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Brace Yourself - The Yahoos Are At Our Doors
Brace Yourself - The Yahoos Are At Our Doors

Independent-minded people are in for a rough ride if the current events in South Africa are anything to go by writes Pravasan Pillay.

Allen Ginsberg, arguably the finest American poet of the last century, opened his epic poem Howl with a crazed lament that rings all too true for independent-minded people in South Africa.

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness.

When the poem was first published through the progressive San Francisco based press, City Lights, it came under tremendous criticism from the conservative elements in the United States government. They claimed to be disgusted and outraged at Ginsberg's graphic description of his homosexual trysts and abundant drug use. Ginsberg, in his uniquely beatific way, called people of this ilk Birdbrains and spent most of his life raging against their madness.

Here in Durban, South Africa some of us prefer to call them Yahoos after the unthinking humanoids encountered by Captain Gulliver on his final voyage to the land of the Houyhnhnms. Not that many future generations in this country will ever get to know this seeing that Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels is one the numerous books deemed unfit reading material for high school scholars. Other notable books included on this literary blacklist include William Shakespeare's Hamlet & Othello, George Orwell's 1984 and Olive Schreiner's The Story of an African Farm. These recommendations were made by a selection of South African teachers who were mandated by the Gauteng Department of Education to judge the suitability of over three hundred books for future study by high school scholars. The teachers were asked to ascertain whether the surveyed books promoted the ideals of tolerance, non-discrimination, non-sexism, and non-racism found in the South African Constitution. They were also called on to examine the style, the plot, the characterization, the themes, and the accessibility of the language found in the surveyed books.

The teachers decided that certain 'questionable' books had to go while certain more 'acceptable' books were given the thumbs up. The reason the teachers gave for blacklisting Gulliver's Travels was that its satire would be lost on South African readers; Othello failed on the grounds of being overly bleak and pessimistic as well as racist and sexist; while 1984 was accused of being too subversive. Too subversive? To whom? To what? Make no mistake people this is fascism pure and simple. The Yahoos are at our doors and they're not going away until they've converted us all into a servile unthinking mass.

The irony that teachers, just out of the stench of the National Party's social-engineering experiments, would start playing with the minds and freedom of impressionable scholars is almost too much to believe. Then again the first mistake made by the Gauteng Department of Education was to appoint teachers, of all people, to judge the suitability of the books. Teachers? What were they thinking? Everybody knows that no great thinkers were ever generated through their interactions with teachers employed in the South African school system. Great thinkers survived the South African school system. But with this latest act of fascism it has just become a whole lot more difficult for independent minded scholars to resist the mollifying mantras of the Yahoos and to escape relatively intact through the cracks of the educational system. Of course the madness of the Yahoos hasn't just been confined to breaking the spirits of youthful scholars. Both our neighbours to the north, Namibia and Zimbabwe, are run by despotic, anti-democratic, homophobic Yahoos of the finest caliber who have long since betrayed their own freedom movements for the greater pleasures of Yahoodom.

The latest fuss generated by the Yahoo fuss-generating machine is over Max du Preez?s remarks concerning the Presidents alleged womanizing tendencies. Du Preez, a respected veteran of the anti-apartheid struggle, made the much-talked remarks over national radio and as soon as the show ended the calls of racism and subversion began pouring out of the mouths of the President's various imbongis. Some of these Yahoos even suggested introducing legislation to prevent 'counter-revolutionaries' like Du Preez from ever casting a critical or negative word towards our overly sensitive President's way. Such is life in the land of the Yahoos.

But I must confess that my favourite diatribe comes courtesy of the President of the ANC Youth League, Mr. Malusi Gigaba, who in a classic piece of Yahoo propaganda found on the Daily News letters page (Daily News, 17 April 2001), accuses Du Preez of going on the 'rampage', feeding into the right-wing agenda of 'sinister forces', and attempting to 'confuse' people about the President. Gigaba obviously doesn't think that people of this country can make up their own minds about the President and as such behoves it on himself to make sure that future 'treasonable' statements like the one made by Du Preez will be silenced before they reach the impressionable ears of the masses. With this noble gesture in mind he questioned the leadership of the public broadcaster (SABC) in giving Du Preez a forum and questioned a newspaper for its 'contribution in raising the profile of Du Preez's tirade' (The Citizen). But perhaps most ominously Gigaba vowed to fight tirelessly until all the counter-revolutionaries have been defeated. What exactly does that mean Mr. Gigaba?

Do you propose silencing critics of the Government with bullets or with late night 'suicides' in jail cells? Is your memory that short? Who's being the sinister one now? Wouldn't it be more in line with your duties as the ANCYL president to stop the water-cuts that have been taking place in schools all across Durban? Isn't that a more pressing issue than the petty dignity of a politician? Fine. So you propose silencing critics. Bring on the lawyers and the legal papers. But be warned the critics have a guerilla army of their own lead by luminous generals like Orwell, Shakespeare, Swift, Ndebele, and Gordimer. At their side will be other righteous enemies of Yahoodom like Biko, Fanon, Ginsberg, Sartre, Pilger, Chomsky, De Beauvoir, Blake, Roy, and Neruda. Rest assured they have howled against the madness of Yahoos like you plenty of times before and they won't shy away from doing it again. Freedom is the only ontological certainty. We will write, speak, and say what we like. You propose silencing critics. I ask you, in the words of Biko, how long is it going to take you?

Pravasan Pillay lectures Political Philosophy at the University of Durban-Westville and is a member of The Thinking Club.

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