Black analysts who make things clear

Don Makatile

Don Makatile

Looking back one cannot help but wallow in the levity brought on by memories of events of the period leading up to uhuru.

Remember the stockpiling of food and the mad scramble for Down Under as all manner of ghastly scenarios were painted about the spectre of life under a black government?

Chief among these "graphic artists" was a man called Eugene Nyathi, a darling of the television screens at the time, whose "expert" views were sought, as the phrase goes, left, right and centre.

Nyathi entered the scene during the highly amplified lamentation of the absence of the black voice in articulating and unpacking socio-political issues.

In modern-day young-speak, he was the man!

That was until some Sherlock Holmes discovered the erudite Nyathi was actually a humble Albert Nana, with barely a matric certificate.

As the glare of television lights moved away from the fake Zimbabwean to allow him space to deal with his comeuppance, for a while serious political analysis became the forte of white males, like Lester Venter.

Clem Sunter's views on business prospects after white rule assumed biblical status.

Venter and Sunter had taken the baton from RW Johnson, an Oxford-educated doomsayer who, in his book, How Long Will South Africa Survive? advanced the pie-in-the-sky argument that the military might of the time would prop up apartheid rule for donkey's years.

Eager for a black voice, we looked across our borders again - this time to Swaziland to find Dumisani Hlophe, a University of Natal Master's graduate in Political Science.

He was legit and his clout was further enhanced by a number of newspapers and other institutions falling over themselves to offer him a job.

Even today his blog introduces him as a well-known political analyst, whose work "covers South African as well as African political economic issues".

Whether or not he satisfied President Thabo Mbeki's lament at the dearth of black intellectuals remains unclear since many within the ruling party would continue to send out mixed messages.

After Hlophe, our own home-brewed talent began to take centre stage.

Herbert Vilakazi hogged the analytical space but one tends to believe the popular rumour that his links to the IFP saw to his gradual demise.

In Vilakazi's neck of the woods came another big name, Protas Madlala, currently eThekwini Business Development Centre's boss.

Chris Landsberg took the guest's chair on television, but it would seem he was only after a doctorate. Once gained, his visits to Auckland Park dwindled.

Head of the Africa Institute of South Africa Eddie Maloka became another voice of reason. He is now with the 2010 Legacy Committee.

Fourteen years into democracy, South Africa is teeming with political analysts, much to the ire of those - almost invariably within the ANC - most comfortable with the sound of their own voices.

In a May 2006 letter originally published in a Johannesburg weekly, the Friends of Jacob Zuma website gave pride of place to Youth Leaguer Zizi Kodwa's pique with political analysts.

Kodwa gripes that "most of our so-called independent intellectuals have failed to establish the simple fact that it is ANC structures that nominate who must become president of the ANC and ultimately of South Africa, not these individuals purporting to be the most advanced minds in our society".

A roll call of analysts is a Who's Who of sorts: Mohau Pheko, Aubrey Matshiqi, Chris Maroleng, Zwelakhe Jolobe, Somadoda Fikeni, Justice Malala, Judith September, Sipho Seepe, Sipho Maseko, Xolela Mangcu, Zakhele Ndlovu, Lesiba Tefo and Adam Habib.

Their views are modern-day gold. They are ubiquitous - on radio, television, press and at functions. Ample proof indeed that cries about the dearth of black intellectuals are no longer justifiable.

Broadcaster, who uses a lot of Malala's work, have led the way in giving these experts space. Their new 24-hour news channel employs Maroleng as Africa editor.

Themba Godi of the African People's Convention gives this proliferation of analysts the thumbs up: "There is indeed a dire need for the black voice to feature predominantly in the national discourse."

But he condemns the tendency to give what he calls shallow and lazy analysis of issues.

"One would like to see commentators do so from an informed position backed by solid research rather than to engage in speculation that only reflects their own subjective prejudices."

Bantu Holomisa, UDM leader, recalls the clarion call for the augmentation of the voice of the black intelligentsia. Many of those who had anything to say did so and moved on after the demise of apartheid, he says.

And once they vacated these key positions - like universities where some of them were based - they were enticed by business, "making way then for a new generation of experts, like the Jolobes of this world", says Holomisa.

Reverend Musa Zondi of the IFP says while the process that flowed from the onset of democracy was a complicated one that needed expert dissertation for the ordinary man in the street to understand, the depth of most of it still leaves a lot to be desired.

Who chooses these analysts, Zondi begs to know. "What is the qualification?"

"It is good," he says to have them, but "very few of them are worth their weight in gold."

But senior associate political analyst at the Centre for Policy Studies Aubrey Matshiqi says in the marketplace of ideas, society will choose who to believe and who not to.

Political analysts as a collective represent one voice, one of many in society, Matshiqi says.

"One of the things that fertilises democracy is a multiplicity of voices."

While this is good for any democracy, he warns that the alternative would be dire - where a tyranny of intellectual voices holds sway over all others in "the same way a situation should be avoided where only politicians are heard".

The complaint about the absence of black intellectual voices only means those present were not the desired views, says Matshiqi.

And Matshiqi is no Nyathi!