Following the events I discussed here, an unending storm of colonialist condemnation has continued in the media, in articles, speeches and letters. In response to this tweet:
a typical response was this:
Astonishingly infantile, from an educated leader of a major political party, it completely grabs the bull by the udder. Helen Zille was pointing out that colonialism brought some benefits. She made no mention of that making it a justifiable system. However, streams of eminent commentators have continued in the same vein, claiming this to have been what she meant, and that the underlying attitude was (that overworked buzzword) ‘Racist’.
There seem to be another class of attackers who are relics from the Boer War and who still wail about the conditions in prisoner-of-war camps of that era. Yet more, who equate colonialism with apartheid. Again, these undeniably deplorable aspects have nothing to do with the statement.
Some commentators do fringe on the subject of benefits, and in trying to make a case that there were none at all go into a lot of completely irrelevant early African history. Irrelevant, because whatever high stages development in Africa may have reached in the past or in other parts, it wasn’t applicable when the colonialists and colonists reached South African shores. What existed were impermanent villages with groups essentially still living as iron age agriculturists and herdsmen, and prone to violent inter-tribal warfare.
All ignore that the history of Africa, like that of the rest of the world, has been characterised by the emergence and decline of colonies or empires. This is a recurring historical fact, and together with the obvious negative aspects most empires have tended to introduce some lasting improvements.
The European colonists brought with them to South Africa concepts like the wheel, written language and mathematics, sophisticated art and music, improved farming methods, medicines, weaving, superior building skills … the list could go on and on. The point is that, although access to the benefits of such things to all races may have been held back or disdained for some time, they thus became available to all in the long term.
A mature outlook, while deploring the ills of the period, would be to take these ills in historical perspective and to laud those ‘colonialists’ who provided a positive impact and to appreciate and propagate their permanent legacies. As did most who had been part of the Roman Empire, for example.
It is ironical, and indicative of blinkers or tunnel vision, that many of those condemning colonialism outright are still quite ready to celebrate kings of the past like Shaka, who may have been a brilliant tactician but was also an empire-builder, a bloodthirsty tyrant, and mentally unstable.