I have sensed widespread displeasure at the terse remarks of Madam Helen Zille [former leader of South Africa’s opposition Democratic Alliance] colonialism has ensured an independent judiciary, portable water and so on. I do, however, caution that we seem to be very over-sensitive. The
Democratc Alliance does not have a reason to haul her before a disciplinary inquiry and the demand for her resignation is opportunistic and rather unjustified.
What we need to do is to offer a convincing counter-narrative exposing the weaknesses of her short-sighted worldview. Zille suggests that colonialism had both positive and negative impacts. The suggestion was terse and unreasoned. She may be forgiven because she was merely tweeting, not delivering a thesis outlining a full argument.
Given a charge she may surprise us with a few gems. History has many shades, often reflecting its teller. As one of the descendants of intra-territory slavery, I have a different version to that of Mrs Zille.
Colonisation is a dualistic story of Eurocentric triumphalism and African dehumanisation. It produced both white privilege and African misery in equal measure, both communities have their mutually destructive stories to tell. The ignobility of the egregious African slavery will, indelibly, be edged in the minds of the descendants of its victims, until Hellen Zille bites the dust.
Africa experienced intra-continental slavery as early as the 14th century, which deepened in the 18th century during the trans-atlantic slavery.
The intra-continental slavery contributed to the African dispersal across the African Continent. Contrary to the Eurocentric view that states are a European invention, during the African dispersal various tribes were painfully consolidating into nation-states. The European colonial intrusion only disrupted the fermentation of the pre-colonial African states.
Zille has not denied the existence of colonialism, but ventured that South Africa would not have infrastructure such as independent judiciary, railway, piped water, etc. We must exploit Zille’s remarks to rediscover the real story of South Africa’s industrialisation. The emergence of industrialisation is not a simplistic one. It has been a function of the proletarian class, both black and white.
Whites may deserve an exclusive credit for constructing the mud castle in which the imperial intruders stayed in 1652, from which they marvelled at African herds of cattle. What attracted the invasion of the African continent was not European benevolence but vicious capitalist expansionism. The early intruders were largely composed of uneducated proletarians, compelled by pangs of hunger to eke out a meagre existence. These class forces benefitted little or nothing!
Zille thinks that colonialism bequeathed us independent judiciary, railways, roads, portable water and so on. This view exposes the fact that she is only a journalist, not a historian. Colonialism only interrupted intra-continental development. It crushed the consolidation of the emergent pre-colonial African states. Walter Rodney shows that in the 14th century, a southern state, governed by Mwene Mutapa had a complex governance structure, and already traded with India, Indonesia and China.
Other historians show that South African infrastructural development was carried on the shoulders of African slaves.
The first industrial town was Kimberly with 20 000 inhabitants, after the discovery of diamonds by an African shepherd. I dare say, a slave, in West Grigualand.
The British moved quickly to annex this area in 1871. The diamond was harvested by mainly African labours, who earned a fraction of the wages of their white counterparts. So African cheap labour, especially African slaves produced the infrastructural development. Let’s turn to the question of judiciary.
The Council of Justice that sentenced Thiman Hendricks for ‘buying unofficial sheep’ and Trynje Theumissen for stock-theft in the 1600s were not an independent judiciary and certainty without any particular legal training, thus undistinguishable from the African Court system.
The South African judiciary was only guaranteed independence in the last two decades, when parliamentary supremacy was deposed. The early colonists were described as ‘dull, stupid, lazy’, dregs of European society, ‘uneducated louts’ who became a burden to the Dutch East Indian Company. The erstwhile ‘Cape Colony’, where Zille is currently Premier, was constructed by imported slaves of African, Indian, Malay, Chinese origins. The was no marked difference between colonists and aboriginal African tribes, except colour.
The South African industrialisation may be credited to the trans-atlantic slave trade and intra-territory slavery. When colonists arrived at Table Bay, Southern Africa already had the city of Monamotapa, already trading in ivory and gold with relatively advanced Asian states in the 14th century.
During our colonisation, Britain was locked in ‘Opium Wars’ with China. So it is not gainsaying to suggests that the British economy surpassed the Chinese economy owing to trade in drugs during that era.
The only classical refugees South Africa experienced would have been the two hundred French refugees that came to South Africa in 1688, in the formative years of the Cape Colony, escaping persecution at the hands of King Louis XIV (for merely being protestants). The peoples of Swaziland, Namibia, Mozambique, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Tanzania are people who could have ended up as a large state had it not been for the scramble of Africa!
Mrs. Zille must simply be allowed to tell us which history does she know!
Ishmael Motshwane Malale is a former member of Parliament in South Africa.