DA leader Mmusi Maimane has a tough battle on his hands to save his party from a jaundiced perception of colonial leadership styles, writes Devi Rajab.
Can there be a debate about the Holocaust? Can there be a debate about slavery? Do we have the audacity to discuss the merits of the dehumanisation and subjugation of a people? And yet this insensitivity is being mouthed by supposed leaders of a once great opposition party.
Helen Zille is not the first, nor will she be the last, to sing the praises of colonialism.
When British chancellor Gordon Brown announced upon leaving Kenya that Britain should stop apologising for colonialism and instead be proud of its colonial history in Africa and proud of the British values of liberty, tolerance and civic virtue that it brought to its colonies, Africans gasped in shock and disbelief.
The waves spread into France and Aime Cesaire, the leading poet and writer, refused to meet French interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy in protest over a law in which his conservative party had called on teachers to emphasise athe positive role played by French colonialism.
In his brilliant exposé of the atrocities of colonialism, Thomas Pakenham outlines how Africa was ravaged by Western forces in The Scramble for Africa.
I recall the late Helen Suzman taking the book off our library shelves and saying how sick it made her feel.
The brutality of the colonised people was so deep and cruel that a catalogue of its atrocities will shock even those who believe they are familiar with the horrors of Africa’s colonial era.
The modus operandi of the coloniser was to take over the land of the indigenous people and subjugate them to serve their selfish needs.
Whatever positive outcomes that may have inadvertently occurred were done for the benefit of the colonisers and not necessarily for the welfare of the colonised.
So Let’s get this quite clear, the intention often overshadowed the outcome.
In their outreach into India, the British overstayed their welcome by 300 years in their battle to capture the hearts and minds of a people who simply refused to be subjugated.
Describing the challenges of colonising the Indian psyche, Lord Macaulay, in his address to the British parliament on the 2 nd of February 2, 1835, is reported to have said:
“I have travelled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief, such wealth I have not seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage and therefore I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation.”
Today, 70 years after independence, some proponents of colonialism still maintain life was better under old masters and tend to glorify the virtues of British infrastructure of roads, railways, the postal system, abolition of practices like sati or wife burning, and aspects of the caste system.
But they do so in isolation from the composite historical picture.
There are many similarities between Africa and India as colonised people.
However, whereas India has managed to preserve herself as one (sub)continent, Africa has not.
Like a mauled animal, Africa had many predators eating at her carcass. They were French, Italian, Belgian, English and Portuguese all bearing commerce, Christianity and civilisation into Joseph Conrad’s “heart of darkness”.
Accordingly, Africa today is a beleaguered continent of disparate cultures and languages fuelled by ignorance of what lies beyond the country’s borders.
Lecturers of geography at a South African university complain that students cannot name countries on a map of southern Africa due to the fact that apartheid education bypassed Africa.
Their insularity is part of the problem and the notion of a united Africa is in the minds of political leaders and not the people.
Now that US President Donald Trump has lanced us out of his insular vision with little interest in Africa and the UK is pursuing the policy of Brexit, is it not time for Africa to shed her colonial past and rise above her dependence on colonial masters of the past?
Isn’t it time that Africa begins to see herself as a large and potentially powerful continent?
DA leader Mmusi Maimane has a tough battle on his hands to save his party from a jaundiced perception of colonial leadership styles.
He needs to remember that he is, after all, a leader of African people in an African continent.
I pick up a bottle of ginger powder that is neatly sealed and packaged. My eye catches another marked Food Lover’s. I am hesitant and ask the teller, “Which is better”?
She unequivocally endorses the first. On closer examination I notice to my surprise that it is a product of Nigeria.
Not Italy, Portugal or China.
A sense of pride fills me with optimism.
Africa needs to acknowledge her “Africanness’’ with the rest of Africa. Are we a part of Africa or do we set our sights westward?
* Rajab is a psychologist
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.