By Setumo-Thebe Mohlomi
I have often questioned what it was that made Africa, the nation and the continent, lose so much of itself for what seemed at the time like fire sticks and shiny trinkets. Before a brush with Steve Biko, black consciousness, reading up on the 1976 uprising, black pride and all that, I came to the conclusion that Africa is really just dumb after realising that white people around me assumed that I, and any other black person, was stupid by virtue of being darker. This revelation, coupled with the fact that the school I went to had a completely white teaching staff, except for the archetypal black vernacular teacher, further engrained the idea that knowledge was the bastion of the European.
White people’s intrinsic intelligence, I believed, was the reason for my classmate Nicholas’s ancestors having managed to exploit “the natives” in times neither his nor my great-grandparents were old enough to remember. Going to school with Nicholas and other white pupils was an uncomfortable and a seemingly endless experience. Frightened by what I believed to be the truth about my intelligence, and that of other black people, I strove to write and speak English as well, if not better than, Nicholas and all my white peers. I would pull out all stops in ostensive performances of my dexterity with the language, and I suppose I still do when the need arises.
My favourite audience was the condescendingly slow-speaking white person who omitted parts of speech they thought too complex for my black brain. This, and many other traits, makes me a typical black private school specimen.
I am not alone, however. Many black acquaintances share the almost nasal accent, have the same anger packed tightly in their head, and have just as much to prove as I do.
For a student the possibility of Africa actually being stupid is presented in lectures and is too real to ignore. We tear through the post-1994 political correctness and see the history of colonisation taught to us for what it is and it can be concluded as; they came, saw, conquered, built suburbs, swimming pools and universities.
To say that Africa, and by association Africans, are stupid is considered controversial, and even unacceptable by most people who are well trained in political correctness. One cannot help but wonder about Africa’s intellectual capacity when an entire academic year of theorising about theorists can pass without a single black thinker having been mentioned as being pivotal to humanity’s development. The message behind tutorials, lectures, assignments and readings is that black people do not think as deeply, abstractly or as well as the white intellectuals who deserve inclusion in the syllabus.
Africans seem to study, learn and cram European theory on Europe, Africa and the world, with the hope of one day finally proving that we are not as stupid as others think we are, and even more importantly to prove we are not as dull-witted as we have been taught to think we are. We pass, graduate and write with little hope of ever being intelligent enough to be considered worthy of mention. We are after all spawned from the seed of the people who sold what they had for fire sticks and trinkets.