Should We Be Thankful For The Benefits Of Colonialism?

Vol 23 No 1

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A recent tweet by Helen Zille highlighted some of the benefits of colonialism; this she had done to the embarrassment of (mostly) her black party members and the fury of most South Africans. Apparently, we should have some degree of appreciation for the progress that colonialism brought in areas such as health care and infrastructural development, if one may paraphrase broadly.  Needless to say, those who were on the receiving end of colonialism, responded with justified rage and indignation. Faced with an inevitable and acrimonious Party response and an impending disciplinary hearing, the Western Cape Premier reluctantly retracted her statement and issued an apology. She subsequently reverted to some defence of her initial utterances by criticising that the tendency of political correctness takes precedence over historical correctness. Notwithstanding the obvious irony and political opportunism of acting politically correct by apologising for a view that one regards as historically correct, the Premier also demonstrated how deeply rooted the poisonous ideas are in the colonial minds of those who have reaped the sweet fruits of a system designed solely for their comfort, convenience and the extraction of super profits. What is deliberately omitted in Zille’s arrogant and imperial assertion, is the incontrovertible fact that an advanced infrastructure like railroads, bridges as well as health care were all geared at achieving the overarching objective of exploiting all the continent’s resources (especially human labour) to the fullest extent possible under Colonialism. Let it also be stated that in spite of all these achievements, the oppressed masses were never allowed to share in them.

They were consciously relegated by the privileged and ‘intellectually advanced’ Colonial Masters to the dustbins of history; this, after they succumbed to the atrocities of the most inhumane socio-political and economic system imaginable to the human mind. The examples of health care and road infrastructure, ironically (to add insult to injury) were of the lowest quality in the specially reserved Bantustans and the remaining 13% pockets of arid land in which the oppressed had to eke out a miserable living. Poverty related diseases such as TB (among others) could not be adequately contained in poorly resourced hospitals and worsened in many instances. A preponderance of fatal mine accidents and lung diseases decimated men in townships and rural communities, for they were merely and tragically, regarded by their colonial masters as expendable commodities. These are immutable facts of the history of colonialism, not just in South Africa, but globally where the system reared its ugly head. The final point to be made here, is that the colonial benefit sentiment is oblivious of two facts: (i) The oppressed were used to build the much-acclaimed infrastructural networks and hospitals; and (ii) They were deliberately and legally withheld from an education that could provide them with the knowledge of engaging in such engineering projects. Let us not forget the grim views of arch-imperialist and arch-racist Cecil John Rhodes and Verwoerd who sniggered at the mere thought of teaching a black person mathematics, the foundation of any scientific field.

Another more insidious proposition and not necessarily explicitly expressed in Helen Zille’s  colonial assertion, is that the finest achievements linked to social progress could be put at the doorstep of those of colonial or European origin. For who are most of these colonial masters than those of especially Western European descent? This is where even alluding to such an assertion or view, assumes a critical dimension that lends itself to prejudice at least and unbridled racism at most. Zille’s point of departure insofar as her recollection of history is concerned, is utterly partial, mechanistic and devoid of any understanding of dialectical materialism as expressed in its natural form or historical materialism as expressed in its social form. Dialectical materialism adheres to an inevitable dynamic of movement or growth within the make-up of organisms, and inevitably affect their behaviour. This growth invariably follows a trajectory from a  lower order to a higher order. Brought about by a biological evolutionary process known as embryology, organisms develop and grow from for instance, babies to adults. Historical processes adhere to the self-same developmental patterns and as explained by historical materialism, this growth trajectory imitates the natural process. Thus we find generally, society moving from savagery to barbarism and eventually civilisation. Why is it necessary to make such a cumbersome point? The answer is simple: Life is not static. History is not static. The claimed achievements of these colonial rulers, their scientists and engineers etc. are the result of the achievements of humanity before them. Here we can confidently cite the Sumerians and Phoenicians who developed the foundations of writing, the Egyptians who contributed invaluably to the science of modern-day medicine with their advanced embalming techniques and surgical procedures and the Middle-Eastern and Indian mathematicians who have all played an invaluable role in advancing society. Yet, this is not held before the rest of humanity as a reminder of how appreciative we should be of them. That goes without saying. ALL of humanity has contributed to these great historical epochs. Let Mrs Zille also be reminded that it was due to the compass which the Chinese invented, that the colonial masters could reach the shores of ‘undiscovered’ continents.  It was the Chinese gunpowder recipe which led to their military conquest of these continents. We evolved fundamentally from one-celled organisms to  homo-sapiens and are all endowed with the same genetic material and four blood types A, B, AB and O. Changing material conditions such as climate and mainly our perpetual struggles for access to resources, saw us scattered all over the earth through glacial paths that still connected continents then. Most remarkable about all of this, is the fact that we originated as a single species, which after thousands of years of adapting to different material conditions, underwent cosmetic physiological changes like skin colour. These cosmetic differences have formed the basis of the biggest myth foisted on humanity – RACE. The WC Premier, by ignoring this scientific fact, perpetuates this race myth even further! Today, in spite of our indisputable oneness, we still create the most precipitous cultural, religious and political adversity. Emphasis is placed on differences and basically set the scene for the trail of internecine destruction that has come to characterise history.

Much more can be said about the benefits of our commonalities as opposed to our differences but that is a treatise on its own. Suffice at this point to state categorically the following irrefutable truths:

  • Whoever claims success or victory in any meaningful social endeavour, does so on behalf of the human species as a whole;
  • Race is a myth that has NO scientific basis;
  • The fundamentals of science, mathematics and literacy as well as the vital agricultural industry emerged from regions outside of Europe;
  • Civilisations in China 5000 years B.C. existed as advanced societies before the advent of so called Western Civilisation;
  • Later, stages of savagery produced highly advanced technologies for its time, especially in the regions of Asia, India, the Middle East and North Africa;
  • The architectural wonders of the pyramids and Inca temples serve as monumental testimony to the mathematical and engineering genius of those societies;
  • Central Asia and Southern Africa is currently the most scientifically plausible regions as the cradle of human kind;
  • The introduction of the slave trade, especially African slavery saw the unprecedented growth of the world economy especially the Western economies.
  • Knowledge that transformed human cultures were mainly spread through trade between Europe and those outside her borders;
  • Knowledge is thus the preserve of ALL humanity which no single group can stake a claim to;

There is only one type of civilisation and that is human civilisation. The Colonialists are part of that civilisation, not above it or the creators of it. We are not indebted to an oppressor but to the progressive forces who aim to take society forward.