Philip Copeman

Author and Activist

1)A great many evils were perpetrated in the colonial period, none greater than the murder of 26,000 Afrikaners and their supporters in the 1900 Anglo Boer War. The economic mismanagement and growth underperformance caused by the Glen Grey, The Land Acts had far reaching implications for the underdevelopment of South Africa. The brunt of these mischievous deeds were born by black South Africans in that period.

2) It is time for Helen Zille, along with all the other elected representatives and career politicians that have served 8 years or more, to leave politics and make way for fresh ideas. #termlimits

At any time in reading this article you find yourself in disagreement with me and lacking in the tools for rational debate, you feel the urge to descend in racists expletives, please refer to points 1) and 2) above.

The branding of Zille as a racist based on her tweets on Colonialism is not only emotive and disingenuous, it serves little in creating a framework of discourse to promote patriotism and national unity. It is downright damaging to the understanding of our own history. The knock on effect on current affairs is that rather than putting the past behind us and moving forward, we fall back into describing ourselves in a context that is no longer relevant, a context that causes us to underperform as a Nation.

The term “Colonialism” derives from the 17th and 18th centuries as a result of the Expansion of Europe. In expanding their Imperialist Empires, The British in particular, dispersed colonists to a large number of countries. Later generations of Colonists, born in foreign countries developed split loyalties and felt that they were better able to Govern these territories than the logistically removed Imperialist administrators. The Colonialists were in fact the first effective revolutionaries against the Imperialist forces. This resistance started with the American War of Independence, and echoes though to today.

Colonialist were rarely motivated by the interests of the local inhabitants and the forces at play were steeped in self interest rather than universall humanitarianism. Indeed they sought to advance their own narrow interests. In the case of the 19th Century British and their interests in South Africa, the Imperialists were easily motivated to cede control to the Colonialists. The British Empire was largely financed by its 300 year Rape of India. The South African colonies provided little in the way of cash dividends and when lobbied by people like Cecil Rhodes, or confronted by Nationalists like Andries Pretorius, the Imperialists were eager to avoid expense and conflict and easily gave away control to the Colonialists. This was not ubiquitous. In the case of Botswana, Swaziland and Lesotho the Black Africans chose Imperialist control over the near slavery offered by the Colonialists. It was at the request of the territories that “Protectorates” were formed.

Comparing historic Colonialism to modern Democracy is limited in meaning. Clearly Democracy is better. However, Democracy did not exist in 19th century Southern Africa. Ceterus paribus (all other things being equal), if we are going to evaluate the merits or demerits of Colonialism then it should be done in the context of Colonialist South Africa vs Imperialist Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland.

In the context of Zille's statement that Colonialism was “not ONLY negative” to Maimane's statement that “Colonialism...can never be justified”, clearly Zille is right and Maimane is wrong. There are many aspects that make the Colonialist outcome of South Africa preferable to the Imperialist outcome of say, Swaziland. It is a debate beyond the scope of this article to detail these, however you have only to observe the will of the African people. They migrate to South Africa, they do not migrate to Swaziland Lesotho or Botswana.

But this debate is not about historical Colonialism is it? In the context that is being played out Colonialism has been substituted as a proxy for “white”.

This is where the destruction of our unity begins. Modern white South Africans are not Colonialists. By their actions, the majority of white South Africans support the constitutional democracy and do not support the Colonialist position that any minority group should run the affairs of South Africa. Africans of all races are not excluded from the institutions created by Colonialism and have been passed onto all us. In fact we have dubious racist laws that require racial profiling to ensure racial equity.

South Africans of all races are quick to seek placing blame on someone else. Colonialists are “never us”. It is always “them”. We would do far better to understand the genetic truth that the vast majority of South Africans have Colonialist ancestors. And if not genetically, socially we have all inherited this history. Colonial history is not something that separates us, it is something that joins us – in blood.

Using “Colonialism” as a proxy for “whiteness” leads us to a racist double speak. Do modern white South Africans have a place in South Africa and a democratic right to self enrichment? Aye now there's the rub. When we mischievously link Zille's Tweet to a racist agenda, what we really mean is “We have had enough of this white bitch and all her kind and don't want to listen to her opinion, right or wrong.” What we want is to climb up onto a hillock of self righteousness, roll back reality and pretend that our history was something else. More particularly, we want to use the ambivalence to advance our own tribal political agenda. The enormous cost to our Nation is to restrict our democratic development and defer our inevitable unification.

It is unfortunate that Maimane is tunnelled into an extension of his own political career. He loses the opportunity to unify and succumbs to the double speak that will inevitably turn against him. Intellectually he is out of context. You cannot justify or reject Colonialism. Colonialism is not a current state of affairs. Irrespective of your current opinion or desires for the future,  Colonialism is a historical reality. 

Unity, not division, is how we will protect ourselves against its resurgence.

I stand with the Africanists who are frustrated that African traditions have been subjugated to a global agenda. Sadly this outcome is largely through our own adoption and intoxication of Western benefits, the very benefits pointed out by Zille. Neo Luddite denial-ism leads nowhere. It serves our joint efforts little to defer rational argument to advance the interests of specific racial groups in current affairs. We have a rich history, and like it or not Colonialism is how we got here. We are not a negative people, there are many positive things about our makeup. It is unfortunate that after expressing this revelation, rather than defend her position, Zille should collapse into an apologetic mess, for clearly she is syntactically correct - “Colonialism was not ONLY negative”

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