Colonialism hasn’t been all that Bad*
By Douglas Schorr
Jun 15, 2017
The judgment has been handed down on Helen Zille, leader of South Africa’s opposition Democratic Alliance, muzzling her from any party related communications in future. She said that colonialism wasn’t all bad. Her tweet was insensitive but true, the backlash furious and nonsensical. Why? I blame black guilt, which I understand very well, because I’m white.
The old way
‘I grew up in Rhodesia,’ I said out loud recently, whilst taking a walk with my son (he’s 35, I’m 69).
His face soured.
‘Why do you have to say that? Why can’t you say Zimbabwe?’
‘Because they’re not the same thing. Rhodesia was different from Zimbabwe. I never lived in Zimbabwe. Rhodesia is where I grew up.’
There was a tense silence.
‘Why do I still identify with Rhodesia?’ I wondered.
‘Why do I hold onto some old imperialist identity? Is there really a difference, and is that difference important enough to insist on, out loud, in the face of all the damage colonialism has done?’
Rhodesia and colonialism were wrong. Agreed. But why not talk about them? In fact, in a country reeling from a poverty crisis that is only escalating, and will tear this nation apart if something meaningful is not done (and soon), how can we not talk about them?
Because colonialism is not over, not by a long shot. That ‘wrong’ history is repeating itself.
The new colonialism
Colonialism has been on the go since 1415. The nations of Europe, with their armies and the cross of Jesus at the fore, have conducted a vicious assault on ‘non-whites’ everywhere with the stated goal of promoting Christianity and Capitalism, while hauling back to Europe all of value. The various independencies of previous colonial territories would seem to have been the end of that process, but they were not.
Colonialism is still alive and well, except now we call it ‘globalisation’, ‘free trade’, etc.
Today, instead of the European nations of old, the drivers of colonialism are the massive corporations and bankers. There are new owners of the world’s capital. They define which currencies are worth what and they own the banking system, armies and armaments. They have taken over ownership of the government from the people and their goal is singular – maximum profit.
They are headquartered wherever the taxes are best but mainly in the U.S. and Europe. In their operational areas, such as Africa, they employ through corruption and bribery a new class of manager – the local African who wields the power of the vote.
Mostly they’re Black Africans, men and women who substituted their socialism and people advancement dreams for wealth and cover-page status – exactly how we whites controlled the population in Rhodesia, until they rose up and bit us.
In 2007 there were 6,200 black millionaires in South Africa; 14,700 in 2014; and as late as 2015 over 17,000. The new black middle class has more than trebled over the past 12 years to 5.81 million, completely overshadowing the fast declining white middle class, now estimated at about 2.5 million.
How much the South African middle class earn is difficult to work out. Standard Bank reports the ‘low emerging middle’ class annual salaries start from R51,000, the ‘emerging middle’ starts at R111,000, and the ‘realised middle’ range from R240,000 to over R380,000.
And there is the growth in government and city and municipal council employment of mostly non-whites. Government employment, as at 2014, has jumped to 2.7 million employees. The assumption has to be made that the government (and compliant city and municipal councils) is committed to at least the minimum wage for every single one of those employees.
University of Cape Town marketing professor John Simpson is quoted as saying, ‘the black middle class is keeping the economy alive …’ Well, with those salaries it would be the driver, but it isn’t necessarily a mark of prosperity for South Africa. Most of South Africa’s big exports are raw resources sent overseas to have value added to them. It is a process that has been followed since Rhodes’s time. The little exports of finished goods South Africa does manage is of small consumer type items such as food stuff, and it all goes to her poor(er) neighbours.
This means South Africa’s new emerging middle class is not adding value. Instead, it’s buying and selling houses, cars, insurance, food, eating in franchised restaurants and generally creating debt, the mainstay of the corporacy and its banks.
In 2010, 16 years after the ANC adopted the White Nationalist Party’s Capitalist principles by which to run the country, the average income for South Africa’s black folk was R10,000 per year. Some 60% of South Africans, 99% of them non-white, still live under poverty conditions, scratching away a living in informal settlements and the old homelands.
At the same time there has been a surge upwards as hundreds of men and women who twenty years ago promoted themselves as liberators have embraced the greed system and become rich beyond dreams – Ramaphosa, Gordhan, Sexale, Motsepe, Mbete, Trevor Manuel and wife, billionaire Mbeki, Mboweni… the list rolls on.
There doesn’t seem to be much trickle down to the ordinary folk. To me South Africa seems just like the old Rhodesia, with the few living off the backs of the many.
Through the looking glass
Surely it would be both logical and reasonable to argue South Africa’s horrible inequality world record is, in the main, now black driven? Aren’t the new elite treating their own kind as objects out of which to make money in exactly the same way as Imperial Britain treated South Africa?
Is it not logical to point a finger and say the ANC-led government are the new colonists by behaviour and employment of capitalism and religion?
Why didn’t the president forget all the colonial bull, cut out the mythological and announce he and his government are going to stop corruption? The talk is that corruption has cost South Africa R700 billion, and I’m guessing that does not include all the contracts to mates to do what they quite clearly cannot do.
What isn’t falling apart? Water is, electricity, health, schooling, railways, harbours, airways are.
‘Why is Africa, a continent blessed abundantly with natural resources and excessive value of human capital, yet to find its rightful place in world politics? Africa is very rich with natural possessions such as fertile soil, enough rain and sunshine for cultivation, raw materials, oil, gas, gold and many other major resources, but corruption and bad governances are the major reasons for the visible miserable poverty, unmanageable sufferings and deaths on the continent’ is the statement of Front Page Africa.
Africa is yet to find its rightful place because the old system of Colonialism is still active, now driven by the continent’s current leaders.
I see a mirror of the privileged society I grew up in. Capitalism is not freedom, but continued slavery, colonial style.
We must act
The 23-year-old ANC government can play a huge role in the growth and development of South Africa.
It has a by ‘no means insignificant role of state capital in the South African economy – owning and controlling approximately 30% of the economy in highly strategic sectors such as state banking, information technology, energy, transport, aerospace and the weapons industry, communication, among others. In addition the state owns about 25% of land, and has an array of regulatory and administrative apparatus to influence the behaviour of capital. There is also the question of pension funds and union investment funds, which currently play and could be geared to play an even more strategic role in the economy’, wrote Mcebisi Jonas just last week.
And Jonas asks, ‘so what are the implications of this understanding for growth and transformation?’
Inequality has a lot to do with the failure, but to continue tagging the white 8% and the once white-only colonialism isn’t cutting any cheese anymore.
‘Africans make up 77% of public sector employment compared with 66% in the private sector … In terms of the skills profile, the public sector is more skills intensive. Almost 45% of all public sector employees fall into the top three occupational categories, compared to 26% in the private sector.’
The ANC and its MPs are not representative of the nation or of the 80% blacks – it was voted in as a party and is a party having a party with an overpaid head of state. And worst of all, those who are meant to be really representing the workers, the major union bodies, are in it.
‘We need a paradigm shift, underpinned by a new consensus,’ explains Jonas, ‘a new bargain around which the state, business, labour and civil society can cohere – to move us out of our low growth and high inequality trap. We must not be naïve and think this will be easy to achieve.’
Capitalism, far from going away, is going to become leaner and meaner. Unless we begin to act in a moral way that is inclusive of all, fewer and fewer families are going to become richer and more in control. As we have seen with the Gupta revelations, those with power will manipulate those that want it.
There is no democracy in Western Capitalism, ‘Corporations now govern society.’
A new way
And there is another way. How about the emergent Asian Capitalism of strong leadership inducing Shared Capitalism?
The new China not only pulled hundreds of millions of peasants out of poverty but empowered them. Their railways and etc. work. Last week they launched the ‘one road one belt’ initiative, a program that will possibly enable half of the world. And they are going to mine the moon
The system can be changed without taking away the good points of Capitalism, creating something along the lines of Asian Shared Capitalism which, by the way, has for a long time had significant Western investments. U.S. and European banks and funds have taken major shareholder positions in almost all Chinese firms of reasonable size.
To borrow from Rian Malan: ‘We should rather follow the truly revolutionary path of Deng Tsaio Ping, who set forth in 1978 to “seek truth from facts” and deliver Communist China from its misery and backwardness.’
And with their brand of Capitalism they have and are doing it much better – to the anger of the quite unreformed colonists of Europe and the U.S.
Desperately needed in South Africa is a new system led by leaders who can take the country forward beyond the legacy of Greed Capitalism. The current system demands profit that comes at the expense of the national reserve. The current system has become so profit driven, so full of dogma and impossible promises, it is a religion. It has to go and along with it all those who manipulate it to their own end, all these new colonial masters.
History repeats itself
‘Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize, ignore and even deny anything that doesn’t fit in with the core belief,’ said Frantz Fanon.
I grew up in Rhodesia. The British history I learnt from Grade 3 to university entrance level taught me emphatically blacks were savages tamed by Colonial Christian Capitalists – it was that simple. I believed all the memes of the time, memes that declared unless we white Rhodesians ran the show it would collapse.
Like South Africa, Rhodesia was a White Nationalist Socialist State which, as the title infers, meant I and roughly 200,000 other whites had all privilege while the non-whites suffered. Most non-whites lived on starvation diets in Trust Lands, were deprived of a reasonable education and getting a job as a servant was to win a prize.
I knew nothing of the duplicity and theft of colonialism until I joined the government as a trainee administration officer. It took another 10 years of self-study to change my mindset, to begin to undo my biases and irrational ideas. I came to learn of alternates like the amazing community way – the support of the extended family – of the Bantu, a way us Europeans (now white South Africans) had dumped some 400 years before as we were forced from our bonded societies into the process of the Industrial Revolution.
I understand that Rhodesia was a flawed place, a place that should not be allowed to exist again. But it does, here.
President Robert Mugabe, his cabinet, generals, his inner circle and provincial land-lords have replaced Smith, his cabinet, generals, his inner circle and provincial land-lords. The only difference is numbers. Perhaps 10 or 20% of Mugabe’s 16 million Zimbabweans live the good life, where under Smith only 200,000 of us did.
History is repeating itself. Unless we get over public posturing, learn from the past, and demand real change. To forget the lesson of Rhodesia is foolish, and so it is to miss the real intent in Zille’s tweet, even if it was insensitive.
Her tweet was one in a series of reflections on her trip to Singapore where she saw a society taking the best of its past and building on it (I don’t agree though, I think Singapore is benefitting from the Chinese in the same old colonial way).
Zille herself is not a leader associated with corruption. She has no legal charges against her of any kind. No lying, no extortion, no bribery, rape, theft, duplicity. If anything her crime is she is too honest and too white, qualities that it seems do not benefit a politician.
South Africa should be talking about the continued failure of the government to uplift their people, to move on from Colonialism.
South Africa should be pulling the problem out at the root. Our problem is not racism, it’s the quest for personal profit and personal gain at the expense of the whole.
History repeats itself, until we learn from it.