If there is anything more contemptible than kicking someone when they are down, it is to kick them when they are trying to get up. This is, however, what happened to the first postcolonial governments in Africa within a few years of coming to power. And this is also now happening to the ANC government and its leader, Thabo Mbeki, with attacks from both the impatient left and the frustrated right.
In this respect, none is perhaps more deplorable than R.W. Johnson, a South African-educated former lecturer in politics at Oxford University who returned to his native country as director of the Helen Suzman Foundation. He is now better known as a journalist specialising in criticising black rule as if he had a bee inside his colonial bonnet.
In his recent book, South Africa--The First Man, The Last Nation, Johnson launches an attack on Mbeki and the ANC "regime" (not government), but the attack is so off the mark that he manages to be offensive to all Africans, if not all black people. This is what he says about the concept of African Renaissance:
"Meanwhile President Mbeki had announced his belief in the African Renaissance--a theme which proved popular among the new elite (ANC) which repeated this phrase as a virtual mantra. Bizarrely, at several universities, African Renaissance institutes and centres were set up- though nobody had the first idea what the term might mean. There seemed to be a vague sense that the age of colonialism had been equivalent to the Dark Ages and that now that all Africa was decolonised, there could be some return to the promise of a lost golden past and that peace would replace Africa's chronic civil strife. "Indeed, Mbeki frequently announced that the 21st century would be 'the African century'. Quite why this was supposed to happen was left unclear: after all, the end of colonialism had seen civil strife increase, not decrease in many African states. But lack of clarity was the essence of the exercise not only because there had never actually been such a lost golden past but because the proponents of the African renaissance were in any case not historically trained or aware. Serious historians passed over the phrase 'African Renaissance' in embarrassed silence." Who are these "serious historians" Johnson is referring to? Those white South Africans who "spin" the past so as to deny black rights of precedence or identity like some of their Israeli counterparts theorise about Palestinians? Those...