OPINION: Defence of colonialism is just rubbing our noses in it

Helen Zille, Picture Credit: Gallo Images
Helen Zille, Picture Credit: Gallo Images

I don't know if it's just me, but my sense is that the more black people become conciliatory, the more they get reminded of the pain and trauma of our not so distant past by our fellow countrymen who happen to be white.

Here I am not even talking about the white man featured in a video that has since gone viral, showing him physically abusing a black woman at a Spur outlet in the south of Johannesburg. Such incidents happen every day, except that only a fraction of them get reported.

I want to comment on some of our white compatriots who, in one breath will tell us to "forget the past", yet in the next will do everything to rub our noses in that ignoble past.

When Helen Zille argued through her tweets that colonialism was not all that bad she was articulating a sentiment - divisive and insensitive as it is - that still holds sway in many corners of white South Africa.

In their narrative, the white man who arrived on these shores is painted in glorious colours as an advanced person who found Africans swinging from trees like monkeys, ignorant of the ways of God, and lazy beyond belief.

This thesis is problematic at many levels. Long before whites arrived here, Africans were trading with Chinese and Indian traders.

As a result, cloth is not something that was brought to these shores by the white man.

Long before whites got here, Africans mined gold in the kingdoms of Monomotapa and Mapungubwe.

Of course you won't find these stories in our history books. To paraphrase Chinua Achebe, for as long as the lion cannot write, the story of the hunt will always be told from the point of view of the hunter.

In other words, as long as black people do not write their own stories, history will be the stuff that comes from the pens of white conquerors.

Were you to listen to the cacophony that emanates from Zille's circle of friends you would think that when the white man arrived here, his ship was laden with laptops, cars and other modern conveniences.

The Zille thesis omits one thing: colonialism was all about extraction. Mineral riches from this country were extracted and sent to the kings and queens in Europe.

When Zille and company say colonialism brought us democracy and running water, they forget to mention that these roads were built with the blood, tears and sweat of Africans.

They forget to mention that colonialism was more fluent in the language of the bullet and the bayonet.

Zille's road to progress is littered with the corpses of black people who were killed in the countless wars of conquest.

Industrialisation in this country - which brought us roads, running water and so on - was not brought by colonialism, but by private enterprise.

Such entrepreneurs as Alois Hugo Nellmapius - yes, he had his controversies - did more for the country than did Cecil John Rhodes.

Right now, we are a highly dysfunctional country mainly because the majority - who happen to be black - are unemployed, mainly because they do not have skills and education.

Had the powers that be given black people an opportunity to access education right from the onset on an equal footing with the whites, the country would have progressed even further, at a faster pace.

The denial of blacks a proper education is a sad legacy of colonialism and apartheid but black people, magnanimous as they always are, were willing to forgive and forget.

To have the likes of Zille dredging up the past, now dressed in colourful clothes, is very hurtful.


- Comments: fredkhumalo@post.harvard.edu

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