Africa: The problem of democratic colonialism
By Mkhosana Mathobela Bingweni
On 21 March 2017 South Africa commemorates Human Rights Day and remembers the sacrifices of the African multitudes that suffered and died fighting apartheid and colonialism.
This is the day in history that the Sharpeville Massacre took place. I write this piece from a small restaurant cubicle that hangs over Esselin Street in the Sunnyside part of Pretoria, on this very street four weeks ago a mob of South Africans was prepared to murder all foreigners in the area, thanks to some Somali refugees who confronted the mob and said if death be death, let it be on the battlefield, the police were forced to intervene.
I write this article when the thinking community in South Africa is still ruminating on Hellen Zille’s bold defense of colonialism after her visit to Singapore where she claims to have been blown away by how an undemocratic country such as Singapore had salvaged itself from poverty to prosperity while democratic South Africa sunk in corruption, incompetence, crime and laziness. In her self-confessed drunkenness with the dizzy success of Singapore and her disgust with the dismal failure of South Africa, Hellen Zille excitably and excitedly stated that: “For those claiming the legacy of colonialism was ONLY negative, think of our independent judiciary, transport infrastructure, piped water etc.” In other words, Hellen Zille was reminded by the success of Singapore that if South Africa had continued under apartheid and colonialism it would not have sunk to the muddy depths that the black government has taken it to.
Turned around, Hellen Zille’s argument in justice is that colonialism was not ONLY bad as it delivered development and progress. Decolonisation, consequently was not ONLY good as it allowed lazy, corrupt, incompetent and criminal blacks to take South Africa back to backwardness.
In her pursuant article to the Daily Maverick of 20 March 2017, Hellen Zille defended her statements and used examples of the theft and shortage of milk for her tea at the airport lounge, the malfunctioning television set, and a missing remote control gadget to dramatise just how things are not working in South Africa.
As a thinker and a critic, Hellen Zille passed a judgement on South Africa and Africa, a judgement from which she exonerated herself and white people in general from complicity and guilt for the misery that Africa finds itself in.
That judgement is not the only problem, the other and bigger problem is that Hellen Zille makes so much sense and her argumentation is couched in brilliant prose and convincing rhetoric.
That her brilliant rendition is a criminal defence of apartheid and colonialism that are large scale crimes against humanity only becomes clear when we retreat from the surface of things to unmask the causalities of Africa’s economic and political condition. Using her democratic and constitutionally protected rights, trusting the independent judiciary, her power and privilege Hellen Zille conveniently uproots herself from a criminal history and installs herself as an independent critic and judge of the African condition, she silences history itself and pretends that corruption, crime and the misery of Africa and Africans are unrelated to colonial underdevelopment, social inequalities and racism.
It is part of the privileges and power of being a coloniser and a beneficiary of colonialism to be able to play the game and also be the referee and the judge of the results.
Colonisers and the beneficiaries of colonialism are able to set the terms of the conversation and also be part of the conversation; they are able to tell lies that make so much sense, hence Hellen Zille’s nauseatingly condescending attitude of pretending to judge Africa and Africans without acknowledging her complicity in crimes against humanity, without being true to her racial privilege and colonially gained power and privilege.
Retreat of the Public Intellectual
The success of Hellen Zille to defend apartheid and colonialism, and do it so brilliantly and convincingly may once again cement my previous argument that colonialism and apartheid might return to Africa through constitutional and democratic means.
Through Hellen Zille and others racism and colonialism are arguing themselves back into public acceptance. A young high school child who reads Hellen Zille’s narrative, and yearning for the colonial days, might be convinced that apartheid and colonialism must return for the good of Africa and the Africans.
With such spokespersons as Zille and others, colonialism and apartheid might be voted back into popularity and power by blacks and Africans.
Because of Twitter and Facebook outbursts and public rage, Hellen Zille apologised for her statements, but her point had long been made, the white right wing was elated, she is their spokesperson.
I am sure the Donald Trump regime read with relish the trumpy argument that Zille delivered on behalf of Empire, she registered the point that Trump originally made about the need for the recolonisation of Africa.
Besides angry tweets and unhappy Facebook posts from the public, there was and there still is no engagement with Hellen Zille or meaningful deconstructions of her argument, as false, fraudulent and criminal as it is. The responses were political statements from the political parties and moral arguments where Zille was reminded that she was supposed to speak responsibly, be sensitive to others and the like, intellectually her bluff has not been called and her argument silently turns itself into common sense in South Africa and the rest of Africa.
It is not even enough to insult Hellen Zille, to pelt her with profanities, that is what she needs as the missionary of development in dark Africa, she relishes when ungrateful natives retreat to vulgarity. In this Twitter and Facebook age, Africa is bereft of public intellectuals of the likes of Peter Ekeh and the late Walter Rodney who refuted colonial and racist arguments with robust decolonial critiques. What happened to demolition of colonial propaganda that the nationalist and Marxist intellectuals of Africa, as outdated as some of them have become, did so well and to good results at the time?
In her Fool’s Paradise
Hellen Zille argues her racist and colonial case for Africa’s development from a modernisation perspective which holds that so called backward societies must behave and also do everything to catch up with modern societies.
This is an argument rooted in the colonial civilising mission where colonisers saw themselves as bringers of progress and advancement from the civilised West, no doubt Zille writes geographically from South Africa but epistemically from the West.
Powerfully, in his famous thesis on “how Europe Underdeveloped Africa” Walter Rodney proved that the enslavers and colonisers found Africa undeveloped, with no road or rail, and went on to underdevelop it, exploited its cheap labour and siphoned precious mineral and wildlife resources.
The road and rail infrastructure that Zille credits to colonisation was built to permit trade and lubricate the colonial siphoning machinery, not for the benefit of blacks, the majority of who still do not have access to the running water.
The massive structures of the University of Stellenbosch and the University of the Witwatersrand, for instance, are structures whites built using black labour, African resources and land for the benefits of whites in the colony and not blacks who still in their majority live in tin houses and cave like RDPs.
Students still have to throw stones and burn buildings in protest and demand to fully belong to enclaves whites built for themselves in Africa.
Millions of black South Africans and other black Africans throughout Africa live outside the formal economy, thanks to colonialism and its continuity to date under some black African managers and governments.
Speaking and writing from her paradise of the fool, Hellen Zille advances arguments that Peter Ekeh in his “Colonialism and the Two Publics in Africa” called ideologies of colonial legitimation, fabrications of arguments colonialists used to justify their crimes against humanity. That Africans were backward did not contribute to their own development, were engrossed in tribal wars, that colonialists invested more than they gained from colonialism are some of the fictions of colonial legitimation.
The few blacks who became rich are used by colonial spokespersons like Zille as examples that blacks benefited from the colonial enterprise which is supposed to have ended when it continues behind the mask of these lucky few elites.
If the colonialism of today was not defended by democracy and the constitution, the lies and contempt for Africans Hellen Zille exudes would be a crime that attracts a lengthy jail term.
In Africa colonialism is worming itself to the open and to power through constitutional and democratic means. While pretending to be fighting for democracy and human rights in South Africa, Hellen Zille has the power and the privilege to defend colonialism.
She has the protection of the Constitution and the privilege to speak as a disgusted European and still keeps her South African citizenship, colonialism continues to live and to empower and benefit its children in Africa.
As South Africa commemorated human rights on the 21st of March 2017, human rights do not mean the same thing for Africans; colonial constables like Zille still have more humanity and more rights than the rest of us. Hellen Zille is a member of the First Public that Ekeh describes; she is a European in Africa and has the right and the power to change her political citizenship, and rubbish the country that has allowed her likes to get away with the benefits of colonialism.
* Mathobela Mkhosana Bingweni writes from South Africa