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Colonialism and slavery 'the norm'

03 November 2011, 07:04
I’m sure people are getting really tired of having to put up with the constant victim mentality exhibited by some South Africans around every conceivable issue. Be it politics, economy, history, or entertainment, some citizens frame their entire worldview around the misconception that they have been wronged and robbed of their birthright, and the rest of society needs to grant them special privileges to make amends for the wrongs they have suffered.

They like to paint a rosy picture of the past, before the invaders came; a veritable Utopia where peace and prosperity reigned. It’s time that these people undertake an exercise to expand their idea of history in order to overcome the limitations that this overly simplified notion of the past place on their present and future. Along the way they may even discover that we owe the West for ending both practices.

I would encourage people to take a map, close your eyes and place your finger anywhere you see fit. Go back along the course of history and I guarantee that you will find that, in the main, more people have lived under oppressive kings and despots, heinous social systems and awful conditions than they have lived in anything close to democracy and peace. Even today, more people live under tyranny and oppression than open, representative forms of government. Let’s take a few examples.

Place your finger on Europe. People who attack the European nations as a thieve’s guild  that ganged up to “rape” Africa fail to see that before Europeans invented ships, they were making slaves of each other and taking each other’s land. The Slavs were constantly being enslaved by anyone they came across, so much so that you see it in their name – Slav and slave have the same root word in Greek, French and English.

he Divine Right of Kings in league with the Catholic Church kept society under a tight thumb. If you happened to be a serf, you were no better than an animal – you could be bought and sold at your master’s whim, or forcibly removed from your house. People were brutally punished by beheadings, being burned at the stake or locked in stocks to have rotten fruit thrown at them.  This kind of system endured for centuries.  Although the beliefs and superstitions underpinning the feudalist system began to unwind in the fifteenth century, and saw a decline across Europe from that time onward, serfdom was only abolished in Russia by the decree of the Tsar in 1861. There are many other notable events that show that Europe was governed by systems based on colonialism and slavery for well over a thousand years.

What about Africa? Egypt is proudly claimed by Afro-centrists as a great society. Did they not colonise and oppress the Jewish people for centuries, and make war with surrounding nations? Their kings, or pharaohs, also ruled by divine right, commoners had no human rights and no chance to elect their leaders. African pirates on the South shores of the Mediterranean made slaves of unfortunate Europeans that they happened to come across in their raids. African chiefs actively collaborated with Arabic slave traders, selling their own people or captured enemies into slavery centuries before the Europeans entered the scene, or a single African was spirited away to the ‘New World’ of the Americas.

The chiefs were also seen as divine and could not be touched by a commoner. Shaka is celebrated as a hero by the Zulus, but he mercilessly colonised other smaller tribes to forge the Zulu nation to the detriment of the people that did not wish to join. The records of Africans fleeing from his murderous impis stand in testament to this.

Let’s look to the Far East. Japan basically attempted to colonize as much of the Pacific nations as it could over the course of its history. Korea and Taiwan bore the brunt of this, but the Japanese Imperial army committed atrocities across the region. They kidnapped Korean women and used them as sex slaves. They attempted to assimilate, by force, Korean society into Japanese society by actively attacking their language, culture and social bonds. The Japanese dethroned the king and stripped Korea of all diplomatic rights. Before the Japanese arrived it was the three kingdoms of Shilla, Baekjae and Gogureyo that were battling each other over the peninsula, before them, the Mongols under the Khans were raiding an pillaging a vast area stretching from Korea to Poland. Taiwan was wrested from the Chinese in 1895 and vast numbers of Japanese people were sent there to establish it as Japanese territory; slaughtering aboriginal Taiwanese that were neither Japanese nor Han Chinese.

In South America, the prevailing Sun-worshipping religions called for human sacrifices of slaves and commoners to ensure the sun rose.  Kingdoms were in constant conflict as the flow of human blood could not be slowed for the hungry gods. I could go on, but I encourage people to find their own examples.

We never hear about these countless instances from the “entitled”. We see colonialism and slavery expressed as an eternal struggle between the white and black races. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Europeans were the only nations to end slavery. Ideas of democracy and equality began during the Renaissance in France and were refined through the Reformation and Enlightenment eras. . The anti-slavery movement began in Britain at the height of its power and spread outwards concurrent with the spread of democracy. The latter era of colonisation was full of idiosyncrasies; the European education system imposed upon native populations taught self-determination and democratic principles, where the system of colonialism actively undermined these rights.

However, before the Europeans arrived at the idea of “might make right” was the order of the day. Hence, European style colonialism sowed the seeds of its own destruction. Europe gave up their version of colonialism when it became unsustainable after World War Two. Most of the armies were decimated and funds used to administer bloated colonial bureaucracies and foreign military presence became economically unsustainable. When the European colonial project collapsed, it effectively dealt a death blow to the practice. Even so, half a century ‘free’ of colonisation is negligible over the thousands of years of human history.

The record of history is crystal clear; everyone has suffered at the hands of slavery and colonialism. Just because some forms are more recent, or live on in collective memory, photos, books and videos does not diminish the pain experienced by people who happened to find themselves trapped in those circumstances long forgotten. Everyone probably has a family history blighted by these two eternal evils.

Nothing is unique or special about South Africa’s history and it certainly does not take unique and special measures to rectify practices that resulted from these ageless trends. It was enough for many of the people in the above examples merely to be liberated from the tyranny of the old system.

It is time that South Africans follow the example set by countless others and focus on future opportunities rather than rely on a lie that they believes gives them a special position in history and the world.

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