Max du Preez

Doman who?

2015-09-08 10:10

Max du Preez

When the news broke on the weekend that the statue of an historical figure from the 17th century named Doman was stolen from a heritage park in Pretoria, I could hear most South Africans ask: Who? Who’s this Doman guy?

This ignorance is rather ironic in these times. “Decolonisation” is the new buzzword among black intellectuals and students. Renowned public intellectual Achille Mbembe calls it “a new cultural temperament [that] is gradually engulfing post-apartheid urban South Africa”; that “the ground is fast shifting and a huge storm seems to be building up on the horizon”, perhaps as big us the uprising in Soweto in 1976.

Now if you believe, as the #RhodesMustFall movement, Open Stellenbosch and other newly awakened black consciousness activists do, that South African minds, institutions and cultures should be urgently decolonised and Africanised, then you really ought to understand South African history from the earliest days.

Unfortunately it seems many of these angry people are more interested in the analysis of old dead men from elsewhere, like the Afro-Caribbean philosopher Frantz Fanon, the German political economist Karl Marx and the Guinea-Bissauan theorist Amílcar Cabral than in the history and heroes of anti colonialism here at the southern tip of Africa.

Doman’s real name was Nommoa. He was a talented young hothead from the Gorachouqua, a Khoihoi clan that lived around the Cape Peninsula during the 17th century.

In 1657, the Dutch East India Company (VOC) took Doman to their colony in the east, Batavia, to “civilize” him and teach him Dutch so he could serve as an interpreter and emissary to the Khoikhoi. The VOC needed the Khoikhoi’s cattle to supply the ships rounding the Cape to and from the East.

It was in Batavia that Doman started realizing what grave danger European colonisation posed to his people. He also witnessed the Bantamese armed resistance against Dutch oppression on the island.

Doman was taken back to the Cape in 1658, but he wasn’t the “tame Hottentot” the VOC officials thought he was. He immediately started plotting against the VOC and lobbied other Khoikhoi to resist so that they would not be overwhelmed and lose their land, language and culture.

Doman wanted to make life so uncomfortable for the European visitors that they would decide to get back on their ships and go back to the Netherlands.

His first opponent was Krotoa, called Eva by the Dutch, niece of the Cape Peninsula Khoikhoi leader Autshomato and confidante of VOC commander Jan van Riebeek.

Doman attacked Krota for becoming a Christian, turning her back on her people and favouring Dutch interests – in fact, he accused her of being a sellout, an askari and a coconut.

In 1659 Doman formed a fighting force of young men from different clans and started launching guerrilla attacks on the Dutch and raiding their cattle. It was the beginning of the First Khoikhoi-Dutch War.

He was a good strategist and applied all the lessons he had learnt from the Bantamese liberation fighters, like telling his men to scurry about to frustrate the sharpshooters and to mainly attack on rainy days, when the white people’s gun powder was wet.

His strategy wasn’t to kill the free burghers and VOC soldiers, but to concentrate on their food sources and make their life hell.

Of course Doman’s war was futile against men with firearms and horses. He was seriously wounded and in 1660 he and other Khoikhoi leaders signed a peace treaty with the VOC.

Doman’s death was recorded by Van Riebeek’s successor, Zacharias Wagenaer: “This evening the Company’s interpreter Doman died outside a Hottentot hut. Nobody will bemoan his death because in many respects he was a damaging and evil man to the Company.”

“Damaging to the Company” is exactly what Doman tried to be.

Doman/Nommoa was South Africa’s first full blooded anti colonial freedom fighter.

And yet, when I listen to some of the new activists for “decolonization”, I get the impression they view Doman’s descendants in South Africa today as lesser Africans, as not exactly the real McCoy.

It might by an uncomfortable truth to many, but it is still the cold truth: South Africa had travelled a completely different road compared to other colonised societies, also those in Africa.

There’s another cold truth complicating the efforts to simplistically apply Frantz Fanon, Amílcar Cabral and Karl Marx, even Thomas Sankara and Steve Biko to our situation in South Africa in 2015: the political power has been in the hands of the black majority for twenty-one years already.

Mbembe himself warns that “South Africa today is not the colony Frantz Fanon is writing about in his Wretched of the Earth”.

Go start with Doman, comrades, and work your way through our history of the last 360 years if you want a full and proper understanding of what we need to fight for right now.

- Follow Max on Twitter.

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