COLONIALISM – THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY –FIGHTING FOR THE SOUL OF SOUTH AFRICA

Published on Facebook April 7, 2017, by the late John A.H. Hill 

Much has been written and said recently about colonialism (equating it incorrectly with racism), de-colonisation, and anti-Western Capitalism in general in South Africa. While there is obviously a great deal of emotionality surrounding these issues, mainly because the ANC regime, led by inept President Jacob Zuma who protects underperforming ministers and fires performing ministers resulting in Credit Ratings Agencies to downgrade our country to ‘Junk’ status; and the ANC has not been able to deliver on promises it made to the electorate. Instead it plays the racist-white-capital and anti-colonialist game to fuel unrest.

All of this is a great pity as we shall see. Nonetheless, this ‘colonial’ discourse needs a thorough analysis if it is to make any real sense at all. (Please note these are my personal views and these should never be construed in any way whatsoever as being in any way racist on my part.)

Helen Zille

Recently, Premier Helen Zille made the unfortunate but true statement on twitter: “For those claiming legacy of colonialism was ONLY negative‚ think of our independent judiciary‚ transport infrastructure‚ piped water etc.” Unfortunate because she is a political leader and should be more sensitive to the reaction of those folk who sometimes erroneously and sometimes mischievously equate colonialism with racism; and true because, as we shall see, colonialism did, indeed, bring benefits to those colonised – especially over the past 350 years, and only partially so, if at all, in the centuries before. Zille also made the ‘grave’ mistake of daring to compare the progress made by South Africa with Singapore. Yet, she made a fair comparison: South Africa doesn’t quite make it!

Colonialism and apartheid

Some people confuse colonialism with apartheid, which is a great pity. They are not the same at all. Nowhere near the same! While, racial segregation was practiced in the US (outlawed in the early 1980s) and in South Africa (outlawed in the early 1990s), and white Australians discriminated against the Aborigines, and white New Zealanders discriminated against the Maoris, there has always been some kind of discrimination between the upper and lower classes in European countries and elsewhere. For example, on the Indian sub-continent, there was the ‘caste’ system of ‘separateness-according-to-one’s-birth’ which probably equates more closely with ‘apartheid’ than any other cultural practice. But none of this justifies any form of discrimination, racial or otherwise, now does it? Apartheid was an abomination.

Colonialism and slavery

Some people associate slavery with colonialism. Another misconception! While the transatlantic slave trade was undoubtedly ugly. No argument! Slavery has been around for millennia (often under different guises, e.g. serfdom was a form of slavery) and is essentially a form of cheap and ready labour. And, after all, it was common practice for conquering nations in the bygone times to enslave those conquered (so maybe there is a valid argument for equating the two). 

What is generally less well known, and hardly ever acknowledged, however, is that Africans sold their own kind into slavery! The number of slaves ‘exported’ to the Americas (North, South and Central – between 1600 and 1800) amounted to about 13,500,000 or 50% of the entire total in recorded history to 1800; the number of slaves ‘exported’ to the east (across the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean – between 600 and 1800) amounts to roughly a further 10,200,000 or 40%, while the remaining 10% were ‘exported’ to other countries, South Africa being one. Please note the durations: The Trans-Red-Sea/Indian-Ocean slave trade covered 1,200 years, while the Trans-Atlantic-Ocean slave trade covered 200 years. Both were equally brutal. Slaves were also ‘taken’ from countries like China, India, the Spice Islands (Indonesia), Madagascar, Japan and, lest we forget, the White slaves, men, women, but mostly young boys and girls, taken from European ports (in Italy, France, Spain, Portugal Holland and England) by the Barbary pirates who were based in Algiers from about 1530 to roughly 1890. The British, Dutch and Americans (US) were involved in wars with the Barbary pirates, who were considered so dangerous they were paid by the Italians not to enslave Italians.

The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade is never forgotten. But we seldom, if ever, hear about the Muslim Slave Trade, or the Barbary Slave Trade, for that matter. Why not? All people enslaved by Muslims were absorbed into Islam with the vast majority of the young white boys becoming eunuchs! Brutal and Ugly! Very Ugly! Yet this was considered normal practice at that time. Additionally, there are an estimated 20 to 30 million people throughout the world today who are still enslaved today – roughly equal to, or more than, the total number of recorded slaves in 1800! Right: Is this ‘normal accepted practice’ for our time? What are you going to do about this shocking state of affairs?

When did colonialism begin?

What all South Africans need to understand and appreciate is colonialism did not start in 1652 with the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck; nor did it start with the second British occupation in 1803; nor with Cecil John Rhodes. Colonialism has been a part of human existence since humans first appeared on Earth and started to roam its surface. It must be fairly obvious to all that at some point a wandering human would have encroached on the territory of another and there would have been some kind of a stand-off: if the invader succeeded, the invader became a ‘colonialist’; and if the invader was vanquished, no ‘colony’ was created. DNA evidence proves beyond all reasonable doubt that Homo Sapiens first appeared somewhere in the Rift Valley of Africa. So, by extension (and somewhat mischievously), were the very first ‘colonialists’ not Homo Sapiens from Africa – encroaching on lands occupied by earlier forms of humans such as Homo Erectus?

The term ‘colony’ can be defined as ‘a settlement, an outpost, a dependency, a protectorate, a satellite, a city state’. A ‘colonialist’ is, therefore, a settler in another’s land and ‘colonialism’ is the imposition of the culture of the colonialist on the colonised. (Accordingly, my use of the term to describe the stand-off above, one individual settling on the land of another, is not unreasonable.) 
So, in many ways our predecessors were all colonialists. There isn’t a single country in the world that has never experienced some form of colonialism at some time or another. And colonialism has nothing to do with racism – except that some of the people colonised just happened to be of a different hue. Colonialism has much more to do with cultural, economic, imperialistic and sometimes religious differences than it has to do with race, all of which are social constructs anyway.

Let’s take a brief look at colonialism, for example, in the British Isles, the Roman Empire, the Islamic Empire, the Nguni in Sub-Saharan Africa, and in India.

Colonialism in Britain

Britain has been colonised on more than one occasion. 
• The first anatomically modern humans in these Isles were probably the Cro-Magnons who settled there about 40,000 years ago, but were almost all wiped out by an ice-age roughly 23,000 years ago;
• Humans are likely to have returned to the region some 9,000 years later and an estimated 80% of all Britons living today have traces of DNA dating from this period; 
• Some 6 millennia later the Isles were settled by the Celts who fled west from the marauding Goths and Huns (also colonisers please note!); 
• Then the Romans invaded and colonised the Isles in 50 BCE. Emperor Claudius I named them Britannia in 43 AD after his son, Britannicus, who was born the year before: Hence Britain. Later, the Romans built Hadrian’s Wall to keep the marauding Scots at bay. There is plenty of evidence the Isle’s original inhabitants put up much resistance against the Roman invasion, but they were easily overcome: Queen Boadicea’s forces were crushed under the rule of Emperor Nero. Somehow, I don’t think these Britons liked being colonised very much, do you? 
• Then came the Vikings and the Anglo-Saxons; 
• The Norman Conquest (1066 AD) essentially fused French and English cultures: Early English evolved into Middle English with an English syntax and grammar, but with a profound French vocabulary; 
• King Richard (Longshanks – remember the film: Braveheart ?) of England wanted to annex Scotland, while the Scots wanted and fought for their freedom. Wallace paid the ultimate price for his struggle and it was left to his betrayer, Robert the Bruce, to defeat the English at the Battle of Bannockburn. And, now with the approach of Brexit, some Scots wish to secede yet again. 
• The original languages of these Isles (there were 8 in addition to English) have – with the exception of Gaelic (both Irish and Scottish) and Welsh – become almost extinct to a very large extent. Nonetheless, there is a nationalistic revival of some of these ancient languages: Roughly 400 people in Cornwall are determined to revive and speak Kernowek the original Cornish language. I have both Welsh and Cornish blood flowing through my veins. It surprised me when I visited Cardiff some years ago the Welsh language, Cymru (pronounced Kumree), is highly visible everywhere, but in Cornwall there was no evidence of Kernowek at all. As strange as it may seem, I don’t miss either of these languages.

So, in this example, we can see how colonisers influence the colonised and how battles royal played out. The Romans colonisers gave Britain (The British Isles / Great Britain) its name. The Romans founded cities like London, Chester, Bath and all the ‘…chesters’ (Manchester, Rochester, Colchester) and so on. Then there is the song, Rule Britannia. Are these not benefits to the British today? Race doesn’t rear its ugly head here, but cultural language differences abound. Colonialism has nothing to do with race.

But, this is only a small part of the whole story. Let’s look at the Roman and Islamic empires:

Roman colonialism

At its height, the Roman Empire covered a vast area from Britain to the Caspian Sea, from Spain to the Persian Gulf, from Morocco to Saudi Arabia including the Holy Land. The Romans brought new forms of government and law and order to these colonies, they also forced their language and culture on the people of their empire. Latin became the lingua franca of government, the Church and in education. Latin displaced most other original languages. Religious services were held in Latin – a language that many people in far flung regions of the empire could not understand and this placed them at a distinct disadvantage. Latin was the language of higher education in Europe: All European academic works were published in Latin and this prevailed well into the second half of the second millennium AD, long after the Roman Empire had ceased to exist. Latin was even taught in South African high schools until very recently, which goes to show the profound influence the Roman Empire had on the world more than half a millennium after its demise.

Islamic colonialism

Shortly after Islam was founded, Muslims set out to propagate their religion, just as the Christians had done before, but with a great deal more militancy. Consider the Rise of Islam (note: the spelling of the name Mohamet and dates quoted which may be regarded as inaccurate today: The information is quoted verbatim from the text: Hammerton & Barnes: The Illustrated World History: 1935: Wise & Co):
• AD 610: Mohamet receives a Vision and Call from the Prophet Allah;
• AD 613: Mohamet enters Mecca for the first time to a hostile reception; 
• AD 623: Mohamet resolves to propagate Islam by violence;
• AD 628: Mohamet and Mecca agree to settlement terms; 
• AD 630: Mecca finally concedes to Mohamet;
• AD 631: Mohamet ‘designs’ the conquest of Syria…
• AD 632: Mohamet dies – succeeded by Abu Bekr – First Khalif*. *A spiritual leader.

So, by this account, the Muslims defeated and colonised Mecca! They colonised Syria and most of North Africa. In Europe, they colonised Spain and Portugal and their empire extended from the Iberian Peninsula to the Indus River, including the Holy Land, some 200 years after the founding of Islam. It is highly likely that Christian response to this level of militancy, especially in the Holy Land, led directly to the Crusades. The Muslims attempted to invade France and Italy on many occasions but were thwarted at almost every attempt. They did succeed, however, in colonising Albania and parts of the Balkans. Later, they succeeded in defeating Constantinople (Istanbul) in 1453 which upset the trade routes from Europe to the East: hence the need for Europeans to discover an alternative route to India. And the Great Age of Exploration which Portuguese Prince Henry the Navigator had started some 20 years earlier was about to get an enormous boost – there was a real need: It was an idea whose time had come. Later, the Muslims also laid siege to Vienna in modern day Austria, but abandoned this for some odd reason. The Muslims were also the guardians of Grecian knowledge during the early middle ages in Europe, a topic I shall return to later.

The Nguni as colonists

The Nguni (the generic name given to nomadic tribes originating from West Central Africa) colonised parts of tropical Africa. Starting roughly in 3,000 BC, they displaced the Pygmies from the Congo Basin. (Strangely, the Pygmies don’t appear to have had a language of their own: they tended to use the languages and customs of their immediate neighbours – something decidedly odd: Have the Pygmies forgotten their own language by some mysterious quirk of fate?) The Nguni continued moving toward East Africa where they arrived around 100BC, and finally, in one of the swiftest advances in colonisation in Africa, moved south to what is now Kwazulu-Natal and part of the Eastern Cape (in South Africa) displacing the Khoisan people (who were driven to the drier parts of Southern Africa).

Some people believe this Nguni colonisation process was peaceful, but there is little to confirm this. Hard evidence suggests far more aggression: Firstly, the Pygmies were displaced from their homeland in the Congo Basin, and, secondly, Khoisan people who roamed the East Coast of Africa at about the time the Nguni arrived there were unquestionably displaced. There are traces of the Khoisan language in Central East Africa which proves the Khoisan did reside there before the Nguni invasion. Then there is the ongoing evidence of aggression between some of the Nguni tribes in Southern Africa, i.e. the Mashona and Matabele in modern day Zimbabwe and the Xhosa and Zulu so called ‘faction fights’ which still persist today. The Nguni also meandered south along the Atlantic side of Africa toward modern day Angola and into northern Namibia, but didn’t proceed further south. Probably because of the Namib Desert.

The Nguni stopped their colonisation at the Fish River. Why? Simply because their sub-tropical crops would not grow in the cooler climatic regions of the Southern Cape Coastal Belt and the Western Cape Mediterranean area, nor in the drier regions of the Cape West Coast and Karroo (Semi desert Sand-veld – Namib/Kalahari). The Fish River seems to have been a natural boundary of sorts, just as the desert was in Namibia. All this occurred long before Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape in 1488. These Nguni colonisers brought nothing by way of benefits to the Pygmies or the Khoisan – none that we know of at this point – but they did bring the killer disease, Malaria, with them which infected the Khoisan. (The Nguni had apparently developed immunity to Malaria.) And, please note, King Shaka (King of the Zulus and after whom Durban’s new international airport is named) is given the same kind of international recognition in history as an aggressive and worthy opponent as Napoleon Bonaparte – both not easily defeated by the British in the same century. The irony is the Nguni colonised parts of Southern Africa, forcing the original settlers, the Khoisan, to occupy less desirable parts of the sub-continent, and now shout ‘foul’ when the same was done to them a few centuries later.

The Persians invade India

Persia (Iran) under the leadership of Nadar Shah lead a small yet highly effective army of 150,000 men over the Khyber Pass into the Northern Indian Moghul states after, surprise, surprise, colonising parts of modern day Afghanistan (a country which claims never to have been conquered – and has proven difficult to ‘tame’ let alone defeat in modern times!). The invaders defeated the Moghuls’ army of about 1,500,000 men. An incredible 10:1 defeat! The Persians made off with a vast part of the Moghuls’ treasure which became the foundation of the wealth of the Peacock Throne (Persia) and the people of Persia were not taxed for years afterwards. One question I have not been able to answer yet is how the Moghuls acquired their vast wealth in the first place. But, I digress… 

How was it possible for such a small Persian army to defeat such a large Moghul force? One historical account tells us that there was a great deal of in-fighting among the Moghuls and this weakened their resolve. This event occurred in the 1730s and is a core element in the era of modern colonialism.

Modern Colonialism

The ‘Modern Era of Colonialism’, starting, roughly, from about 1500 AD, proved to be very different indeed from any form of colonisation before, in both magnitude and speed. Shortly after the defeat of Constantinople in 1453, competition among the Europeans provided the impetus to find an alternative route to India: Europeans found a way round Africa to the East in 1488 and the Americas had been ‘discovered’ in 1492 by going West – both within 50 years of the defeat of Constantinople. I shall return to this ‘competitive spirit’ later.

Roughly, a hundred years later, a brand new entity was born – something the world had never seen before or experienced for that matter: A publicly funded, stock exchange quoted, Public Corporation: One English; the other Dutch. The English East India Company (EIC) received its Royal Charter from Queen Elizabeth 1st in 1600 and the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie) (VOC) was incorporated in 1602. Neither was interested in India at the outset. They wished to trade, competitively, with the Spice Islands (Indonesia) and to do so they needed to travel via Indian ports for replenishment purposes. Later manufactured cotton goods from India (perhaps the first consumer goods ever?) became sought after in Europe and the EIC became increasingly interested in trading with India, which it eventually colonised. (Please note there were other European-Indian traders such as the Portuguese which also had a colony in India.) It was only after the collapse of the EIC that India became a part of the British Empire. The VOC established an outpost in Batavia (Jakarta) and also established a ‘refreshment station’ at the Cape of Good Hope.

These two corporations were all powerful. If you think corporations of the likes of Wal-Mart, Exxon-Mobil and Shell are enormous and powerful, think again: The EIC and VOC were vastly more so. They had their own merchant fleets, their own navies, their own armies, held power to wage war, and to colonise foreign lands in their own name. An equivalent today might be for a well known soda company which has a globally recognised brand name to have its own international drone fleet capable of launching ultra-mini nuclear missiles on spaza type stores which are behind in their payments just seconds after the payment is due – and to colonise countries where their product is disallowed.

No democracy, no lawyers, no magistrates, no appeals. Absolute power! The EIC and VOC rode roughshod over any resistance: very brutal and extremely ugly.

But they did open up world trade and in so doing created enormous wealth for their investors, although not for the indigenous workers of England, who were to suffer horrendously during the First Industrial Revolution because they didn’t know how to embrace the concept of ‘economic change’.

Brutal and very ugly! But not more brutal and ugly than any commanding force before them – at home or abroad in the early part of the second millennium AD. The monarch was all-powerful; their subjects dispensable. All invading forces in history from, say, the Mongols to the Goths and Huns, to the Vikings and the Zulus, were just as brutal. Their conduct was normal for the time as it was expected. And this should never be forgotten.

The EIC and the VOC were not copied outside Europe, then. Not by China, nor by Indiana – the two most economically powerful countries on this planet at the outset of the Great Age of European Exploration roughly half-way through the second millennium AD. But they were copied throughout Europe by the Danes, French, Portuguese and Spanish, amongst others. I will come back to this kind of competitive spirit which was lacking elsewhere on this planet at that time. Then there are what I choose to call ‘the oddities’ – ones that still haunt non-Westerners to this very day. And these made – and still make – a very real difference as we shall see.

What is ‘Western’?

But first we need to establish and understanding of the concept of: ‘The West’. What does it mean to be Western? This is a difficult question to answer as it does not merely mean a geographical sense. According to Samuel Huntingdon, who created this influential definition: ‘the West consists of Western and Central Europe, North America (USA and Canada – but excluding Mexico) and Australasia.’ However, my feeling is this is too narrow. There are many countries which fit the ‘way of life’ pattern of these countries and their people. One of the most important aspects of the concept ‘West’ is freedom. To ‘go West young man’ was to embrace a new form of self-sufficiency, ingenuity, and lack of restriction in the US – skills romanticised by the ‘A Team’ television series, Western cowboy films (the spaghetti western, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, probably the best of the genre which I feel suggests an apt title for this article), and the James Bond movies, and notably in South Africa by Afrikaner farmers, ‘n boer maak ‘n plan’ (a farmer makes ‘do’ with what is available) which characterises this attitude in South Africa.

So, in my view, the West and the concept of Western is, essentially, a ‘way of life’ that is autonomous, lacks governmental control and embraces, indeed encourages, inventiveness and self-sufficiency. This opposed to the current South African regime’s approach wherein this Western philosophy is half-heartedly supported by the ANC regime.

Why the ANC doesn’t work

  • The ANC embraces central control (for example: operating state owned enterprises [SOEs] such as monopolies ESKOM and SAA which need continuous bail-outs instead of earning revenue for the fiscus. While these SOEs were inherited from the previous regime by the ANC, they never needed a bail-out from the Nationalist regime. Methinks Thatcherism is indeed needed now in South Africa more than ever before);
  • The ANC pays lip-service to self-sufficiency (it out-sources essential services, i.e. the Arms Deal, PRASA locomotives and commuter train-sets, and the payment of SASSA social grants to mention three – at vast unnecessary cost to the country as all of these ‘things’ could have been, and could still be, produced locally or executed by government departments as suitable infrastructure does exist, or can be developed, at a fraction of the cost, freeing up much needed money for real needs, [not presidential jets and fancy motor cars – all colonial imports!] but for the creation of sustainable work, which means sustainable jobs, which equates to a happier outlook for all South Africans. Let’s be clear, self-sufficiency equates to sustainable employment;
  • The ANC pays lip-service to the needs of the poor, a topic I shall deal with later;
  • The ANC encourages dependency (not autonomy) in the form of social grants. As Thatcher once said, ‘The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.’ Just what is the ANC going to do once it has nationalised all enterprises, grabbed all the land and continues to manage them in the way it does the SAA and ESKOM? At what point will every SOE and private enterprises (and I mean all of them) need a bail-out? Where will this bail-out money come from? And how will it be repaid? The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is obvious. But what conditions will be required? Recently, Greece and Spain were ‘bailed-out’, but not Zimbabwe. Ever wondered why? (Hint: the answer has nothing to do with race! How about the Credit Ratings Agencies – huh?)

Western countries have the characteristics described so eloquently by Niall Fergusson as six “killer applications” (killer-apps) which are discussed below.

The ‘oddities’

The Arab-Phoenicians (some of whom became Muslim) gave the world two incredible gifts: The Phonetic Alphabet and the Arabic Numeric System (originally Hindu – and including, most importantly, the ‘zero’ [‘0’] which has no value other than a place holder) which we in the West call the alphanumeric code. The Persians did manufacture beautifully designed hand-made carpets which were being produced long before the introduction of Islam – which carpets were highly valued by the people of the West.

These Arab-Phoenician ‘gifts’ were adopted by the West with open arms. They did not condemn these advances simply because they were colonial imports; the West adopted them and made them their own. After all they had incredible advantages over the Western systems in use at that time.

Can you imagine calculating the following problem in Roman numerals? Hint: try this without converting Roman numerals into Arabic numerals… Okay? Bet you can’t.

Calculate the square root of: CXLIV

The Chinese

The Chinese were the first to invent a ‘movable-type’ printing process – in what is known today as Korea – roughly 700 years before Gutenberg printed his bible in Europe. But, they abandoned this very quickly. Why? There were more than 1,000 ‘letter-symbols’ in their ‘alphabet’ (we have 26). It simply took too long to look for individual ‘letters’ in the printing-box of thousands of ‘letters’, each easily confused with another, especially when the type-setter was looking at a mirror-image of each ‘letter’. It was simply easier to draw or engrave the ‘letter-symbol’ character from scratch.

The Chinese also had an incredibly advanced society compared to Europe. When Marco Polo, the Venetian explorer, visited China some 700 years ago, he was astounded by what he saw. The Chinese ships were larger than their European counterparts and sailed the oceans and Chinese rivers carrying enormous quantities of merchandise. They had vast canals (complete with locks) that could easily rival the Suez and Panama canals of today. They had had built the Great Wall of China – some 5,000 kilometres long – roughly ½ the way from Cape Town to London! Nothing like this existed in Europe. And, the Chinese were about to build what became the Forbidden City, a vast, ornate and richly decorated complex larger than the Vatican or the Kremlin. Yet, in London at that time, the river Thames was nothing more than a very smelly sewer, as was the river Rhine in Rotterdam. And the folk of these lands drew their ‘potable’ water from these sewers too! Obviously, China was magical, a dream, a wonder – way back then.

At about the time Africa was rounded and the Americas ‘discovered’ by Europeans in the late 1480s and 1490s, the Chinese, too, were set on Great Exploration Missions of their own: The Chinese visited the Spice Islands, India and the East Coast of Africa among other lands, but strangely, not to the Americas. Yet, suddenly this Chinese exploration stopped. The Chinese hierarchy decided, perhaps too hastily, to abandon all forms of sea exploration. The building of sea-going ships was ‘forbidden’. Why? Some claim economic reasons, some political reasons. Whatever, the real problem was centralised control. There was no competition. No opposition. No alternative. I shall come back to centralised control later.

Why does this happen?

Most of sub-Saharan Africa countries exported raw materials and imported finished goods. Little consideration was given to developing home-grown industries to turn the raw materials into finished goods – a situation which started way before 1652 and which continues to this very day! One only need consider the recent South African Arms Deal to realise how true this state of affairs actually is.

Maybe I should mention that South Africa does have the capacity to build its own naval surface vessels and aircraft, but not submarines. But, do we need submarines in South Africa? Somehow, I think not. But, even if we did, why not start a submarine industry in South Africa? This is what a Western country would do. So, again, why export iron ore and import finished ships for the navy? Somehow, I don’t see the need for ‘stealth’ ships.

The same can be claimed about the need for the PRASA (the Passenger Rail Agency in South Africa) to procure commuter trains from abroad while South Africa does have the capacity in the form of the Union Carriage and Wagon Company (established in 1957) to do the same. This company built electric locomotives and commuter coach train-sets – now refurbished into the familiar grey and yellow PRASA train-sets – in the second half on the 20th century and, incidentally, exported locomotives, coaches and wagons to neighbouring countries. The company, which assembled the Gautrain train-sets (designed and built in Canada?) as recently as 2008/9/10, is quite capable of manufacturing locomotive and train-sets for a modern South Africa and its neighbours. So, why was there a need for South Africa to import locomotives from Spain and new commuter train-sets from Brazil – or wherever for that matter?

Is it a continual reliance on an attitude that we, as a former colony – albeit now independent – still have dependency feelings that we can’t do ‘it’ for ourselves?

And, then there is the ‘corruption element’, isn’t there?

The answer is, as we shall see, more than just interesting. It is the reason why the West prevailed over the rest. It is also the reason why Communism doesn’t work – anywhere – and why most African countries are in the doldrums – and maybe provides a reason why some people in my home country, South Africa, protest so veraciously against colonialism. But, first we need to explore some more comments and questions:

Communism vs. Socialism

Does communism work in any country today? Is there any hard evidence, beyond a simple ‘belief in communism’ that it works? We know Socialism works: in Denmark, in Holland, and in New Zealand, for example – but there is no country where Communism works to my knowledge. One only has to consider Korea – North vs. South – to realise the difference.

  • North Korea is a poor communist country with a ‘for-life’ dictator, a country where parents not only pay for their child’s education, but are expected to provide each child with its own class-room furniture. And, can you name a single product (other than an armed missile) from North Korea?
  • South Korea is a highly industrialised wealthy capitalist country which has a large shipbuilding industry, manufactures motor vehicles for world markets and is home to LG and SAMSUNG. It also has the fastest internet service in the world.

Remember, these are the same people, living on the same Korean Peninsula, but governed by very different ideologies. You can compare these two countries by visiting: https://www.theguardian.com/…/south-korea-v-north-korea-com…

Communism works well for its leaders, but not for the people. Socialism works well for the people! Therein lies the profound distinction between Communism and Socialism.

Then there are the evils of corruption which, I suppose, one will find everywhere and I do not propose to deal with these here. Corruption is a completely different, yet associated, topic. I have never heard of a poor dictator, but the people who elect such leaders are often the poorest of the poor. Zimbabwe is an ideal example. But, I digress.

Why was India colonised?

In about 1600, the GDP of the Moghul Indian states was about 25% (of the world’s GDP!). By contrast, England’s was about 2%. A massive variation! Roughly 12:1… How was it possible for the EIC and the VOC, then newly formed public funded corporate entities from comparatively poor countries in Western Europe to colonise a vast mass of the world – set against the might of India and China?

The answer lies in the events which occurred in Europe in the early part of the second millennium which led to the Renaissance (1396) and the Reformation (1521). Unexpectedly, these two events eclipsed Islamic learning, the Indian Moghul ‘way of life’ and Chinese ‘central control’ mechanisms.

Islam and Science

While Islamic mathematicians and scientists had been the protector of Greek mathematics and philosophy during the European early and late ‘middle’ ages (and there was, unquestionably, an ongoing interchange between the peoples in lands surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea – the Greeks and the Arabs, et al), the Arabs (before and after Islam) were, undoubtedly, the world leader in medicine, science and astronomy roughly some 700 ago. But, suddenly this changed. Why? Islamic religious leaders of the time were concerned that these scientific advances went against the principles of Islam. Incredible applied intelligence in the Muslim world abounds – there is no doubt about this, whatsoever. But, religious thought prevailed over science and technology and the result was that any philosophy challenging Islam was abandoned. This was to lead to dire consequences for all Muslims in the Arab world and beyond: astronomy, medicine and science fell into the proverbial doldrums in Islamic countries, where they remain to this very day. The Litmus Test here is to ask what advances have been made by Islamic Scholars independently of their colleagues in other (religious) parts of the world during the past 300 years; and just how many patents were taken out each year in the Muslim world over the past 50 years, for example? I shall return to the concept of IP rights later. 

The similarity between the Muslim and Chinese decisions to halt progress is profound. So far apart geographically… So close in their thinking… Both driven by control: central control; undemocratic control. Do as you are told. No question!

Central control – the bad and the good

Central Control can be very, very good. And it can be very, very bad. The abandonment of the Chinese ship-building industry roughly half way through the 2nd millennium is a case in point – a bad decision as it definitely limited Chinese trade. The Islamic decision to forego Astronomy, Medicine, Science and Technology in favour of religious beliefs is another bad decision, as has been mentioned. But, recently in China, a decision was taken to plant trees in an attempt to stem the smog which is omnipresent in industrialised China. Roughly a million people are employed to plant these trees. Now, that is a very, very good decision for fairly obvious reasons.

Central control always depends on the leader of the time – anything between a beneficial autocrat and a tyrannical dictator. You, the reader, have no say whatsoever in the decision making process – nor in the selection of the next leader. And, then there is the concept of a democracy (Greek) with a written constitution which we have, apparently, in South Africa. I say apparently because this is challenged in our Courts fairly regularly. To my mind Jacob Zuma is edging toward a dictatorship similar in many ways to that of so many African non-leaders like Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, a country which was a breadbasket of Africa and is now an economic disaster. Is there any doubt about this?

Make no mistake: Mugabe is a wealthy despot. Zimbabwe has an excellent education system, much, much better than South Africa’s. Yet, its economy is in tatters. The Zimbabwean currency is worthless. And the Zimbabwean people are among the poorest of the poor globally. Mugabe’s regime is typical of a communist malevolent dictator. Does anyone in South Africa really seek this?

Do we South Africans really want to emulate Zimbabwe? But, again I strongly feel that Zuma is doing a much better job at capturing the state than Mugabe did!!!

European science takes off

In Europe, however, advances in astronomy, medicine and science started to take off about 700 years ago. Why? Why was it that a continent (Europe) filled with continuously competing war-like states, most of which (by Indian and Chinese standards then) were extremely backward, malnourished, with poor sanitation and beset with life-threatening diseases able (in England) to sustain an industrial revolution that would engulf the world? Impossible, you say? But this is precisely what happened.

The events leading up to the first Industrial Revolution were highly complex and occurred in Great Britain. Why? Why not Germany, or France, or Italy, or Spain, or Portugal? Why not Greece, Finland, Sweden, Norway or Russia? Why not India or China? Why not in Africa? Why not by the indigenous peoples of Australia, New Zealand, North, Central and South America? Do the British have some kind of fancy IQ that the rest of the world lacks? Somehow, I don’t think so. They do, however, have a comparative IQ, a tenacious spirit and a will to win despite any obstacle.

One only need consider the strikes in England during the 1970s and 80s during which unproductive coal mines were closed and the British Motor Industry virtually ceased to exist. Protesting strikers all lost their jobs – one of the themes of films such as Billy Elliot (UK) and October Sky (US) wherein workers failed to understand their plight – a plight that is undoubtedly set to hit South African workers sooner or later, but seems to be unrecognised by South African trade unions at this time.

But, are Britons better off today than they were in 1980s? Absolutely they are! There is no doubt about this. None whatsoever! The British currency is strong. Even Britons receiving social grants (similar to SASSA – known as the dole in the UK) are able to take regular vacations abroad – not so in South Africa right now. Will South African workers be better off in the future? Under a Thatcher type government in South Africa there is a very strong possibility. Otherwise, I think not.

Let’s be clear, Thatcher improved the lives of almost every Briton in her 11 years as prime minister, something the ANC has not been able to do in double the time Thatcher was prime minister. What precisely did she do? In short, she literally moved the country from a labour intensive unproductive economy to a more modern productive one resulting, like it or not, in a better life for the British who are now undoubtedly better of than they were before she became prime minister. No Question.

So, again the question: Why did the first Industrial Revolution start in the British Isles? And, why is this so important? A bit of background history may help…

The Renaissance in Europe facilitated, but didn’t nurture, different ways of thinking about human existence in the early part of the second millennium AD. The Reformation brought about a radical change – away from the Catholic canon toward a less pompous, yet equally demanding Protestant religious doctrine, one that was to have an overwhelming effect on the world. And this all started in Europe – nowhere else. This is profoundly important: No other religion has been through a similar reforming process to my knowledge. Simultaneously, there were several political revolutions in Europe. Starting with the signing of the Magna Charta at Runneymede in 1215, the British have constantly revised their ‘unwritten’ constitution (the British do not have a written constitution – only a series of ‘Settlement Acts’). The English Civil War was probably the most important constitutional crisis in their history: They executed their king – King Charles 1 in 1649. This was world-shattering for its time. No longer did a British Monarch have the undeniable right to wage war on a personal whim (consider Shakespeare’s’ ‘Henry V’ and the Battle of Agincourt – and Zuma’s firing of Gordhan some 600 years later).

Is it not odd that people don’t ever seem to learn from history? The French monarchy didn’t. They declared their ‘undeniable rights’ right up to 1789 when the French Revolution started – a mere 140 years after1649, and 200 years later there were smaller revolutions in Germany and Italy (both 1848). And then we have Zuma and his undeniable right…

French Queen Marie-Antoinette is on record of famously saying in about 1789 during the French Revolution, “If they can’t afford bread, let them eat cake.” I seem to recall an ANC minister issuing a similar proclamation that poor folk in South Africa can live on (about) R750 a month – this while she was ‘struggling’ up in bed in a 5 star hotel suite costing much, much more than R750 a night! Some struggle, huh? Let them eat cake – indeed. Some people never seem to learn from history, do they? How often do I have to say this?

Britain was very much at peace with itself in 1760 – the rough date for the start of the first Industrial Revolution – while, simultaneously, most of European countries were in domestic political turmoil – just as most of the African countries are today.

Political turmoil

I would argue that political turmoil is the biggest single factor acting against economic advancement in Sub-Saharan Africa today – and particularly so in Zimbabwe and South Africa – just as it was in Europe way back then. 
What is political turmoil? It is, in my view, a combination of a lack of service delivery, political ‘puffing’ (a term used by the ruling party to describe an offering as ‘better’ than it actually is – a kind of fraud), and corruption – and above all, a belief in the ‘current’ regime by the general public that the ‘current’ regime is the only way ahead as they, the public, fear the alternative, and, therefore the ‘current’ regime can virtually do as it pleases. This is precisely what happened with the Nationalist Party in South Africa and, despite the enormous differences in ideology, is this not precisely what is happening under the Zuma’s ANC today? Remember defiant PW Botha crossing the Rubicon – or refusing to do so…? It didn’t really matter, now does it? Who will be next? Some people never seem to learn from history, do they? FW de Klerk saved the day. No doubt in my mind. He could just as easily have forged on, just like Hitler did. But he saw the light of day and reformed: Make no mistake, without de Klerk, Nelson Mandela would never have been our first democratically elected president. FW de Klerk is a modern day King John: he saw the writing on the Runnemede wall.

Zuma is ‘funny’ about democracy, isn’t he?

By contrast, Zuma is a despot who has probably never heard of Runnemede and has no real idea of the meaning of democracy. He does not care for the poor. He merely pays lip-service to this notion, while he continually dips his fingers into the cookie jar and helps his cronies to do likewise. Why do we need another set of nuclear power stations? Surely, we can get by without electricity – after all it, too, is a colonial import, unless the deal can make Zuma even more wealthy!

De-colonising Education

Then there is an attempt to de-colonise education in South Africa. Once again, the educational system employed in the world today, like it or not, had its roots in Europe. Nowhere else! Why?

The answer lies, I believe, in the Grecian ‘Socratic-Platonic-Aristotelian’ Philosophy of challenging the ‘status quo’ (what is believed to exist) – of not accepting hypotheses at their face values, but ‘drilling-down’ (the Socratic Method) to discover the ‘true’ values. This doesn’t happen in un-questioning societies such as Islam, Communism, and way back before the Reformation, in the Roman Catholic Church. No doubt many thinkers down the ages have had to conceal their ideas in the face of horrendous humiliation. Consider three examples of religious intolerance in Roman Catholic Europe:

  • Galileo was forced to recant his beliefs or face excommunication – yet he was correct – the Earth does orbit the Sun and not the other way round as was the accepted belief at the time.
  • Leonardo da Vinci, perhaps the greatest genius of all time, worked in fear and recorded his notes in code – the subject of a fascinating story by Dan Brown.
  • And, then there was the feared Spanish Inquisition, designed to investigate any infringement against the Roman Catholic Church of the time and impose harsh sentences for the slightest transgression. Is this not echoed today in modern Islamic practice?

We have yet to see and hear of similar game-changing Reformation stories emanating from the Communist or, albeit very different, Islamic worlds. Both Communism and Islam have yet to go through any kind of reformation, although I did have the feeling this might have started to happen during the so-called Arab Spring, it was quickly quelled. Ever wondered why? But, again I digress. 

Let us consider the concept of de-colonising education in South Africa. This discourse avers indigenous knowledge has been ignored and is under valued in South Africa. Aslam Fataar, esteemed professor in sociology in education at the University of Stellenbosch, posits the idea that colonial education is discriminatory and ignores the knowledge of our indigenous people… And, in his astute article “Deconstructing Decolonisation: Can racial assertiveness cure imagined inferiority” Jeff Rudkin, states ‘…there is nothing as powerful as an idea whose time has come…’ And, an unnamed professor of Initiative Research at the University of Pretoria, who postulates the idea of balance between international and indigenous knowledge in his article, ‘What ‘decolonised education’ should and shouldn’t mean’ are some examples.

But is any of this true or indeed relevant?

Why is the Western concept of education so sought after throughout the world today, yet so despised in South Africa? Let’s be clear, the concept of a modern university started in Greece which grew into the European degree awarding model governed originally by Roman Catholic and later by both Roman Catholic and Protestant principles. To be sure there were universities elsewhere, but they did not award degrees. The K-12 schooling system originated in the mind of Johannes Conemius (his Latinised name) and quickly spread throughout Europe. This system has four units of three years which we can call Foundation (grades 1 to 3), Elementary (4 to 6), Middle (7 to 9) and High (10 to 12). It is these models of schooling and higher-education that are in use throughout most of the world today. One misconception many teenagers have is that university is merely a continuation of high school. Nothing could be further from the truth. Studying at a really good university is rather like trying to take a sip of water through a straw from a gushing fire-hydrant – there is just so much information to digest. Westernised degrees are highly sought after, especially in re-emerging economies such as China which had in 1990 about one million university graduates. By 2010 this had increased to 34 million graduates. How was this achieved? China sent worthy students to universities in the West. In OECD countries the demand for a university education based on the Western model is higher now than it has ever been, and the desired higher education model is the European/US one. Of the top 50 universities in 2016, 32 are in the US; 7 are in the UK; 4 are Japanese; Canada and Israeli have 2 each; while France, South Korea and Switzerland each have 1. All these countries are included under the ‘Western’ umbrella in my view. Surprisingly, many other ‘Western’ states don’t have universities in the top 50: Germany and Italy are two. Equally interesting is not one Brazilian, Chinese, Indian, Russian or South African university (the BRICS countries) appears on this list. But, why is this ranking important? The answer is fairly simple. Consider: two candidates short-listed for a senior position. Both are ideal with highly desirable and relevant experience. Both have PhD degrees in similar fields, one from Harvard University, the other from the University of Cape Town. Assuming no nepotism or corruption, which one is more likely to be awarded the position?

But, no matter which way one looks at it, US universities are more than 50% ahead of the rest of the universities throughout the world – for now, anyway. University programmes outside the US are likely to be accredited against their US counterparts, unless they are undoubtedly excellent in their own right. US universities attract the best researchers across the world because research funding is available – there is more money for research at US universities than in any other university programme anywhere else on this planet. They also attract the best academics globally for the same reason.

So, how can a society – ours in South Africa – in all seriousness justify the ditching of this kind of excellence merely because of its colonialist origins for something more acceptable to the populist majority? Just how does this populist group intend to compete with the outside world upon graduation? Especially when the current K-12 educational system in our country clearly doesn’t work? And this society seeks to change (lower – in the world’s view) these standards?

Are they joking?

Let us get really serious about decolonising education

Let’s ‘drill-down’ (the Socratic Method) to the nitty-gritty: None of the indigenous languages in Sub-Saharan Africa had a decent written component before the European settlers arrived apart from Ditema tsa Dinoko which is a pictorial graphic ‘alphabet-system’ similar to the pictograph ‘alphabets’ used in pre-literate societies elsewhere. The designs can be seen in African fabrics and in African building decorations. They are truly amazing. But this system seems more conducive to simple SMS and Twitter communication than to the kind of writing required in K-12 schooling, or the creative / critical writing required in higher education.

Further, there does not appear to be any evidence of African stories being written down in this way for posterity. African stories were, essentially, part of an African oral tradition. One of these is the Khoisan storyteller, Kabbo, who told stories in his native tongue, /Xam. However, /Xam had no written form until one was devised by linguist Bleek and his sister-in-law Lloyd, both colonialists, more than a century ago. European missionaries were the first to attempt to write the African stories down, and quite naturally, used the alphabet in use in Europe (Bleek used the symbol ‘/’ to denote the ‘click’ in /Xam. This is a very real and very positive colonial import.) Like it or not, without the European colonisers, the indigenous people of Southern Africa would be almost illiterate: Imagine seeing this article and not understanding a single symbol (letter), never mind being able to absorb the ideas expressed and respond to these in some meaningful way – even if it was translated into Ditema tsa Dinoko (assuming translation is possible – because of the vast differences in vocabulary). This is similar in many ways to the mathematical problem posed in Roman Numerals earlier. Almost impossible to solve! (This is the reason the Romans adopted the alphanumeric code and made it their own.)

A Challenge

The real challenge for those who wish to decolonise education would be to write a critical response to this article using Ditema tsa Dinoko or derivatives thereof. (Remember, you may not use English, Afrikaans or any African language using the colonialist alphanumeric code.) Would anyone like to accept this daunting challenge? (Maybe, journalist Zabeida Jaffer, might? Jaffer published a letter to Helen Zille arguing that colonialism had no positive benefits, but, ironically, she writes in English? Is English not a colonial import, Zabeida?) If successful, this could be one of the routes to decolonising education in South Africa – by doing away with the colonialist alphanumeric code. But is this practical in the long run? Isn’t it much easier to adopt the alphanumeric code and make it one’s own? And, by extension, adopt other colonialist attributes? Besides, just how many Ditema tsa Dinoko publications are there? And, at this point, let us not forget that Latin, as lingua franca in higher education in Europe until fairly recently has been phased out in favour of languages spoken by the student body in European universities. To this end, English, while being one of the most difficult languages to learn, is the most widely used language in the world today: More than 2 billion people (nearly 1/3 of the world population) either, speak, read and write English or are learning the language. English is the language of international business, of IT, of international air traffic controllers globally, and most academic textbooks (for K-12 and tertiary education) are published in English.

Hard evidence required

At this point a valid question arises: What hard evidence is there to prove that verifiable indigenous sub-Saharan knowledge does in fact exist? If so, in what form does it exist and where is it housed? The most important aspect of writing is that it places the author’s ideas into a medium outside the human mind. While it can be an account recorded for posterity, one’s ideas, once committed to written form, provide hard evidence of one’s thoughts, arguments and constructs for all to see.

We know of the incredible wealth of African knowledge held in Timbuktu, but this is not part of the Khoisan or Nguni heritages. Neither is Egyptian part of the Khoisan or Nguni heritage, nor is the Islamic knowledge of North Africa. The barrier is the Sahara Desert.

Unfortunately, the oral tradition doesn’t really cut it, unless an oral statement is recorded in some way (as happens in the Courts of Law). One only need play the game of having one person whisper a story to another, who then whispers it to a third, who whispers it to a fourth and so on… Frequently, the resulting story is a humorous variation of the original, but not the same. A story written down will always be a more reliable rendition, i.e. the account is verifiable. To be sure there may very well be valuable information gained by interviewing a person who only has a history in the oral tradition, but how would this account be verified in an inter-subjective society?

De-colonising education makes no sense whatsoever

To conclude, the idea of decolonising education in South Africa makes almost no sense at all. It seems to be nothing more than a political exercise for some protesters to indulge in trivial discourses which are unlikely to have any positive academic or economic outcome on the futures of these folk. Nonetheless, it is an idea whose time has come. Why? Because it challenges the status quo – questioning why it is important to learn what is in the curriculum and questioning why it is important to tackle the work prescribed – always a good approach, but only if the questioning leads to a win-win outcome: good for both the student body and the environment in which these students hope to find gainful employment.

An excellent example of this is that of Andreas Versallius, the pioneering anatomy teacher, who, as a student challenged the long held teaching methods of the time and changed the way human dissection, is taught. Versallius published his definitive text, De Humani Corporis Fabrica in 1543. This work became a defining moment in the history of modern medicine. For the first time in history, the understanding of human physiology and the treatment of disease was embedded in a factual portrayal of the human body and its response to treatment and not in some ancient philosophical notion.

Please note the words: “embedded in factual portrayal of the human body and its response to treatment and not in some ancient philosophical notion.” Those seeking to de-colonise education in South Africa seem to want to revert to some kind of ‘ancient philosophical notion’ (the indigenous knowledge of a long past Golden Age) rather than toward an improved future – which is what Versallius achieved.

At this point, let us not forget the Cornish people wishing to revive their original language ‘Kernowek’ which is comparative, interesting, nationalistic and important to them, but probably will not make any real difference in the world today.

All students protest against the status quo at some time or another. This is part of adult learning and is normal. After all, these people will lead a life very different from the life their parents had.

Fergusson’s ‘Killer Apps’

Earlier, I mentioned the wealth behind the US university system which attracts researcher and excellent university teachers globally. Why are they so successful? Maybe the answer lies in the six killer applications (killer apps) identified by Niall Fergusson who argues these are the reason why Europeans were successful in colonising a large portion of the world, why the top universities are also so successful and why US corporations like Coca Cola are world leaders. Let’s consider these ‘killer apps’:

  1. COMPETION: A decentralisation of economic and political existence. The economy is market driven and not controlled by the state, thus there are no state owned enterprises such as utilities Telkom and Eskom. There are many of these utilities, all privately owned, all competing for business in other countries. This competitiveness tends to improve efficiency and reduce costs to the consumer. If, say, one were to move to a city in the US and needed a telephone, it would be installed the same day one ordered it. This rarely, if ever, occurs in a sole state owned provider. It is this kind of competitiveness abounded in Europe immediately after the Reformation. The rise of the EIC and the VOC were made possible because of competition between the warring European states. But, in South Africa, it is the policy of the ANC to centralise governmental control which tends to impede efficiency (read encourage violence in the Cape Town Metropole – as described by Jaffer) and encourage a lack of accountability which fosters corruption. There is no real competition between provinces, cities and towns vying for business.
  2. SCIENCE: A pragmatic way of observing the natural world and altering it to suit one’s existence, carried out without political or religious meddling. Chinese and Islamic science was far more advanced than any comparative scientific endeavour in Europe some 700 years ago. Muslim scholars must be thanked, most profusely at that, for caring for philosophical, scientific and mathematical knowledge of the Mediterranean countries, notably Greece, during the so-called medieval era in Europe

However, it was political interference in China that halted progress and religious interference that did the same for Islamic science. Later, it was the same kind of religious interference, but Roman Catholic this time, that was experienced by Galileo and da Vinci among others in Italy. But again, it was the Reformation which permitted European science to flourish and pave the way toward the Age of Enlightenment and the Scientific Method in Europe which, likewise, facilitated the (first) Industrial Revolution.

One of the real benefits to South Africa of colonialist science is the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope currently being built in the Northern Cape – an incredible achievement for the South African Department of Science and Technology. So: Well deserved congratulations to all concerned in this game-changing accomplishment!

  1. PROPERTY RIGHTS: About 1,000 years ago, the land in a country was ‘owned’ by the monarch or emperor, as it had been since the concept of land ownership was first mooted. The monarch, usually male, rewarded his supporters, again usually male, with land and titles which was worked by serfs (essentially slaves). People who were granted the right to work a piece of land paid a sum to the land-owner, usually the king, hence the term ‘royalty’. This started to change in England after King John was forced to sign the Magna Carta at Runneymede in 1215. Ever since then it has become possible for individuals to own the rights to land, either in the form of a lease-hold (for a certain period) or a free-hold. Gradually other rights, known today as Intellectual Property (IP) rights have been recognised.

In some countries, however, land is still owned by the ‘state’. These are usually communist countries or have strong communist leanings, for example, China and Mozambique.

Property ownership (land and intellectual) is a corner-stone of Western Societies. It is this concept that protects the rights of private owners and encourages them to invest in various endeavours where there is no risk the property will be seized (‘nationalised’ or ‘grabbed’). Disputes are settled by operating within the rule of law – laws passed by a democratically elected government.

A country, such as South Africa, seeking foreign investment and simultaneously threatening to deprive property owners of their rights, does so at the peril for both investor and the country at large. What potential investor is going to consider an investment – never mind actually investing – if their investment faces seizure, as has been and is continually being threatened by statute in South Africa as I write? Would you invest? I wouldn’t.

Property restitution in South Africa needs to be dealt with in a different manner otherwise we South Africans face a Zimbabwean situation where nothing works. 

One aspect of our economy in South Africa needs to be fully understood. It costs real money and real expertise to harvest the raw materials we have in South Africa and then to turn these into finished goods the world needs and wants and is willing to pay a premium to acquire. Either we invest our own money – resources we don’t have because these monies are being squandered on frivolous material things like ministerial cars, presidential jets, stealth warships, and so on – the list is endless, or we ‘make-like’ Singapore – a small independent country with no resources that has attracted big business and, as a result, has a thriving economy, as Helen Zille quite correctly stated. We can also ‘make-like’ South Korea which gained its freedom at roughly the same time Ghana did. Both Ghana and South Korea had roughly the same GDP in the 1950s. Today, Ghana’s GDP is still roughly the same: it hasn’t improved. South Korea, on the other hand, has one of the highest GDPs and is, consequently, one of the wealthiest countries in the world. South Koreans have a very strong work ethic, something the Ghanaians don’t seem to have.

  1. MEDICINE: Apart from the odd physician, such as Syrian/Egyptian Islamic scholar and physician, Ibn-al-Nafis, who was the first to correctly describe the circulation of blood in humans some 800 years ago and some other medical philosophies such as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) which considers bodily functions (such as breathing, digestion and ageing for example) more important than anatomical dissection and rigorous empirical research and is considered a pseudoscience by many modern physicians, all relevant medical discoveries of significant importance were European – and therefore a colonial import into South Africa.

Galen, an early Greek physician, was the first to describe the circulation of blood some 1,000 years before Ibn-al-Nafis. Except Galen got it wrong. Nonetheless, his philosophy of medicine was taught to European medical students for nearly 2,000 years after his death.

But the real breakthrough came with people like Andreas Versallius: it was his pioneering work that led to a realistic scientific approach to medicine in France. So, when the French encountered unknown diseases in tropical Africa during their colonial era in Africa, they had already developed a hard scientific culture and easily recognized the need for an empirical study of these diseases. They set up the world’s first scientific tropical disease institute in Paris which was followed soon after by similar institutes in London and Manchester. No such tropical disease institute existed elsewhere on Earth then, and, while there is some validity in the medicinal knowledge of African sangomas in the form of medicinal plant usage, this practice is considered a pseudoscience as no major disease has been controlled, cured or eliminated by sangoma medicinal treatment.

The real facts are – the average global life-span in 1800 was 28.5 years, while in 2001 this figure was 66.6 years. More than double! This is a direct result of Western medical practice based on hard science and nothing else.

  1. CONSUMER SOCIETY and the INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION: A life-style in which production and purchase of consumer goods plays a central role in the economic activity of a society at large. Before the Industrial Revolution, everything was made by hand. All consumer goods are machine made today and automation in almost every sphere of human activity is a reality. But, without consumer need, there would be no need for any kind of industrial revolution. Consumer demand drives industry which is becoming increasingly automated every year. Automation is far more efficient than human labour: Automated machines can perform the same set of tasks precisely as programmed and once started, run continuously until stopped. They operate without breaks, never need any kind of holiday and never go on strike. But, like any mechanical device, these machines need occasional maintenance and at some point need replacement, just like a motor vehicle does.

As automated machines encroach on jobs one aspect of human existence we must embrace is to redefine what is meant by ‘work’. Tomorrow’s work-seeker will not have the same job opportunities his or her parents have or had. In fact, a job one might be trained to perform today, might not exist in five years. So, in addition, we need to re-think adult education and training. What should adult education be about and why? These are global challenges and not ones we can ignore in South Africa by merely decolonising education.

Finally, there are numerous shopping malls in South Africa filled with merchandise South Africans think they need and sometimes do – and South Africans of all hues willing to buy these goods – from clothes and shoes to lounge and bedroom furniture; from smart televisions, smart-phones and computers to the latest time-saving ecology friendly kitchen appliances; and then there are motor vehicles of almost every kind; and, and, and…. The list is endless. Without doubt, South Africa is a consumer society, but consumerism is a colonial import. Do the proponents of de-colonialism propose to decolonise consumerism too?

  1. WORK ETHIC: A principled structured approach of both government and entrepreneurial endeavours arising from (among others) Protestant Christianity which provides the ethical adhesive for a self-motivated and latently volatile society created by apps 1 to 5.
  • Make no mistake: It is the principles of Protestant Christianity and religions adhering to similar principles that nurture the kind of work ethic described here. There is not sufficient space in this article to describe this aspect fully, but, perhaps one can get a glimpse of the difference by considering this hypothetical: What would have happened in the Americas had Catholic Portuguese and Spanish colonised North America and Protestant English colonised South America? Would North America be considered an emerging economy and South America considered a first world economy? Can you justify your response with hard facts?
  • In his book, Democracy in America (1835), Tocqueville hits the nail on the head regarding American work ethic: “The citizen in the United States is taught from his earliest infancy to rely upon his own exertions in order to resist the evils and difficulties of life, he looks upon social authority with an eye of mistrust and anxiety, and he only claims its assistance when he is quite unable to shift without it.”
  • This is true of all highly successful countries in the world today which reward self-motivation of individuals. But in South Africa, we reward non-performers and fire good performers.
  • Some countries which do not share the Protestant Christian approach are, nonetheless, just as principled. These countries include: Japan, South Korea, Israel and Singapore among others.

Zille’s comments about Singapore are more appropriate than her critics give her credit for. They seem lost in some kind of ANC myth of a belief in promises – ones that have not really materialised in any way like the promises of the Singaporean government. Similarly, the people of South Korea have a work-ethic that South Africans need to consider seriously – very seriously – if we are to create work and end poverty – once an for all. In my view China should be included here, but is has a centralised government structure which hasn’t changed in 2,000 years (the politics may change but the structure of its government hasn’t) and this dampens a competitive spirit. And, China is a communist dictatorship embracing capitalism in a way not really attempted before.

While few countries in the world are perfect, there are some which are getting very close. Recently, Denmark was voted the happiest country, and there is almost no crime in New Zealand, but, in both cases, for how long? Singapore and South Korea have their own problems. And, there is no such thing as perfection – there is always room for improvement.

Nonetheless, undoubtedly, the colonised world has benefited from these six killer apps. Countries nurturing these (often unknowingly) have succeeded in bringing those of their citizens who seek it, a healthy and wealthy life-style devoid of want and diseases – and an opportunity, above all, to enjoy life. This has yet to happen for all citizens in South Africa. Why? This is a difficult question to answer, but one aspect is clear in my mind: ditching Western culture (colonialism – call it what you will) is not going to solve any of South Africa’s problems.

I enumerate some of the items (off the top of my head – all of which are Western in origin) South Africans will have to consider foregoing if our society is to be de-colonised:

  • Aircraft, Airports, Air-conditioning, Anaesthetics, Antibiotic drugs, ATMS
    • Banking services, 
    • Computers, Consumer clothing, Canned foods, CDs, Cell phones,
    • Degrees, Diplomas, Democracy, DVDs, 
    • Education – K-12 schooling, Electricity, Electronic appliances, 
    • Food supermarkets (Checkers, Shoprite, Pick ‘n Pay etc), 
    • Government departments – local, provincial and national,
    • Health clinics, Hospitals, Housing – decent properly built, 
    • Insurance policies – home, household, life, and motor, Instant coffee, Internet,
    • Justice – a proper judicial system as opposed to ‘kangaroo’ courts
    • Law, Liberty – the concept of…
    • Medicine – scientific as opposed to pseudoscience, Movies
    • Newspapers, Nuclear energy
    • Office blocks – skyscrapers,
    • Pharmacies, Philosophy, Photography, Pasteurisation, Ports – sea, 
    • Quality assurance
    • Radio, Railways, Religion, Refrigeration, Restaurants, Roads (macadamised) 
    • Smart phones, Smart televisions, 
    • Television, Tourism, Travel
    • Universities – degree awarding, Utilities (Eskom, Telkom), 
    • Video stores, Video equipment, Vending machines, Vaccines, 
    • Windows – glass 
    • X-ray machines

One aspect of the continuing de-colonialism discourse requires answers: can de-colonialism in South Africa be selective? What would proponents of de-colonialism include and exclude – and why?

Zille vs. Zuma

And why is there such a pre-occupation with this de-colonial discourse? Methinks it has more to de with covering up ANC’s incompetence than anything else. It is, after all, so much easier to criticise one’s opponents, especially when hard evidence suggests the DA is governing the Western Cape better than the ANC did.

The points Zille made are fairly simple: (1) South Africa should have been much further down the road to reducing poverty and creating wealth than it actually is.

The example she used was Singapore. She could just as well have used South Korea, – or Germany or Japan, both of which had to rebuild their entire infrastructure from scratch after WW2 – which they did within 20 years. (2) She was also absolutely correct in her claim that colonialism was not all that bad as I have proven.

The ANC on the other hand, now led by corrupt Zuma, inherited a working system that merely had to be extended to the people who had been deprived under the Nationalist regime (a relatively small task by comparison to the problems faced by Germany and Japan after WW2) – which they have yet to do after nearly 23 years.

To continually lay blame at Zille’s door when she had fought, tirelessly, for democracy before 1994, and is doing to correct thing (just as she did against the Nationalist regime) by exposing the ANC for what it really is at this time (2017) – a highly incompetent and corrupt government where top-performing ministers are sacked on a whim and underperforming ones are retained by a president who has been found ‘wanting’ by the highest court in our land – and, paradoxically, doesn’t see, or doesn’t want to see, the irony in his claim that he has the constitutional right to hire and fire ministers as he chooses – the same constitution which he has failed to uphold.

No court has found Zille ‘wanting’.

No court has found Gordhan ‘wanting’.

But they are criticised by populist movements who see nothing wrong in what Zuma is doing – a president widely believed to be putting his fingers in the cookie-jar – and everything wrong with Zille and Gordhan who, although very different, have tons more integrity in serving the people than Zuma has ever had.

Twice in less than 2 years, Zuma has directly caused a massive drop in the value of our country’s wealth which negatively affects the poorest of the poor in South Africa. The ANC under Zuma could not care less about the poor in our country, despite what they claim.

If Zuma is serious about reducing poverty and uplifting all South Africans he would surely adopt policies that have undoubtedly been proven elsewhere like Singapore – as was pointed out by Zille.

And make no mistake; Zille is correct in her Tweet about colonialism. This is not hate speech. But as a political leader, maybe she should have made her views public via different channels. Yet, on the other hand, Black politicians issue hateful statements which pass largely unquestioned by their own people. 

Does this discourse have any merit? Only, if it leads to a better life-style for all and not an elite few! Imagine a society where there is no poverty; no-one goes hungry; every-one has a rewarding job (well most, anyway); where everyone has a decent, well-built home that they own; where the government nurtures markets but does not control them; where there is no corruption; where the K-12 schooling system works really well and is the envy of the world; where universities produce outstanding graduates who carryout highly rewarding and well funded research; in short, a country where everyone is happy, just like Denmark is today.

Is this possible? Absolutely it is. I recommend the 6 ‘killer apps’ suggested by Fergusson are the best way forward, as has been proven in Singapore and South Korea among others. To be sure each of these countries has their faults (as do many others). But we have our constitution. If we could have their work-ethic and their achievements in addition to our constitution, we would be well on the road to success for all South Africans. So, instead of looking backwards toward a long forgotten, so-called, Golden Era which, face it, doesn’t really have any merit: just as reverting to Kernowek has little merit for the Cornish people in a global environment; we should rather move forward, like Versallius did so many years ago, with vigour and confidence toward a better future for all South Africans.

And the very first step is getting rid of Zuma and his cronies: As Jeff Rudkin stated ‘…there is nothing as powerful as an idea whose time has come…’ Getting rid of Zuma and his cronies is such an idea.

Original; post on Facebook: Facebook Colonialism

To read more on the topic.  John thought that the reaction to Helen Zille’s tweets about colonialism resulted from a lack of understanding.  This addresses some of the Zille background from her trip to Singapore.

See: http://www.johncbarry.com/hellen-zille-singapore-and-colonialism/