African Modernity as Multiple Modernity in Nelson Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom

This essay introduces African modernity to you in light of Multiple Modernity. Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom is the primary source of pieces of evidence to justify its argument. African modernity differs from westerners and the rest of the world. So, it is one form of modernity that should be categorized under the definition of multiple modernities.

African Modernity as Multiple Modernity in Nelson Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom

Modernity forms and manifests through democracy, subjectivity and social change. The political imagination is both products of human endeavor and human subjectivity. The interaction of human beings with political systems results in a social change leading to collective welfare through democracy which also means the participation of everyone in the creation of political system and process. As cultural identities of all and personal freedom are ensured, democracy in South Africa has become well functionable. Since the boundary of ownership over the system of rule and nation is widened, African modernity has become a rainbow by best managing the ethnic and cultural diversity in South Africa. All the unjust demarcations are erased with brotherhood, co-operation, and consensus.

Long Walk to Freedom

Nelson Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom presents an African type of modernity by presenting the people as the key actors in producing and implementing their imagination in the form of rule for themselves which they realize through social change. Initially, representative of South African people Nelson Mandela had the illusion that playing with nature is the real freedom one can enjoy. But, later on, the consciousness among people due to the social change taught him that real freedom is far away from their imagination. Slowly and gradually awareness was widespread among African people. However, consciousness did not have any feeling of revenge and hatred. The freedom struggle led by Mandela respected even the oppressors and incorporated their voice too in the constitution. Mandela’s comment upon the oppressors’ treatment is: “A man who takes away another man’s freedom is a prisoner of hatred, he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness. I am not truly free If am taking away someone else’s freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me. The oppressed and oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity” (611). In modernity, human emotions are overpowered by reason and logic. Human creativity based on logic is always at the center. Junquing Yi and Lingmei Fan argue that

The process of a human being transforming from the unrestrained and spontaneous way of existence to the free conscious way is a significant event in the history of human society. It is a major factor in the operation of modern society, a source of creativity and vitality, as well as a driving force (8).

Therefore, human beings who operate their life on the basis of hatred, revenge, and aggression cannot be part of modern society. Those who abide by themselves by rationale are modern beings. In Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela and his followers do not have the feeling of revenge and hatred rather they are so conscious to make their society inclusive and democratic which is the feature of modernity.

African Modernity

African Modernity is formed after the anti-apartheid movement took its stride in South Africa. As the world comprises multiple cultures, traditions, and historical experiences, there may emerge innumerable modernities. Western-style of modernity cannot be transcendental idea to govern all the modernities. Since modernity is not a static idea, the theoretical concept of singular modernity contradicts with the core value of modernity. The essence of modernity also demands multiplicity and openness in the formation of multiple modernities. South Africa also develops its own style of modernity as it interacts with Western White, native Africans, and Indians. Feeling of cooperation, unity in diversity, horizontal relationship even between the traditional ruler and their subjects cannot be looked down upon. Therefore, people should be conscious to search for their own local values and mix them with national and international values to create sustainable modernity.

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Modernity is a dynamic concept. It embraces reason, logic, change, newness, and progress as its fundamental values. However, Alternative modernity is a theoretical perspective that believes in multiple such modernities and opposes the singular and universalist perspective of modernity. It assumes that modernities develop differently in different cultural and temporal contexts. Although there are some common beliefs, every modernity marks a departure from another modernity. Moreover, the perspective of alternative modernity also challenges the imposition of western as modernist values on non-western modern values. Ideas related to change, progress, inclusive democracy are some central concerns of every modernity. But, when these values interact with local values, culture, tradition, and history, certainly new ideas of modernity emerge in each interaction.

Mandela opposes the system of rule, dedicated his entire life for those African people who were treated as second class by the Whites and finally led his country to an inclusive democracy. The democracy he wanted to exercise in South Africa was a foreign political value first exercised by the Europeans. However, Mandela and his party blended western democracy and local African ethnic identities such as Zulu by providing the right of self-determination and political autonomy in their respective homeland. Along with that he also included nine local languages except for Afrikaner and English in the interim constitution of South Africa. On the other hand, some provinces like Zululand were provided with extra political rights than other provincial states. These all the instances hint that Mandela introduced alternative modernity in South Africa.

Once the Black were not counted to be human beings to enjoy natural rights finally became equal citizens to the white and voted for the national and provincial assembly members for the first time in South African history. Besides that, they also got an opportunity to be led by a Black at the national level. After the election was held and ANC gathered majority vote, South Africa became a nation of everyone regardless of color and nationality. It became a nation of nations. Mandela’s expression after his inauguration as president of South Africa is:

The ceremonies took place in the lovely sandstone amphitheater formed by the Union Buildings in Pretoria. For decades this had been the seat of white supremacy, and now it was the site of a rainbow gathering of different colors and nations for the installation of South Africa’s first democratic, non-racial government” (607).

Modernity always marks breaks from tradition. Established patterns are broken down and replaced with new and logical ideas. According to Andreas Eshete, “Modernity, thus, marks the decline or end of religious and traditional authority, including the authority of the past. Nietzsche’s declaration that God is dead or what Weber famously called “the disenchantment of the world,” or Marx “the holy profaned”, and is nowadays named “secularization”, is a defining mark of modernity” (3). Therefore, change in perception is one of the essential parts of modernity. Black people were deemed lower than human beings before democracy was introduced. If the Blacked had followed the same patterned and reversed the racial relationship there would not have been modernity. Mandela’s accession to the chair of President is the vivid signal of the end of traditional authority and the beginning of new modern hope.

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People had high expectations from the new political system. But the political parties were so reasonable that they promised only what that was possible within a certain time frame. They also promised to guarantee0 the basic needs people were deprived of. They could have made high commitments to gather excessive support from people. Instead, they had long-term thought to lead South Africa to a progressive nation. Mandela’s view in the election campaign is:

Often, I said to the crowds, ‘Do not expect to be driving a Mercedes the day after the election or swimming in your own backyard pool. I told our supporters, ‘life will not change dramatically, except that you will have increased your self-esteem and become a citizen in your own land (599).

As modernities are different in different parts of the world, there are different standards of social change. According to Dipesh Chakravarty, Gandhian notion of modernity is:

The Gandhian modern was, thus, in the relationship to both affinity and tension with the modernity of the citizen of European political theory. With the latter, the Gandhian modern shares a concern for public health, freedom of speech and inquiry, and civic awareness. Yet it does not fulfill the condition of interiority that the discourse of rights both produces and guarantees for the citizen of the modern state. (62)

This is how, although there are varieties in modern values; freedom, self-respect and public welfare are common features of modern state. Mandela also focused on the same idea that democratic values are more important through which other changes can be achieved gradually. He does not shower his people with unfulfillable dreams rather tells his people to be reasonable, hardworking and patient.

Unlike other social movements South African anti-apartheid movement did not fall under any extreme political ideology rather it borrowed various ideas from opposing ideologies whenever necessary to move ahead in the struggle. Neither it followed the communist path nor extreme nationalist path. But the movement walked through its unique way of co-operation and tolerance. As Mandela forwards his political philosophy,

“I was first and foremost African nationalist fighting for our emancipation from minority rule and the right to control our own destiny. But, at the same time, South Africa and the African continent were part of the larger world” (113).

Although modernity is taken as a European concept, its roots have reached far away and long back from its onset in Europe. As Enrique Dussel opines, despite having its sources in non-European societies modernity is conceived as a European concept. It is not a constant concept, rather it changes as it interacts with non-European societies. After 1492, except European other concepts were taken to be marginal and paid less importance. But actually, modern cultural practices are products of frequent dialogue with other cultures (132). Therefore, African modernity also interacted with so many other cultures to be established. It borrowed theoretical concepts of other political and philosophical movements. It focused on African nationality and end of minority rule, but never closed the door for negotiation with other differing ideologies like communism and extreme African nationalism.

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As South African people achieved democracy with local practices and widened their subjectivities, they became much focused on social changes together with gradual economic progress. The changes were unique in the sense that revenge, hatred and racial tensions were disposed under brotherhood and unity of the oppressed and the oppressors on the ground of peaceful, prosperous, happy and inclusive South Africa. Voting rights robbed off on the basis of the colour of skins were given back to vote their representative of any color or origin who works for the betterment of every citizen. Leaders also called their common citizens to stand on the ground of practicality leaving the high dream of economic prosperity overnight.

To be precise, this article deals with democracy, subjectivity and social change taking textual evidence from Nelson Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom. This finds that Mandela learned democratic values from the ruling system of Transkei decisions concerning local affairs used to be taken after long discussions and hearing voices of everyone present in the meeting which means although not paid much attention democracy was in practice differently in South Africa. After the end of apartheid, South Africa has widened the subjectivity by opening up the previously confined opportunities for every citizen. Mandela and African National Congress fought against the inhuman and irrational apartheid system. Social change in South Africa stepped forward differently as it preserved African nationality coupled with respecting cultures of all the communities regardless of their population, color, and origin. Which means that modernity is devised differently as per the need of circumstances rather than following established rituals. African modernity focuses on the idea of integrity and inclusiveness rather than majority rule. Hearing the voices of even a single citizen with keen interest is unique to Established European modernity.

Ideas and Forms of the Modernities

The ideas and forms of the modernities get developed distinctly in different geographical locations and cultural contexts. Alternative Modernities is a crucial political matter to especially those countries which are culturally diverse, and unable to manage ethnic diversity due to the implementation of political ideologies evolved in the land far away from their locality. The study of The Long Walk to Freedom may benefit them with the theoretical concept of multiple modernities. Each country can devise its own modernity by blending their local values with universal practices of the modern state. No society is perfect in itself but every society possesses something valuable that should be marked and best utilized for the common welfare. The application of ideological frameworks developed in different circumstances may not be beneficial all the time for all the societies. Therefore, every society must be open enough and flexible to think upon the established norms, and values to reconstruct them in a way that befits their soil.

Written by Bharat Kumar Kark


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