist.” While absolutism rears its ugly head here, it is also made clear that the native can only prosper after violence has been committed.

Violence is justified, because of the ends that it produces. A further justification of violence is that justice, for the native inhabitant, is not at all attainable through any form of due process, or any market mechanism, or even through radical policies of redistribution – only violence will do. In no unclear terms: “the colonized subject wastes no time lamenting and almost never searches for justice in the colonial context”

Fanon in South Africa post 1994

While Fanon initially wrote with the war for independence in Algeria in mind, his work boasts of universal themes that clearly resonate with the EFF and its agenda. Reason being that, while South Africa is no longer a colony, and has not been a colony since 1948, and has universal suffrage since 1994 it offers those who adhere to the works of Fanon the opportunity of rejecting the existing order and the existing compromise.

By introducing the idea that any compromise between the descendants of settlers, the colonised are entering into a false independence, the work of Fanon justifies the idea of expropriation without compensation.

By indicating that “life can only materialize from the rotting cadaver of the colonist”, Fanon plants the seeds for justifying farm murders, and the calling for these murders outside courtrooms and meeting halls. When one has read Fanon, it becomes easier to understand what Julius Malema meant when he told the Oxford Union in 2015 that Nelson Mandela post 1994 was a “staged” and “managed” Mandela.

If Franz Fanon is to be believed it must be concluded that violence is the only way in which true decolonisation can be achieved and obviously that any other process must be rejected as being false or at best incomplete. This idea, even if only a few elites make it their own, will serve only one purpose, and that is to divide the country of South Africa and to pose these parts against each other in a seemingly answerless conflict.

For the moment, reading such works and praising it in the light of day might not be frowned upon, but many are the books that were welcomed into the book clubs and onto the shelves of radicals over the centuries, and more still is the destruction that it has left in its wake. The ideas of Franz Fanon are hateful, it can sow no other seeds than the seeds of hate, and while no book should be burned, it is imperative that bad ideas be confronted and defeated by good ideas.

(Parts of this article are adaptations from an academic article An analysis of transformation in South Africa post 1994 which was published by the same author in the Journal for Christian Scholarship in 2021. The full article is available here: https://pubs.ufs.ac.za/index.php/tcw/issue/view/61)

Paul Maritz is host of the political podcast Podlitiek, an external consultant for the Solidarity Movement, and a Ph.D. student.