The Working Class vs. The Middle Class Division: A Continuing Legacy of amaQaba namaGqobhoka

COMMEMORATION: The fifth anniversary of the Marikana massacre was held at the Wonderkop Koppie yesterday. Picture: Jacques Naude / ANA

The South African working class and middle class division is a generational legacy of the colonial era creation of amaqaba and amagqobhoka. But Karl Marx would generally tell me that even if it were not for colonialism, class divisions would still exist in South Africa. But to me, the desirable reality is that the “ideological seed” and “force” would be different and most certainly African-centred. The underpinning settler colonialism as the driving force to the current structure and functioning of the class divisions, create a bitter taste in the mouth. The dividing settler colonialism has a historically deplorable record of inhumanity towards black people and it needs to be held accountable. 

When students began calling for Rhodes’ legacy to fall throughout the country, they simultaneously held public lectures to lay bare the deplorable nature of colonialism as a continuously underpinning base and superstructure in the South African social and economic order.

This necessitates a total shift away from the “ideological seeds” and “force” of colonialism if black people are to be lifted out of the tragic poverty we trapped in. The thirty million lives languishing in poverty did not place themselves in it, colonialism created the conditions. It then requires that settler colonialism be confronted for what it is – a crime against humanity –for black people to have a chance to gasp for air in South Africa. But it will take a people who denounce colonial oriented class divisions and do not look down on poor black people to achieve the task of providing fresh air to the suffering black people. 

Historically, amaqaba and amagqobhoka were the two opposing social classes that emerged within the Xhosa nation, with the establishment of the colonial era missionaries in modern day Eastern Cape. The first notable figure of the colonial era class of amagqobhoka is Lovedale and Presbyterian Church’s Reverend Tiyo Soga. And like Tiyo Soga, former President Thabo Mbeki went to Lovedale and proceeded to Europe for his higher education.

In this sense, Thabo Mbeki can be regarded as a modern notable figure of the apartheid era class of amagqobhoka. For reasons peculiar to the “European cultural thought and behaviour”, amaqaba are often obscured from the public and usually emerge as heroic figures that organise the masses to overthrow the colonial ruling class. Modern day figures of this group become easily absorbed into the capitalistic middle class once they are elevated out of poor economic conditions.    

But the story of amaqaba and amagqobhoka deserves highlighting because it informs contemporary class divisions and struggles in South Africa. The contemporary working class and middle class struggles are generational inheritances from amaqaba and amagqobhoka of the colonial era Christian missionaries. 

In her “African-centred critique of the European cultural thought and behaviour”, in Yurugu, Dr. Marimba Ani layout the processes by which African people were un-Africanised through proselytization as the historical process of the creation of negro slaves and colonial subjects. She provides a comprehensive anthropological analysis and understanding of the processes by which Africans were and continue to be reconstituted from our African cultural selves into slaves and colonial subjects –for the purpose of European domination. In the analysis, she explains that for as long as the “ideological force” is European-centred, the purpose of the work being done is for the maintenance of European domination over non-Europeans, but primarily African people. And at the core of slavery and the colonial mission was and still is the power of the African Spirit.  

So in the context of South Africa, amaqaba and amagqobhoka were socially constructed through an enduring process of the proselytization of amaXhosa in order to plant the seed of European cultural thought and behaviour. This was the process of the creation of the European colonial subjects into the current working class and middle class for the purpose of maintaining European domination over the African Spirit. Tiyo Soga, though he was qualified in European institutions, he never received the level respect he ought to have received for a European transformed Reverend. He remained a kaffir in the eyes of the colonizers until his death. Even Thabo Mbeki, though educated in Lovedale and Sussex, he did not gain the level of respect he ought to have gained from his erstwhile colonizers also because he prioritised African unity above the consolidation of settler colonialism in South Africa. 

Dr. Marimba Ani explains that the education of the African intellectual in European institutions is not for the purpose of receiving equality with the European. It is for the African to advance the cultural thoughts and behaviours of Europe amongst his or her fellow Africans for the maintenance of European domination over the African Spirit. Dr. Marimba Ani places emphasis on the African Spirit and explains that it is our most potent asset and that which is fought by the colonisers. So it is the African Spirit that should be prioritised when dealing with the healing of African people because it is the Spirit that is possessed by the European cultural thoughts and behaviours.    

Further, when reading the history of colonialism in South Africa, it becomes apparent that amaXhosa are known for their stubborn nature throughout the proselytization mission. In a Christian article celebrating the “heroic” works of notables such as John Love, after whom Lovedale was named, to David Livingstone, the story of Nongqawuse’s cattle killing prophecy is noted as a god-sent opportunity that opened the way for British missionaries to finally plant their cultural seeds in the Xhosa nation. The article notes that the tragedy of Nongqawuse’s prophecy left atleast 25 000 people dead from starvation. This opened the way for the British missionaries to have access to the desperate nation.   

This was to be the beginning of the effective seeding of the colonial missionaries in their creation of amaqaba and amagqobhoka. But even with the devastation that followed Nongqawuse’s prophecy, amaXhosa remained suspicious and still rejected the western values introduced through mission churches and schools. 

In both their novels Ukuba Ndandazile and Ingqumbo Yeminyanya, Witness Tamsanqa and Archibald Jordan respectively capture the tragic narratives of amaqaba and amagqobhoka when royal descendants of amaXhosa embraced western values above their traditions. They both paint a picture of tragic deaths that have historically befell the ruling westernised converts as they continuously undermined their ancestral mandates in favour of the western culture.

To a large extent, the darkness and heaviness of the Marikana tragedy should also be seen and understood from the perspective of the generational legacy of amaqaba and amagqobhoka. This is because at the core of the proselytization of African people was the need for the creation of new markets for the expansion of European capitalism. The creation of amaqaba and amagqobhoka was a necessary social construction preceded by the rise of capitalism in Europe and the need to export surplus to untouched territories. It was then necessary to transform the value systems of colonial territories in order to reflect and conform to the European ideals. It is the only way European capitalism can survive. 

This “ideological force” is as pervasive as it was with the first colonial encounters if not more. For thirty million people to live in poverty out 55.91million is inhuman. A system that creates such travesty is not human; it is wild, out of control and animalistic. It will not self-correct, it has be corrected.  

Lindiswa Jan is Researcher & Masters Candidate at the Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cape Town