[News] It Is Freedom, Only Freedom Which Can Quench Our Thirst

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Thu Nov 19 10:52:42 EST 2020

Is Freedom, Only Freedom Which Can Quench Our Thirst: The Forty-Seventh
Newsletter (2020).
November 19, 2020 - Vijay Prashad

[image: Cover of dossier 34: Paulo Freire and Popular Struggle in South

Cover of dossier 34: *Paulo Freire and Popular Struggle in South Africa*

Dear friends,

Greetings from the desk of the Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research

In 2011, the Swedish novelist Henning Mankell travelled to India to deliver
<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x183ZsMol0c> the Safdar Hashmi Memorial
Lecture in New Delhi. Mankell recounted an incident from Mozambique, where
he lived for part of each year. In the 1980s, after Mozambique won its
independence from Portugal in 1974, the South African apartheid regime and
the settler-colonial army of Rhodesia backed an anti-communist faction
against the government of the Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO). The
point of the war was to destroy the bases of the South African and
Zimbabwean national liberation forces that had been given permission to
operate by Mozambique’s FRELIMO government.

The war imposed on Mozambique was brutal, the destruction immense. Mankell
visited a border region, where the invading troops and their anti-communist
allies had burnt down villages. He was walking on a path towards a village.
He saw a young man coming towards him, a thin man in ragged clothes. As he
came close, Mankell saw his feet. ‘He had in his deep misery’, Mankell told
his Delhi audience, ‘painted shoes on his feet. In a way, to defend his
dignity when everything was lost, he had found the colours from the earth,
from herbs, and he had painted shoes on his feet’.

For Mankell, this man’s act was a form of resistance against the fading
light of hope; although this man could very well have been on the way to a
meeting of his FRELIMO branch, where they would discuss the current
situation of their struggle and plan to defend their land. In 1981, when
South Africa attacked Mozambique, President Samora Machel of FRELIMO
embraced Oliver Tambo of South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC) at
a public rally in Maputo’s Independence Square and said
‘We don’t want war. We are peacemakers because we are socialists. One side
wants peace, and the other wants war. What do we do? We let South Africa
choose. We are not afraid of war’. These might have been the words that
rang in the ears of the man that Mankell had seen.

During the national liberation struggle, Machel had said that the
revolutionary process was not only about victory over the Portuguese — or
the South African apartheid state or the Rhodesian settler-colonial state —
but it was about the ‘creation of a new human, with a new mentality’. It
was that struggle against colonialism that produced a society where people
were proud, even if they did not, as yet, have necessary goods, such as

[image: Richard Pithouse, The Frantz Fanon Political School at the eKhenana
Land Occupation of Abahlali baseMjondolo, Cato Manor, Durban, South Africa,

Richard Pithouse, The Frantz Fanon Political School at the eKhenana Land
Occupation of Abahlali baseMjondolo, Cato Manor, Durban, South Africa, 2020.

The struggle for dignity is elemental, and it formed a core part of the
ideology of national liberation. This was the premise of the work of two
thinkers — Frantz Fanon and Paulo Freire — whose writings emerged out of
the national liberation and socialist traditions, which impacted those
struggles in turn. It is no surprise that our Tricontinental: Institute for
Social Research office in Johannesburg (South Africa) has produced two
dossiers on these two important figures: *Frantz Fanon: The Brightness of
Metal* <https://www.thetricontinental.org/dossier-26-fanon/> in March 2020,
and now *Paulo Freire and Popular Struggle in South Africa*
in November 2020. Part of our work in the Institute is *to go back to go
forward*; to return to the sources of our tradition, study them carefully
for their important lessons, and then draw from them in order to advance
our struggles in the present. Both Fanon and Freire — the latter influenced
by the former’s *The Wretched of the Earth* (1961) as he drafted his
classic *Pedagogy of the Oppressed* (1968) — emphasised the importance of
collective study and struggle as the lever to develop a critical
consciousness amongst the masses. Their general orientation towards the
integral relationship between collective study and struggle informs our own
approach in the Institute, as we laid out in our dossier *The New
Intellectual* <https://www.thetricontinental.org/the-new-intellectual/> in
February 2019.

[image: Book covers of Pedagogy of the Oppressed in different languages.]

Book covers of *Pedagogy of the Oppressed* in different languages.

Freire’s *Pedagogy of the Oppressed* was written while the Brazilian
intellectual was in exile in Chile, where he had fled after having spent
seventy days in a Brazilian prison during the early days of the US-backed
military coup of 1964. For the book, Freire drew not only from his own
experience in the struggles in Brazil, but also from what he had read about
the Algerian liberation movement (via Fanon) and from his engagement with
the national liberation movements in Portuguese-colonised parts of Africa.

The oppressed, Freire wrote, did not want knowledge for its own sake; they
expressed a range of desires for the world, including to create a world
where they could live with dignity, including with shoes. Freire quotes Che
Guevara’s powerful sentiment
that ‘a true revolutionary is guided by strong feelings of love’, which
forms the bedrock of Freire’s approach. ‘The revolution loves and creates
life’, Freire wrote, ‘and in order to create life it may be obliged to
prevent some men from circumscribing life’. This was not ‘love’ in the
abstract but love in a very concrete way. In Brazil, Freire wrote, there
were ‘living corpses’ or ‘shadows of human beings’ who faced an ‘invisible
war’ of hunger and disease, illiteracy and indignity; their liberation from
the structural domination of capitalism would require the defeat of the
actual people who benefitted from the system which deprived the oppressed
of basic needs. The rising of the oppressed — in other words, the
Revolution — was going to improve the life of the vast majority, but it
would necessarily negatively impact the lives of the capitalists. There was
no idealism in Freire — only the deeply practical appreciation of study and
struggle within the actual world in which we live.

It is perhaps Freire’s firm grip on the actual processes of social life
that influenced generations of South African freedom fighters. Our latest
dossier, *Paulo Freire and Popular Struggle in South Africa*
*,* documents the influence of Freire’s ideas within the Black
Consciousness Movement, the church, the workers’ movement, and in the heart
of the liberation struggle. In an interview for this dossier, Aubrey
Mokoape, who founded the South African Students Organisation in 1968 along
with Steve Biko, Barney Pityana, and others, told Tricontinental: Institute
for Social Research how Freire’s idea of ‘conscientisation’ advanced the
socialist agenda of the Black Consciousness Movement:

The only way to overthrow this government is to get the mass of our people
understanding what we want to do and owning the process, in other words,
becoming conscious of their position in society, in other words … joining
the dots, understanding that if you don’t have money to pay … for your
child’s school fees, fees at medical school, you do not have adequate
housing, you have poor transport, how those things all form a single
continuum; that all those things are actually connected. They are embedded
in the system, that your position in society is not isolated but it is

To live with dignity and with love would mean to transform a system that is
incapable of solving the problems it creates. Education — or
‘conscientisation’ — is precisely about the interrelated process of study
and struggle in forming a consciousness and a conscience that demands more
than moderate reforms. It was not about being given shoes but fighting for
a system where a lack of shoes cannot even be imagined.

[image: Mongane Wally Serote (second from left), Nadine Gordimer (centre),
and Dennis Brutus (second from the right), courtesy of Amazwi South African
Museum of Literature.]

Mongane Wally Serote (second from left), Nadine Gordimer (centre), and
Dennis Brutus (second from the right), courtesy of Amazwi South African
Museum of Literature.

South Africa’s poet laureate Mongane Wally Serote underwent
‘conscientisation’ in the Black Consciousness Movement during his school
years in Soweto, before he joined the African National Congress. In 1969,
Serote was arrested and spent nine months in solitary confinement. He
eventually went into exile: first to Botswana, where he joined the uMkhonto
weSizwe, the military wing of the ANC, and then formed the Medu Arts
Ensemble with Thami Mnyele and others. Later, Serote would go to London to
work in the ANC’s Department of Arts and Culture. He returned to South
Africa in 1990.

In 1977, Serote and others formed the Pelandaba Cultural Effort in Gaborone
(Botswana) and published *Pelculef*. In the first issue of the journal,
published in October 1977, Serote published his poem *no more strangers*.
The rhythm of the poem is the pulse of the struggle to which Serote and his
comrades had dedicated their lives. Here’s a brief extract, the impression
of Freire’s ‘conscientisation’ imprinted in it:

it were us, it is us
the children of Soweto
langa, kagiso, alexandra, gugulethu and nyanga
a people with a long history of resistance
who will dare the mighty
for it is freedom, only freedom which can quench our thirst —
we did learn from terror that it is us who will seize history
our freedom.
remember the shattering despair to feel as worthless as debris
remember the shades of death we longed for
here we are now
it will be us
steel-taut to fetch freedom
and —
we will tell freedom
we are no more strangers now.

[image: Cover by Thami Mnyele for Tsetlo by Mongane Wally Serote, 1974.]

Cover by Thami Mnyele for *Tsetlo* by Mongane Wally Serote, 1974.

It has to be us. We are waiting for no-one else. It can only be us. We will
make our own shoes. It will be us. We will walk with dignity. We will



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