Colonialism’s Bounty and the Low Hanging Fruits of Populism

2017-05-15 10:40

Colonialism has got a bad rap recently and the reasons are plain, although profoundly illogical.

No one in right mind would argue that colonialism was a benign, or well meaning phenomenon – but it requires one far more stupid than that to dispute its long term cultural and socio-economic dividends to the populace at large.The South African nation is descending into societal malaise not on account of colonialism at all but for many very obvious reasons requiring that blame be displaced.

Where better to look than in history books that can be selectively interpreted, subjected to the spin of the moment and cannot answer back?

The notion of colonialism has become the scapegoat for incompetent, inept and greedy people who have been placed in office by equally ignorant, gullible and inept voters incapable of connecting the dots. Our failures as a nation since 1994 are despite the legacy of colonialism – certainly not because of it.

And this is because the South African population at large is equal to neither the rigours of true democracy, nor meaningful debate nor analytical, non ideological analysis. The majority fails to understand democracy’s rudimentary institutions such as civic duty, accountability and simple honesty – not to mention their own shortcomings of personal entitlement and deficient ethics.

Colonialism’s Realities – the Other Side of the Coin

Colonialism has advanced the world and ignited the potential of mankind in very many places where it has taken root. In various shapes and forms (and not necessarily even under the guise of “colonialism”) its has introduced new technologies, organizational blueprints, management archetypes and scientific advances that have spurred on peoples who were ignorant and less innovative, less advanced and enlightened than previously - and for whom new worlds were opened: an early rung on the ladder to a more globally connected world and enhanced individual well being.

Needless to say, the colonizers did not go about their business altruistically and in the process of mercantilistic aggrandizement (for their motive was to enrich the motherland and often to spread the so-called “word of God”) were aggressive, cruel and exploitative. But that is what happens in a world of non-equals; the strong invariably overcome the weak.

More important to note in an evolving world is the fact there is no such thing as universal “justice”. The definition of justice is always up for grabs, ephemeral and determined by the norms and ambitions of the day. Not even in today’s post World War world is there unanimity – notwithstanding stated global determination to see that atrocities of war would never be repeated.

In its post facto form, colonialism has polarized humans inadvertently on account of human variability. Colonial aftermaths have differed according to the predispositions of those colonized in the first place, and highlighted the gulf between those driven to achieve and make good after having learned from their colonizers - and those who constitute the planet’s perennial victims. The latter are the prey of 21st century populists – and plentiful in South Africa.

Populism is definable as “purporting to promote the cause of those less fortunate or making as if to benefit ordinary people for (own) political gain”. Its objective is the signaling of virtue by its proponents with specious reasoning and arguments that are superficially plausible, but actually wrong.

Populism is wholly dependent on perceptions and free of reason because it conflates the realities of history with contemporary mores and values. It gets even worse in the context of social and public media attention – so pervasive in modern times.

Populism is likewise devoid of substance and offers no positive actionable alternatives.

Like ideology and faux religion, populism appeals only to the emotions - but unlike them, is ephemeral. The tangible achievements of others (the jealousy motive) is the very carrion on which populism feeds for its existence. Past successes have, at all costs, to be attacked and/ or discredited.

Populism is common in South Africa because of  our socio political cocktail of low intelligence ruling capacity; frustration on the part of an electorate ignorant of how to use its voting power; corruption; and economic decay. Thus the ANC has no remedies.

All the answers fall outside of its ideological remit; it is impotent.

That is why it is especially disturbing that the only political party that combines stature with ethical backbone and economic logic has joined the populist bandwagon and attacked the facts of history. When Mmusi Maimane – leader of the Democratic Alliance - discredited the facts of history as articulated in his recent attack on Helen Zille, he was plucking the low hanging fruits of populism – and making a monkey of himself.

In doing so he was creating a poisoned chalice for himself - for denying the self-evident truth always carries long term costs. His utterances will cost him and, sadly the nation, in times to come.

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