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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Is South Africa's Blackout Confirming TIA?

TIA is a stereotypical acronym that is being (re)popularized in the movie 'Blood Diamond.' It stands for 'This is Africa.' It carries a negative connotation because it is used to refer to something that is 'abnormal' in our contintent according to the standards of the West/North. I say it is re-popularized because TIA is part and parcel of the long history of demonizing Africa which reached its peak during slavery and colonialism.

It was TIA that was at play when the champions of 'Orientalism' referred to Africa as the 'Dark Continent'. When Hegel referred to Africa as not being part of history; as being "enveloped in the dark mantle of the night" he was applying TIA. So was Conrad when he penned 'Heart of Darkness.' The argument that Africa cannot govern itself without the enlightened guardianship of Euro-America is all about TIA. Yes, the pro-Apartheid and recolonization theses have to do with TIA!

Now as post-Apartheid South Africa (SA), the so-called economic powerhouse of 'Renaissanced Africa', grapples with its worst power cuts crisis TIA is at play again. No wonder http://www.iol.co.za/ has posted 'Investment gloom as SA enter the dark ages.' The choice of the phrase 'dark ages' is typically TIA. This is particular so given that Apartheid SA was/is seen as a pocket of enlightenment/whiteness in Africa; the so-called bastion of western 'modernity' in a continent rigidly steeped in 'tradition'. Even satellite pictures, of a dark continent at night with pockets of lights in the south especially in the glittering city of Egoli, would be used to confirm this.

This conventional South Africa 'exceptionalism', heavily criticized by Professor Mahmood Mamdani in his texts on African Studies, remains debatable. However, one get the feel that the terms of the debate are still enshrouded in the TIA mantle. That is how I feel when I hear these kind of phrase from SA's emerging crop of great thinkers: "The SA honeymoon is over, after all we are just another African country. How sad, how sad!" (http://pitsotsibs.blogspot.com/). How saddening the TIA discourse is!

2 comments:

Pitso January 22, 2008 at 6:18 PM  

One of the foremost think-tanks of SA politics Steven Friedman wrote that the electricity crisis in SA has allowed several stereotypes to resurface; assumed black incompetence and the TIA mentality. This is despite the fact that the current crisis is simply due to Mbeki playing around with sexy Western economic ideas (he actually thought of privatising electricity generation and as such govt did not need to build power station as private capital would do that).

Probably what Mbeki has managed to "seduce - Gevisser",teach and imprint into many of us, African younsters, is that we always have to be on guard and alert to the fact that "they" want us to fail.

I admit to this thinking many-a-times,one cannot help it, it just keeps following you everywhere, even into the workplace. I am however learning to break away from this mode. hopefully i succeed! Now you need to see this article as saying: damn my brothers messed up again, jeepers, the incompetence slur is coming again! why can't my ppl get it right and shut e'm up!

When many blacks complain against govt failures, it is precisely because of this hatred to fail and thus confirm the stereotype! I use TIA to lament the fact that once again,we messed up,like they expected us to, not to confirm or promote it really.

I doubt if i suffer from SA exceptionalism, maybe earlier in my life i did!I believe I have grown to respect and appreciate Africa as my home, its faults are my own, bu I believe they need not be perpetuated. When i use TIA, it is to warn other Africans that "they are looking at you, you need to be the best, you need to get it right, so that they may not laugh at us". Call it paranoia, call it insecurity, it is there in my veins and many others.In the longer term, when we have proven ourselves like the Chinese; that we also can do it our way, then maybe this TIA load can lift.

Reality is, i hate TIA mentality,it makes us Africans look bad,I'd like to see Africans taking themselves seriously,so that we also can walk in and be assumed normal,and we need to earn this right.

Gureni January 28, 2008 at 12:09 PM  

My fear is that this could be used against the black rule. But if they make that case that these were not problems of the white ruled SA, we should ask them the question as to who has access to electric power then. The Apartheid government built the electricity infrastructure to suit only the whites. Now that blacks have access to this important utility, the limited infrasrtucture they set up would not satisfy the need. So all SAs should be patient and support the Government as they take measures to curb the electricity problem for ALL.

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