Saturday, March 23, 2013

Looking back at colonialism -- soberly

Time and time again we see posts that are concerned to dredge up the past in order to wallow in aggrievement, accuse and condemn.
The focus includes bitter commentary on the central issue of racism.  Note that tribalism is hardly ever mentioned.
To my mind it is therefore very necessary to have a hard, but dispassionate look at that past in order to “balance things up” a bit.  It is what sentient beings do.
When we do so we can abstract the following relevant factors that impact the issue at hand.
  1. The White invader was not, at that time, imbued with a developed human rights culture, let alone any commitment to non-racism. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was only adopted in 1947.  As much as the USA had, in 1776, adopted this statement – “ all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” there was no generalized international culture of adherence in the world.
  2. In fact international culture continued to be what was, and always had been = invade, conquer and subjugate. Man had been doing this from time immemorial.  No geographical region was spared, from Egypt to the annihilation of the Incas in South America. The Greeks did it. The Romans did it with aplomb. Genghis Khan has the dubious distinction of having killed more human beings, in overrunning Asia, than were killed in the last World War.
  3. So the "scramble for Africa"  also known as "the Race for Africa" was always going to happen. 
  4. There was never going to be any chance of Africa being spared being invaded, conquered and subjugated. Throughout previous history, might was always right. Throughout history man had ventured across the planet in search of new worlds. It was as natural to the international mindset as breathing.
  5. So the above is a harsh reality that we cannot wish away.  It is how the world was .. and always was.  It was how people thought and acted in them days.
  6. In such a situation unqualified condemnation is plainly unrealistic. “Unrealistic” because it seeks to import standards, norms, codes and values that did not exist at that time. We are imposing our current values and morals on a period in which they simply did not exist.
  7. As regards our local African conditions of the time the harsh reality is that there was little, perhaps no difference to the culture of the invader.
  8. This region was not imbued with anything like a human rights culture. There was no concept of “equality”; far from it. “Inequality” was deeply embedded throughout all structures and accepted psychologically.  Neither King Shaka Zulu, Mzilikazi or King Lobengula ruled with anything other than a despotic iron fist, with the King having complete prerogative over who lived and who died.
  9. Racial antipathy (usually referred to as “tribal”) was deeply ingrained. Neither the Zulus, not the Ndebeles considered any other tribe as equal. All other tribes were ranked in an order of lowliness, and treated accordingly.
  10. In fact the Zulu nation was, and still is, specifically structured on the basis of inequality with its  Abezansi [who were the aristocrats], the Abenhla [middle class] and the Amaholi classes.
  11. The Romans were divided into patricians and plebians.  The English were deeply divided between the working class and the aristocracy. We can continue this list across the planet historically.
  12. In South Africa Shaka and Mzilikazi mounted their mfecane campaigns that were so brutal as to depopulate whole regions.  In Zimbabwe King Lobengula would throw a spear into the ground and his impi would be on its way to kill, rape and rob every other human being found in that direction.
  13. In this situation the reality was one of entrenched racism, i.e., tribalism; and this carried though to all aspects of life and social attitudes.
  14. So, as much as it is true that the White invader had a very bad culture, in terms of our current value set, it was hardly any different from that of our own people.  The White man did not invent or import the culture of racial/ethnic inequality.  It was already here, very much alive and kicking.  To pretend otherwise is to indulge in emotive irrationalism.
  15. My own Gogo did not regard tribes other than Ndebele as equal. She would spit if she saw an Indian, an Afrikaner or member of some of the other Black tribes. She respected only the English and the Germans. As far as I could make out this was because she regarded them as “great warriors’ for having fought such a great and bloody world war. (WWII).
  16. And then the world changed, reaching a point where it adopted the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights in 1948.
  17. It went further and started approving of the reversal of the previous culture of invade, conquer and subjugate.  It is this that British prime minister Harold Macmillan warned the SA Parliament about in his famous “Winds of Change” speech in 1960.
  18. The reversal came and we were "freed”.
  19. Similarly we cannot NOW condemn Black folk because, in the past they would kill one twin at birth and a child if its top teeth appeared first. i.e, proof that it was a born witch or wizard.
  20. It is also the culture of those who want to perpetuate the very culture they say they are against and are complaining off.
  21. Interesting also was what happened in many cases involving the issue of identity. A Black witness is asked to describe who he/she says committed the particular offence in issue. The witness is pressed on the issue of identity – [Extract from book]
Prosecutor: How can you be absolutely certain that it was the accused in the dock?
Witness: Because he is ugly
Prosecutor: What do you mean when you say that he is ugly?
Witness: Because he is black
As said, colour based prejudice is simply not the sole preserve of any particular ethnic group.

So in looking at the past we really do need to factor in  the realities of those times.  It is simply unfair and illogical to assign norms and values that simply did not exist at the time.  At that time “might was right”, even among our own people. Had Africa been stronger it would have invaded Europe and subjugated the Europeans. It is really as simple as that.
In fact North Africans invaded and occupied Spain for some 700 years until they were driven out.
We must also accept that the pre-existing culture of inequality, on the part of both the White invader and our own people, then found expression in ALL our communities.  A culture of inequality was guaranteed and the challenge has always been to rid ALL groups of this scourge.
And just as important is the realization that we simply have no basis for imagining that we would have been in a better place had colonialism not occurred.
Pointing fingers is therefore the mode of those who have little understanding of reality and want to wallow and act out real and often imagined grievance.

I'm for truth, no matter who tells it.
I'm for justice,
no matter who it's for or against.
Malcolm X
Order ---

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