Daniel Friedman
2 minute read
6 Jun 2018
6:10 am

Celebrated pan-Africanist Fanon’s daughter welcomed in SA

Daniel Friedman

Professor Mireille Fanon-Mendes-France, chairperson of the Frantz Fanon Foundation, is here as part of the Africa Month colloquium series.

Prof Mereille Fanon-Mendes-France, daughter of renowned activist author, Frantz Fanon speaks during a discussion aimed at "building a better Africa and a better world" hosted by the Dept of Arts and Culture at Constitutional Hill, Johannesburg, 5 June 2018. Picture: Neil McCartney

The department of arts and culture yesterday hosted a media launch on the arrival of Professor Mireille Fanon-Mendes-France as part of the Africa Month colloquium series.

Fanon-Mendes-France is the daughter of great pan-Africanist Frantz Fanon and chairperson of the Frantz Fanon Foundation.

The event forms part of a series on Africa Month that will take place at Constitutional Hill in Johannesburg.

As an activist and scholar, she has never shied away from her connection to her father, often speaking about the relevance of his work in a contemporary context. And these days, Fanon is nothing if not relevant.

Fanon has over the years been written on by, among others, Dr Mbuyiseni Ndlozi of the EFF; championed by nemesis of the EFF Andile Mngxitama of the Black First Land First movement; and quoted in speeches by president Thabo Mbeki.

Fanon is a great figure among intellectuals in post-apartheid South Africa. He is a prolific and important figure who was influential in a wide range of fields.

He was a psychiatrist, philosopher and a revolutionary – who fought in Algeria’s 1954 to 1962 battle for liberation – as well as a writer.

Born in the small Caribbean island of Martinique, at the time a French colony, Fanon had a fairly bourgeois upbringing. One of eight children, his father was a customs inspector and his mother owned a hardware store.

As a relatively wealthy member of the island’s black population, Fanon’s parents strived to assimilate with white, French society.

Exposure to the work of another influential Martiniquan thinker Aime Cesaire, whose work promoted black people embracing their identity, led to Fanon becoming disillusioned with the value his parents placed on assimilation.

After fighting for the French in World War II, Fanon stayed in France studying medicine and psychiatry. There, he encountered racism that enraged him and inspired his first book Black Skin, White Masks.

The book looked at what Fanon saw as the mask black people had to wear to gain acceptance in white society.

He became influenced by Marxism and existentialism, especially the work of philosopher John-Paul Sartre, who championed Fanon’s work.

This led to him moving away from a humanist, assimilationist ideology to the post-colonial theory that is so influential today.

After a short stint back in the Caribbean, Fanon ended up in Algeria where he had been stationed during the Algerian War of Independence. There, he wrote his most important works A Dying Colonialism, The Wretched of the Earth and the posthumously published Towards the African Revolution.

His importance in South Africa is largely due to his work’s focus on decolonisation.

Fanon, who died at the young age of 36 in Maryland, USA, argued that “black people need to not only combat physical colonisation but shake off psychological colonisation to be able to develop free thought that isn’t filtered through white norms and values”, now a popular idea in post-apartheid South Africa.


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