The Native Club controversy

By Hlawulani Mkhabela

The controversial Native Club, chaired by the president’s own advisor, Titus Mofolo, is an attempt to address the problem of black identity. Based in the African Institute of South Africa, the exclusive alliance is an effort to encourage dialogue within the black intelligentsia and nurture a distinctly African image in academia and social debate.

The Native Club claims to have a vision to promote a vibrant and critical consciousness among South African people. It includes prominent black intellectuals such as author Thandika Mkandawire.

The idea of a native club intuitively evokes images of a Chinua Achebestyle portrayal of the new African. But
this public initiative by the Department of Arts and Culture has fled the pages of African satire. The club’s mandate is to rid Africans of the mentality of colonialism and encourage social discourse, but it has sparked considerable and unexpected controversy: it runs the risk of being an orgy of backpatting and intellectual self-gratification for the black elite.

Those who subscribe to the “new groups” principle follow the theory that a primary facet of initiating social change in the country has to be the revitalisation of a distinctly South African and, more precisely, black
way of being and thinking. “South Africans seem to have an identity crisis. Through our dress, music, cuisine, role models and reference points, we seem to be clones of Americans and Europeans,“ says Mofolo.

Professor Peter Vale, head of the university’s Politics and International Studies department, warns against
this reasoning. He said,“the continued impoverishment of all our people and the continued appropriation of wealth to minorities whether black or white” is the real issue that may be overshadowed by racial determinism. The true crisis, according to Vale, is not of race determining economic condition, but of inappropriate and ineffective systems of wealth distribution in Africa’s foremost state. Further issues
surround the term “native”, which naturally elicits discomfort in Africans as a term used to delineate African populations as inferior.

The “new native” according to the club, uses the term to restore the dignity of those who were once stripped of their personhood by it. The paradoxical problem arising, however, is that a new cadre of elite seems to be created by the club’s exclusionary philosophy. Vale is critical of the association’s elevation of a particular ideal of black South Africa. He says this was against the ethos of non-racial ideals, which has been central to the beliefs of the ruling party and central to the liberation struggle. The club demands a cogent examination of what it means to be African and whether all those who consider themselves Africans can contribute to forming new ideas of African identity.

“The club implies that to be African one needs to be black,” which flies in the face of “rainbow nationism”, argues Vale. The parallel between Mbeki’s strong Africanist ideals and those of the Native Club cannot be missed. Though the president has not given public support for the club, it is chaired by his advisor and boasts numerous black ANC members. Vale further warns against placing a great deal of emphasis on the ability of the club to form a critical think tank.

“The club is in danger of becoming merely the president’s project, because one cannot be critical if one hesitates to be critical of authority,” he said. Amidst all this controversy, it remains to be seen whether genuine social change on the deeper issues of social inequalities can, or should, be inspired by such an apparently exclusionary ideology.


10 Responses to The Native Club controversy

  1. Thapelo Tselapedi says:

    The native club he, well, before we run into tantrums and recite all sorts of black stereotypes, lets us be slow to speaking and be fast to listening. I find pride in the fact that African identity is put back on the map with initiatives such as the Native Club. However, before forming any idea on the matter, we must see its intended purpose implemented. Hence for now, i’ll wait.

  2. rachel says:

    don\’t copy anger, i say!

  3. mbuzobuciko says:

    there is nothing wrong with the native club and i thing it is the best way to show “whites “tha we as black people also have an abillity to do things on our own.

  4. at long last black/Africans can prove that they have ability to do things on their own.NB CONSIDER THE CRITISIMS.

  5. given phago says:

    Members of the parliament must agree before they can tell the nation, the club will be the right step towards the right direction.

  6. lets give it a chance and see how it will benefit us as south Africans

  7. Hlawulani

    i just want to find out if the Native Club is akin to the American CFR and if so is membership open to fellow africans especially from countries within the SADC region, with a liberation struggle background?


  8. veliswa says:

    I was one of the panelist, the youngest too. I still insist that we as the native intelligentsia need to do more in uplifting each other @Mthwakazi the conference participation consisted of all who considered themselves African, throughout the continent too. @Kholofelo, pity it Disintegrate due to ignorance particularly implicating our beloved former president Mbeki. Funny enough most of the journo’s that jumped at the opportunity of raising such controversies where not even present to do their homework properly…hence the saying, “Assumption is the mother of all …up’s”

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