Césaire, Fanon, and the Anti-Apartheid Movement

In our explorations of the works of Fanon and Césaire, we have focused primarily on the way these thinkers influenced anti-colonial movements in the francophone world. But these thinkers had a deep influence on thinkers and social justice movements across the rest of the globe as well. Fanon for instance was often cited by the leaders of the American Black Power movement for his ideas on nationalism, and his notions about gaining autonomy through violent struggle became deeply influential to the Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara.

And then there was South Africa. While colonial empires crumbled in the 1960s, South Africa remained firmly in the hands of its white minority government, which ruled through a vicious system of racial exclusion called “apartheid,” an Afrikaans term for separation. From its inception in 1948, apartheid gave rise to forceful dissent among the 90% of the South African population that the system excluded from political participation.

As South African anti-apartheid activists developed their arguments against the repressive system, they drew upon a global reservoir of work on oppression and colonialism. As a 20 year old in exile in England in the mid 1960s, Thabo Mbeki, who would one day become president of South Africa, “imbib[ed] the Africanist canon” including Aimé Césaire, Marcus Garvery, Malcolm X, and Frantz Fanon, according to his biographer Mark Gevisser. For his girlfriend’s birthday in 1965, Mbeki (apparently not much of a romantic) gave her a volume of African poetry that he inscribed, “The African poet Senghor is undoubtedly the leading negritude poet in Africa. The godfather of them all is Aimé Césaire, the giant.” For Mbeki and other anti-apartheid activists in exile, thinkers like Césaire and Fanon became a lifeline, a connection to an international struggle against racism and injustice.

Meanwhile, back in South Africa the militant black consciousness movement also felt the influence of thinkers like Fanon and Césaire. Steve Biko, the sharply intelligent, charming figurehead of the movement, wrote extensively about “the struggle,” all the time echoing the ideas of his two Martiniquan forefathers. In 1970, for instance, he published an article entitled “Black Souls in White Skins,” a scathing denouncement of the inferiority complex forced upon black South Africans by the apartheid system. And echoing Césaire he wrote, “’black consciousness’ has to be directed to the past, to seek to rewrite the history of the black man and to produce in it the heroes who form the core of the African background.”

It is clear then that the works of francophone anti-colonial writers helped shape the course of a global black politics, and in South Africa helped to sustain a decades-long movement for basic human rights. If anyone else knows of other movements influenced by Fanon and/or Césaire, I would definitely be interested to hear about them. Feel free to post in the comments.

One thought on “Césaire, Fanon, and the Anti-Apartheid Movement”

  1. I think you raise a really interesting point here. Your post reminded me of something Stora mentions in the reading we had. On p. 96, he writes of de Gaulle’s growing concerns regarding the pieds noirs’ intentions in Algeria: “The metropolis was proving increasingly hostile to the OAS: did these European insurgents want a French Algeria, or a pied noir Algeria on the model of South Africa?”

    I really find it remarkable that although every people’s history is unique and circumstantial (dependent on factors such as locale, as Mann is keen to point out) there are so many parallels to be drawn in colonial and postcolonial relations. Though I still find the acumen in Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks impressive, perhaps something intrinsic to the human condition makes Fanon’s writing transcend temporal and geographical boundaries and remain so relevant to so many people today.

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