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Black Against the Rainbow: An Azanian Afropessimist Critique of Frank Wilderson's South Africa

Thursday Lecture Series, Failure

dateFebruary 23, 2023 timeThursday, 12:15pm–2:00pm EST location The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room, Columbia University locationVirtual Event
  • The Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities
email address [email protected]
  • Free and open to the public
  • Registration required. See details.
Abstract image of dark-skinned bodies in a spiral pattern

The North American tradition of Afropessimism is deeply indebted to what South Africans would call the “struggle credentials” of Frank B Wilderson III''s as a Fanonian-Marxist-Leninist member of the ANC from 1992 to 1996. Unfortunately, to the detriment of both conceptualizations and critiques of Afropessimism, Wilderson's Incognegro and Afropessimism simplifies and truncates the long, complex history of Black political, ideological, and intellectual resistance in South Africa to his arrival in 1989 and subsequent years as an elected official in the ANC from 1992. Contrary to Wilderson’s claim, the ANC's failure to ameliorate Black abjection in the “Rainbow Nation” is not the result of “selling out” the Marxist-Leninist path. The talk argues it is the result of the ANC’s “non-racial” Congress Tradition historically sidelining the Azanian (Pan-Africanist-Black Consciousness) Tradition’s longstanding "Black-first" pessimism toward successive “multiracial” and “nonracial” universalisms of South Africa’s left-liberal political traditions. This talk will look at the failure of Wilderson and his supporters and critics alike to adequately situate and acknowledge how the Azanian Tradition anticipated his Afropessimist critique of the ANC’s post-apartheid failures to ameliorate Black abjection in the Rainbow Nation. Likewise, it will look at the erasure of Afropessimist theorisations in post-apartheid black academia and movements such as Blackwash, the September National Imbizo and Fallist Movement.


Panashe Chigumadzi is an award-winning writer, scholar, and cultural historian exploring themes ranging from race, religion, and spirituality, to African Philosophy and Cosmology, Black Consciousness, Black Feminism, Black Internationalism and Pan-Africanism, to the afterlives of settler colonialism, Transatlantic Slavery, global (anti-)Blackness, and the indignity of Black life under crippling poverty and violence. Chigumadzi’s historical memoir These Bones Will Rise Again (2018), was shortlisted for the 2019 Alan Paton Prize for Non-fiction, and her debut novel Sweet Medicine won the 2016 K. Sello Duiker Literary Award. Chigumadzi was the founder and editor of Vanguard Magazine, a platform for black women coming of age in post-apartheid South Africa. A former columnist for The New York Times and a contributing editor to the Johannesburg Review of Books, her work has been featured in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Die Ziet, Chimurenga, The Sunday Times, City Press, Africa is A Country, Transition and the Boston Review. Her most recent essay, co-authored with Professor Cornel West, “When Tutu reconciled John Mbiti’s African Theology and James Cones’ Black Theology,” was published in the Boston Review. As a member of the African Feminist Initiative, she contributed essays to landmark Afro-feminist anthologies such as Gabeba Baderoon and Desiree Lewis’ award-winning Surfacing: On Being Black and Feminist in South Africa (2021) and Margaret Busby’s New Daughters of Africa: International Anthology of Writing by Women of African Descent (2019).

She is a doctoral candidate at Harvard University’s Departments of African and African American Studies and History. Chigumadzi is currently the 2022-2023 Porter Fellow at Harvard University’s Hutchins Centre for African and African American Research.

This event will be in person at the Heyman Center and live-streamed online. Please register for both in-person and virtual attendance via the link.

Please email [email protected] to request disability accommodations. Advance notice is necessary to arrange for some accessibility needs.