Religion, Nationalism and Ideology in South African Literature
Ogunjimi, Bayo, Kola
The truth is that our Christian civilization is riddled through and through with dilemma. We believe in the brotherhood of man, but we do not want it in South Africa. We believe that God endows men with diverse gifts, and that human life depends for its fullness on their employment and enjoyment, but we are afraid to explore this belief too deeply. We believe in help for the underdog, but we want him to stay under. And we are therefore compelled, in order It, preserve our belief that we are Christian, to ascribe to Almighty God. Creator of Heaven and Earth, our own human intentions, and to say that because He created white and black. He gives the Divine Approval to any human action that is designed to keep black men from advancement.
This is an excerpt from the memoir of the murdered liberal nationalist Arthur Jarvis, in Alan Paton, Cry, the Beloved Country. It is a strong paradox that the mutilating hegemonic structures in South Africa are erected on the bedrock of Christian Nationalism. The ruthless perversion of the basic Christian tenets of love. brotherhood and equality is articulated in the party manifesto of the first South African Prime Minister. He describes the political ideology of his party--"... in Germany it is called Nazism. in Italy it is called Fascism and in South Africa we will call it Christian nationalism"
In a recent BBC Television interview in London (1987). Pick Botha reaffirms this position and religiously defends the heinous system by hypocritically claiming that no part of the Scripture preaches the doctrine of self-annihilation at the expense of one's fellow human beings. This distorted and expedient Calvin-interpretation of history forms the ideological basis of South Africa's crude civilization.
This precisely is the dilemma of Christian nationalism criticized by Arthur Jarvis. In South Africa, the philosophy of Christian nationalism provides a basis for institutionalizing the irrelevant Biblicism and pseudo-theological foundation of the myth of the chosen race. This ethnocentric nationalism is based on the race doctrines of Arthur Gobineau and Madison Grant. George Padmore argues that the race theory of Gobineau is the root of that brand of pernicious political thought that culminates in the ideology of Nazism, Fascism, the racialism of America and Apartheid in South Africa. (3) Racism is employed by Gobineau for socio- political explanation and as a symbol of class consciousness. These ideologies defend capitalism, using the black race as |the stepping stones" for development.
Gobineau and Grant oppose the Unitarian philosophy of history: that all mankind is capable of the same development if brought under similar institution and environment. To them, neither legislation nor education can alter what they perceive to be fundamental racial inequalities. This is the principle behind the Institution of Christian National Education, the brainchild of the Bantu Education Act of 1945. Education is organized on the principles of trusteeship, non-equality and segregation. This is further reproached in the memoir of Arthur Jarvis:
We go so far as to credit Almighty God with having created black men to hew wood and draw water for white men ... We say we withhold education because the black child has not the intelligence to profit by it; we withhold opportunity to develop gifts ... because black people have no gifts ... We shift our ground again when a black man does achieve something remarkable, and feel deep pity for a man who is condemned to the loneliness of being remarkable, and decide that it is a Christian kindness not to let black men become remarkable. Thus even our God becomes a confused and inconsistent creature, giving gifts and denying employment. (4)
While Alan Paton articulates the Marxian exegesis of the theory of economic determinism and dialectical materialism, he opts for liberalism as a solution to the South African crisis. The dogmatism of some of his characters is illustrated by their emaciated soul and spirit that crunch under the colossal arch of Christian Nationalism. Like their counterparts in James Baldwin, Go Tell it on the Mountain, they are haunted by the fear of sin, the monster called fatalism and life hereafter of which they read so much i n the Bible. A hypocritical facet of nationalism in South Africa, liberalism fosters the stoic illusion that gags the body and soul of the oppressed in submission to the ethics of bourgeois ideology of alienation. An aborted ideology of cooperation and development, it pays only lip service to the liberation of the oppressed in the apartheid enclave.
Such hypocrisy is depicted in Breytenbach's The True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist: Okhela, the white liberal pseudo-revolutionary group that sends Calaska on a "schlemiel assignment", does not support the African National Congress, the only authentic Revolutionary vanguard against apartheid. Liberalism is a weapon of espionage and propaganda in the hands of the West. Okhela is on the pay-list of the American. French and Israeli secret services; Breytenbach. the liberal artist, detests revolution in Azania. Liberalism opposes a revolutionary class struggle, an essential dialectical praxis.
South African writers of revolutionary ideological leaning perceive religion as a negative force against revolutionary nationalism. Religion is treated as a perversion of reality: a weapon of mental, spiritual and social mortification. Oppressed characters in the works of such writers develop a bitter cynicism against the Christian religion. They do not want to be cajoled into a cosmic illusion that does not value and extol their humanity. These characters, mostly of the budding generation, articulate critical and transitive consciousness.
The crisis between the generation of conservative Segone and that of Thema in Ezekiel Mphahlele's Down Second Avenue, stems from the dogmatic adherence of the former to Christian religion. The dialogue that ensues between them illustrates this:
'Did you go to Church in the city?'
We asked him.
'Please don't ask me anymore about church,' the lad said.
'You know, Father,' Thema said, like a man with a heathen devil on him.
'Mortui Foster was here, I remember hearing him say Christ died on the cross for us all, and he was our brother, I remember that revival meeting too' And then Thema turned round and said men were not brothers in the city, The Black man must enter white man's house through the back door. The Black man does most of the dirty work. When a white man who hasn't gone far in school is given suco works he says 'I' not a kaffir!'
Black man must build houses for the white man but cannot live in them; Black man cooks the white man's food but eats what is left over.
Don't listen to anyone bluff you and say Black and white are brothers
'And the lad shocked us by saying, 'I don't know why Jesus Christ wasted his time teaching mankind, (5)
Thema appreciates the critical reality of the black man's existence and humanity in general and articulates a revolutionary consciousness.
The embittered and battered Casbah Kid in Alex La Guma, The Stone Country, also articulates the type of consciousness we see in Thema. His discussion with George Adams depicts this:
Somewhere a man started to sing "Nearer
My God to Thee", in a sad and emotion-laden voice that broke through the general silence.
The boy said with mild contempt, through the ragged veil of smoke:
'Hymns', Then he asked grudgingly, 'You worried about being in over Christmas?'
George Adams smiled and said: ' Not really.
But it would be nice to be with a man's family; mos' people have a good time.'
'Ja, get drunk. Go to church. You go to church, mister?"
'Hell, I never been in Church since I was a pikkie' ... 'Heaven and hell. I don't give a damn where I go when they swing me'.
The Casbah Kid's philosophical ratiocination is both atheistic and existentialist, perceiving life as an inconsequential phenomenon. "We all got to die. Hear me, mister, I put a knife in a juba. He went dead. Is put out, like. Everybody got his life and death put out. reckon and think" (7)
Hostile social milieu breeds aggression and frustration. The Casbah Kid is forced to develop this psychological crisis- "A nineteen year-old boy, he has never seen any bright side of life--his recollection, of life were series of pictures, shoddy, dog-eared, smudged pictures of dirty scenes." As he moves towards the Hangman's gallows, he attributes his delinquency to his oppressive social setting, to his working class background and his race.
Traumatized by the glowing "monolithic decalogue of fascist prohibition," the poet's persona in Dennis Brutus's poem, makes a cynical critique of the relationship between God and Man. He expresses disappointment that in his state of spiritual and physical dejection, God refuses having communion with him--"A dialogue but God doesn't answer back."
The poet's persona makes a logical deduction. If God refuses to have compassion on him and rescue him from the jaws and maw of the "iron monster of the world", then, He must be an accomplice in the dehumanization and annihilation of His own handiwork. The poet's persona probes rhetorically: "Is He the Infinite Hangman?/ Executioner?/Torturer?" He then concludes:
Well if He damn me, drive me to damnation by inflicting the unendurable, force me along the knife-blades till I choose perdition. How shall I feel guilty? When my sense of justice says He drove me He damned me He's the guilty one and if He Chose- BE DAMNEDTO HIM. (8)
The artist's logic is Sartrean, defining the meaning and essence of being, then concluding that "Man is nothing else but that which he makes himself." (9) A troubadour, a warrior in defence of his purloined estate, a defender of justice and oppressed humanity, the poet's persona is like "the tree creaking in the wind ... / twisted and stubborn." He lashes the oppressors and "the marks of (his) scars/lie deep in their psyche/ and unforgettable/ inescapable." This is a genuine nationalism.
What emerges from the State of mind of these oppressed characters is a fusion of the atheism of Marx and the existentialism of Sartre. The fusion produces a revolutionary ideology which should be the religion of the oppressed. Sartre comments on this:
Atheistic existentialism, of which I am a representative, declares with greater consistency that if God does not exist there is at least one being whose existence comes before its essence, a being which exists before it can be defined by any conception of it. That being is man or, as Heidegger has it, the human reality. (10)
NOTES AND REFERENCES
(1.) Alan Paton, Cry the Beloved Country (Penguin Books, London, 1948), p. 134.
(2.) See Alex La Guma's address at the African-Scandinavian Writers' Conference in Stockholm in -The Writer in Modern Africa ed. ed. by Per Wastberg (Uppsala, 1968), p. 23.
(3.) See George Padmore, Pan-Africanism or Communism: The Coming Struggle For Africa (Denis Robson, London).
(4.) Beloved Country p. 134.
(5.) Ezekiel Mphahlele. Down Second Avenue (Faber, Faber, London, 1959), pp. 16-17.
(6.) Alex La Guma, The Stone Country (Heinemann Educational Books Ltd., London, 1963), p. 13.
(7.) Ibid., p. 14.
(8.) Dennis Brutus, Letters to Martha (Heinemann Educational Books Ltd., London, 1968), p, 54.
(9.) Jean-Paul Satre, Existentialism and Humanism trans. Philip Mairet (Methuen, London, 1948), p .28.
(10.) Ibid., pp. 27-28.…
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Publication information: Article title: Religion, Nationalism and Ideology in South African Literature. Contributors: Ogunjimi, Bayo - Author. Magazine title: Kola. Volume: 21. Issue: 1 Publication date: Summer 2009. Page number: 21+. © 2008 Black Writers' Guild. COPYRIGHT 2009 Gale Group.
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