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Thinking Freedom in Africa “acutely in time” says Richard Pithouse at launch of Michael Neocosmos’s latest book

Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WiSER) hosted the launch of author and academic Michael Neocosmos’s most recent book, Thinking Freedom in Africa on Wednesday the 15th of March.

Political theorist and public intellectual Achille Mbembe and academic Richard Pithouse joined Neocosmos in the discussion on Thinking Freedom in Africa, published by Wits University Press, and the recipient of the 2017 Frantz Fanon Outstanding Book Award.

Neocosmos’s book explores the politics of emancipation via the study of the global history of African peoples’ struggles for liberation; Neocosmos asserted that the “way to emancipation is not achievable via identity theories or the returning of state power.”

He added that it is inexcusable to treat humans as inhumane and that emancipation can only truly occur once we – as a people – recognise this and put it into practice.

“Big words like freedom, justice and equality are necessary when discussing emancipation,” Neocosmos stressed, adding that a capitalist society is to our detriment regarding the pursuit of emancipation, describing the wealth discrepancies in Africa as “obscene.”

Nearing the end of the discussion, Neocosmos echoed this conviction by asking whether it is possible for capitalism to exist within the absence of racism and injustice.

Pithouse commented that Thinking Freedom in Africa is “acutely in time”, as it is necessary to both think about emancipation and to bring struggle into theory. That Neocosmos is “trying to take the lived experiences of Africans seriously” adds to the timeliness of the book.

Mbembe pronounced Thinking Freedom in Africa as “probably the most important book to be published in South Africa over the past 10 years,” as it “forces us to think and to de-exceptionalise the South African experience.

“It stretches far beyond South Africa as such,” Mbembe deliberated.

In addition to this comment, Mbembe questioned the destruction of oppression, asking what we’re going to replace opposition with once we’ve destroyed it.

Mbembe stated that the ‘struggle’ for emancipation causes a conflation of knowledge and experience, asking whether “liberation consists of making my oppressor feel the way I do?”

Unity has not yet been achieved in politics and that unity cannot be achieved until we have asked – and answered – the question of who “we” are, Neocosmos concluded. How we construct and contain that “we” is fundamental in the pursuit of emancipation.

The discussion came to an end when a Wits academic received a note which he humourously proclaimed was “given to me by the politburo” announcing that “more drinks have arrived.”

The audience left in both a cheerful and contemplative mood…

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