Rian Malan writes on the cycle of conquest and humiliation, and the process of coming to terms with the past and grateful thanks to Politicsweb for publishing his article.
“The single most important legacy of colonialism is our constitution, commissioned by Mandela but heavily influenced by acolytes of the old imperial order, including Communists (for Communism is a European invention) and white liberals of an approximately British strain.
Aside from some clauses about economic rights, SA’s constitution is in perfect concord with late imperial thinking — human rights, free elections, independent judiciary, rule of law and critically, property rights. Its coded subtext says, “We are now free, but we will continue to follow the course recommended by the empire.” Which is precisely why the EFF and the Fallists are clamouring for its annihilation, with president Zuma in qualified support.
Which brings us at last to the painful heart of the matter. Why this furor about Zille’s tweets? Because she’s posing a question South Africans are terrified to talk about. The constitution has come to mark the great divide in our society. On one side we have amorphous forces ranged behind Pravin Gordhan, including the SACP, the DA and the old stalwarts in Save South Africa, all trying to follow some variant of the course charted in our empire-influenced constitution. And on the other, Zuma and his primitive accumulationists, who’d prefer to gut the constitution, cut the judiciary down to size and annihilate mechanisms that prevent them from looting the treasury.
The most powerful weapon in the hands of Zuma’s faction is the idea that the present order is a relic of colonialism and white supremacy and must thus be transformed out of existence. The most powerful weapon in the hands of the Gordhan-related forces is one they’re too scared to use– like Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, they believe that at least some of the colonial inheritance is good and should be carried forward — and not for the sake of whites; for the sake of the long-suffering masses, still yearning in every opinion poll for job creation and prosperity on the scale achieved by Singapore. The alternative is to follow Idi Amin and Mugabe into the abyss”.
Zille’s heresy: Rian Malan 25/3/2017 Politicsweb.co.za
Like others, I was reminded of Monty Python’s skit about a secret meeting of revolutionaries plotting to overthrow the Roman rulers of ancient Judea. A character named Stan is ranting about the evils of Roman colonialism when a comrade rudely interrupts him. “All right, Stan,” he says. “Don’t labour the point. What have the Romans given us in return?”
Someone says, “The aqueduct.” Someone else suggests, “Sanitation.” A third says, “The roads.” Stan’s faction is in danger of losing control, so one of his allies says, “Well, yes, obviously, the roads go without saying,” but he is shouted down by voices crying, “Irrigation! Sanitation! Medicine! Education! Health!” And so on.
I was initially planning to inflict some Monty Python jokes on the self-righteous Eusebius, but I was persuaded to refrain by the civilizing influence of Helene Lewis Opperman, a Cape Town psychologist who consulted me about the writing of her new book, Britain’s Bastard Child.
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Foreigners often ask why my late father joined the National Party and Ossewa Brandwag in 1939, expecting to hear stories of anti-Semitism and anti-black bigotry. No ways. My father grew up barefooted in a small town. In his childhood, Afrikaners were objects of ridicule for their English-speaking betters. They were ill-educated and often poor, earning around 60 percent of the average English wage, a statistic that put Afrikaners in much the same socio-economic position as blacks in white America in that period.
My father wasn’t even remotely obsessed with race. His politics were driven by humiliation. What he wanted, above all, was vengeance, or at least a chance to prove to the sneering English that he was their equal. This translated into lifelong support for a political party that put Afrikaners first, pumping money into Afrikaans education, building Afrikaans industries and creating civil service jobs for poor whites. Like most Afrikaners, he deliberately blinded himself to the humiliation this inflicted on blacks, and by the time he wised up, it was too late.
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Objectivity? I’m afraid so. Give me a glass or two of wine and I can rant for hours about the British and the way they mocked me at my English school for being a Dutchman or hairyback and blamed Afrikaners for apartheid, even though it was Cecil John Rhodes who invented its worst aspects. The British were hypocrites and scoundrels, utterly ruthless when it served their interests, but there is no point denying that they came from a superior civilization.
They had more resources than the Boers, better organization, more discipline. That’s why they were able to beat us in the war of 1899, steal our gold and laugh at us in the aftermath, while at the same time enriching our lives with clever British inventions like steam engines, Marmite and Cornish pies.
Okay, sorry, that’s a joke, and this is no laughing matter. For Afrikaners, Alfred Milner was the worst of all British shits, but he had at least one sound idea: “All good government is good administration, all the rest is rot.” Appointed to rule the conquered Boer republics in 1901, Milner introduced proper tax collection, municipalities and a professional, independent civil service. As Afrikaner historian Hermann Giliomee concedes in his autobiography, this laid the foundation for a massive expansion of infrastructure and industry that eventually propelled South Africa into the modern era.
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So let me repeat Zille’s heresy: much as we hate to admit it, both Boers and blacks benefitted in some ways from the British occupation and its legacy. It is of course an insult to expect black South Africans to agree at this point, but they will eventually, because that is a law of history.
In his best-seller Sapiens, bio-historian Yuval Noah Harari observes that almost everyone alive today comes from a tribe or nation that has at some point experienced both ends of the stick – the humiliations of conquest as well as the joys of empire.