Helen Zille’s sentiments about colonialism echo those who continue to work tirelessly, every day to undo the democratic gains we have struggled so hard to achieve, writes Dr Iqbal Survé. The article first appeared in the Independent Group IOL and it is published here with permission from the writer.
It came as no surprise to me that Helen Zille tweeted about the benefits of colonialism as she returned from Singapore, on the eve of Human Rights Day.
Her tweet that generated most condemnation was “For those claiming legacy of colonialism was ONLY negative, think of our independent judiciary, transport infrastructure, piped water etc.”
Zille is, of course in good company, with this tweet – with the likes of Marine Le Pen, Donald Trump, Ian Smith, Cecil John Rhodes, David Duke of the KKK, and our very own racists like Verwoerd, Vorster and PW Botha. Madam Zille, I and millions of others beg to differ with you and your racist and colonial ideological bedfellows.
One of the worst legacies of colonialism was the breakdown of families, as fathers were forced to work as migrant labour in mines, far from home, for very little pay. This system was entrenched under apartheid. But its origins can be traced back to Rhodes.
While Zille can protest that her words were taken out of context, one should consider why she even thought it was okay to give consideration, and feel comfortable to tweet about the positive side of colonialism.
The subtext of her tweet is a sentiment shared by many conservative members of the white community, hankering for the good old days under apartheid “where things were much better” for them. According to many such apartheid apologists: “Under apartheid there were better schools, better universities, better hospitals, better piped water and less corruption (really?) – and all of these would not have been built if apartheid was not there”.
The obvious counter to that is, of course, that under apartheid most South Africans did not have access to any of those basic rights. It was only under the new democratically elected government that the majority of people were afforded the right to housing, water, electricity, education and medical treatment.
A sad reality is that we should not be surprised that Zille and others believe in such a subtext. Entrenched in power, surrounded by like-minded advisers and minions, they become emboldened enough to allow their real personas to emerge from the shadows. It is now, in the time of social media, when you have thousands of followers, and you are drunk on power that you can feel free to tweet your opinion on colonialism.
The question is, who are you to decide that colonialism was not all-bad, Madam Zille. Did you feel the brunt of colonialism? How did it affect your life? I would guess that you and your families were beneficiaries of colonialism through the apartheid spatial planning, academic institutions reserved for whites, hospitals and other important life amenities preserved for a select few – white people. Should we therefore be surprised that you see the benefits and not the failings of colonialism?
I can tell you how it affected me and millions of other South Africans. And the effect was definitely not pleasant. We eked out a living, battling the odds, living as second-class citizens in a country that should have belonged to all who live in it. Many talented and bright black pupils were denied the right to study at white only universities such as UCT and Stellenbosch, only because they were black. Many including my immediate family had to leave SA and study medicine at overseas institutions under difficult conditions and return to SA to service their communities. When I and a handful through our own perseverance and hard work were admitted we were made to feel unwelcome and repeatedly told by some white lecturers and professors that we were the “lucky 10 percent and should be thankful”. In fact so drunk were they with their colonial mindset that in whispering tones they gently discouraged us from dissecting white cadavers (dead bodies) lest it infuriate our fellow white students in the anatomy class. This is the madness of colonialism.
I, and neither should you, the reader, be surprised by Zille’s tweet. When she reluctantly handed over her crown to the DA’s first black leader, Mmusi Maimane, a Twitter storm broke when her mentor Alistair Sparks likened her to apartheid architect Hendrik Verwoerd. Yes, her mentor Sparks, thought Verwoerd and Zille were smart politicians which is the equivalent of saying Hitler was a smart politician. We all know that Hitler and Verwoerd slaughtered millions of innocent Jews, blacks and others.
What we are seeing is revisionism. History being rewritten to make it seem like those that were responsible for the most horrific policies on our continent did so in the name of progress. But progress for whose benefit?
It is people such as Zille who want us to believe that Africans, and African society has not shown any progress, and that the masters of colonialism and apartheid were really good people who brought progress to Africa.
We are asked to ignore the savagery, brutality and havoc that colonialism brought to peaceful communities and civilisations who existed for thousands of years and which produced immense knowledge, innovation and prosperity.
We are asked to ignore that it is colonialism and slavery that decimated millions of Africans and forced them to sail in the dungeons of slave ships across the oceans, away from their loved ones and to work under the most brutal and horrific conditions.
This is the real colonialism as it is the real apartheid which resulted in the massacre of 69 people in Sharpeville in 1960; which confined millions to the homelands; which forcibly took productive land away from the people and imprisoned or killed the very best leaders. This is why we celebrate Human Rights Day to prevent this from ever happening again.
Struggle giants Govan Mbeki, Walter Sisulu, Nelson Mandela and Ahmed Kathrada were imprisoned on Robben Island for decades. They and scores of other struggle icons were denied their fundamental right to live, with and see their families and friends.
This, Madam Zille, is the legacy of colonialism and apartheid, two sides of the same blood-spattered coin.
Cape Town today symbolises in many ways the thinking of Zille. The City is lauded by Zille and others for the “progress” they have made in traditionally white areas, investment into the province, lack of potholes and so forth. But if Zille and her colleagues will only step out from the sanctuary of Leeuwenhof, Zille’s official residence and Wale Street, to see for themselves the abject poverty that still exists in communities like Khayelitsha, Hanover Park, Manenberg, Mitchells Plain, Gugulethu and Langa, she will understand that the progress that she speaks of is denied to the vast majority of Capetonians. People who are not refugees or immigrants (as Zille ounce tried to label them) but South Africans who have the right to amenities, and to live and work. Not only do many still not have piped water but many don’t have toilets. This is what colonialism means to them.
Many members of the black SMME business community in Cape Town speak openly about Zille and other DA politicians hosting business meetings, lunches and dinners at Leeuwenhof and other places of government in Cape Town, with hardly any or token representation from the black business community of Cape Town.
Those who think colonialism and apartheid were good and brought progress often epitomise the bankruptcy inherent in these ideologies. They are charlatans masquerading as freedom lovers; who once in power hope to enforce their ideology and take away the freedom of others.
One of Independent Media’s titles, the Cape Times, has been a victim of Zille’s moral bankruptcy and fascist censorship. She has constantly written and tried to project the title in a negative light. Using her power she has banned the Cape Times and the Cape Argus from being subscribed to and distributed in Provincial offices. This is a woman who is only in power in the Western Cape; imagine if she was in power nationally, what kind of power drunk and neo-colonial and neo-apartheid decisions and censorship we would have to deal with?
There are those who would argue that the ruling black government of today, the ANC has let us down. This is true and tragic and a slap in the face of those of us who are democrats longing for social justice in our country and who actively supported the ANC’s quest for freedom and liberation. The most recent Sassa debacle is an indication of how we as black people have let ourselves down. But we have to fix it together with our progressive white compatriots and we have to make sure that we deliver the fruits of freedom to the majority of the population. We hold true to our values which allowed us to be victorious over apartheid and over colonialism. Our failing should not allow the neo-colonialists and apartheid apologists amongst us to think that they can re-emerge and colonise us again.
Today, Naspers (Nasionale Pers) the principal chief propaganda arm and communication architect of apartheid for the brutal and racist Nasionale Party of Verwoed, Botha and Vorster, dominates the media landscape in South Africa. Through its Media24, City Press, Daily Sun, Die Burger, Rapport, News24 and Multichoice (DSTV), People’s Post and the printing presses (Novus) and partnerships with parochial sites (such as Biznews), it dominates the media space.
Ironically, it is this black ANC led government that foolishly allows them to dominate and monopolise our media landscape while they propagate aggressively for the removal of the very same government. Similarly, apartheid-era print media houses such as Media24, CTP and TMG (Business Day and Sunday Times) whose editor, Tertius Myburgh, was an apartheid-era security police spy) are hypocritical when they refer to media freedom. They remain at the forefront of media working to remove a democratically elected government in keeping with the machinations of the past.
Our government does nothing about this because they are caught in their own internal party divisions, factionalism and fight for resources (crumbs thrown down at them by the apartheid beneficiaries). This plays into the hands of those who want to subjugate, dominate and monopolise others. Some believe that this is ok, if it means that a faction benefits from this attack and use the utilitarian argument that the end justifies the means. The strategy of divide and rule was refined by the colonialists as they spread like a cancer across the world. They entrenched divisions between the colonised, weakening them and allowing for them to be divided and conquered again. Our government and all freedom loving people will rue the day that they did not heed this warning to dismantle the Media24/ Naspers monopoly and work together to defend our young democracy. History will judge us harshly as people like Zille will emerge to dictate our thinking and our actions as black people.
Zille is the tip of the iceberg. Her sentiments echo those who ruled us under apartheid, and who continue to believe, but more importantly work tirelessly, every day to undo the democratic gains we have struggled so hard to achieve and for which many have given their lives and their freedom.
To be clear, Zille as a colonialist apologist does not reflect the views of all white people since there are many white people who gave their lives and fought for freedom and to overcome the effects of colonialism and apartheid. But Zille leads millions of people in the Western Cape, most of them coloured, all of whom were badly affected by colonialism and apartheid and who, to this day, bear the scars of slavery and injustice.
* A “twit” for the purpose of this article is a term I coined to describe a tweet made by a person that has idiosyncratic beliefs. It may or may not exist in the Oxford dictionary.
** Dr Iqbal Survé is a philanthropist, a black intellectual, businessman and medical doctor. He is the Executive Chairman of both Independent Media and the Sekunjalo Group.
*** He writes this opinion piece in his personal capacity and it is not necessarily the view of Independent Media.