Doesn’t the President eat with a knife and fork?

2015-04-29 08:20

I wonder how many remember the Lonnie Donnegan hit of the early 60’s - “Oh me oh my, oh you….does your Chewing Gum Lose its Flavour on the Bedpost over Night?” It was good for a laugh and had a catchy tune; vacuous, light hearted entertainment that I had totally forgotten until it sprang to mind with the fall of Cecil John Rhodes’ statue on the UCT campus.

At first this puzzled me.

After some soul searching though, I think I can explain the link and have concluded that there must be a space in the human brain that isolates and separately stores the ridiculous. Both the chewing gum song and the “Rhodes must fall” campaigns share equal levels of absurdity despite generating different emotional responses.

Taking this line of thinking a step further, I am persuaded that those repulsed by the notion of colonialism must suffer from inordinate cognitive dissonance from living in our – or any vaguely modern - society. After all, how does any self respecting colonialism-busting purist feel when driving a car; using air travel; engaging in sports codes associated with “white men”; wearing western style apparel such as t-shirts and jeans; watching American and British TV productions or biting into a beef sandwich or a burger?

This all got me to thinking afresh about the root issue igniting the debate. Colonialism.

Colonialism is a notion so out of sync with today’s world, and yet to discredit it has become “trendy” in the minds of some - specifically those looking for low hanging fruit to make a name for themselves.

And so, not for the first time, I got to reflecting on colonialism’s morality, contribution to the world and the responses to its collapse over the last century. I have to conclude that the vociferous rejection of colonialism’s legacy speaks to a cultivated ignorance and, in large measure, can be ascribed to the dysfunction of South Africa’s ruling party and its cognitively challenged electorate.

An analysis of the timing of the Rhodes incident (with municipal elections nearing) a shaky economic environment, shocking unemployment, rickety infrastructure (Eskom, SAA, Telkom et al all in various states of collapse) suggest a strong need for diversionary tactics by government and ANC stooges. Add to that xenophobia and one can safely conclude that the ultimate cause of the current wave of finger pointing can only be to shift attention from the nation’s state of being - or lack of it – by employing scapegoat politics.

So let’s get down to the colonialism issue. What was colonialism? How did it come about - and why?

And then why did it collapse?

These questions need articulate and clear answers, because those engaging in statue-toppling; the dismantling of historic icons; and abusing people they happen to associate with colonialism (often because they are white) get far more attention than they intellectually warrant. Indeed, that adds irony to its outbreak on a university campus.

The simple answer to the big question is that colonialism was an early phase of globalization. With the gift of hindsight it is possible to say that it was an inevitable phenomenon on an unequal, evolving planet in which advanced societies colonized territories inhabited by others less adept or evolved. They did this simply because they could: mankind is hard wired for conquest.

The colonization of much of the world highlighted social, political and economic inequalities for the first time - and as an individual, group or tribe your fate was determined by where on the planet you happened to find yourself.

But how did you get there?

Let us go back even further. How did we and our forebears get to be where we were prior to colonialism?

Most of the human driven world was colonized by African émigrés who left the continent between seventy and one hundred thousand years ago – largely on account of climatic conditions changing. Evidence of Man’s roots has been found in Africa and mitochondrial DNA data verifies the link between Africans and a few clans that went on to populate the world.

In the process of colonizing new climes, out-of-Africa Man had to adapt and advance technologically to ensure survival. Thrown in for good measure, hunter gatherers in most parts of the world made way for an agricultural society which promoted innovations in how societies were organized and evolved. It is postulated that free of the hostile natural constraints of Africa, human population boomed and grew at many times the natural rate of growth on the African continent.

There were also some down sides as well.

For example, species of fauna became extinct and the natural ecological balance of the planet began to be compromised. Man’s inexorable march through an unknown world resulted in the human species successfully altering their environment in order to make it more user-friendly for mankind.

The bottom line was that a rapidly evolving human population – in terms of both demographic numbers and cognitive capacity – sought ever newer pastures. The result was the rise of empires, the conquest of other weaker groupings, the Voyages of Discovery, the unfolding model of colonialism and ultimately globalization as we experience it today.

In a sense then, explorers arriving on African shores had come home to their roots with the voyages of discovery in the 15th and 16th century. The reason things could not have happened the other way round (i.e. Africans exploring the European domain for example) was on account of the differences in technological sophistication that had developed over previous millennia. The émigrés had adapted to new latitudes, met hitherto unknown challenges and conquered newly hostile environments, ultimately developing skills in metallurgy, seafaring, warfare, the breakdown of the tribe and governing large numbers of people - and more besides. African populations did not develop to the same extent.

So that is what colonialism was all about. And that also explains how and why more advanced people explored, occupied and dominated new environments.

But why did colonialism collapse? There are two answers to this question.

The first and proximate reason was economic, with colonialism eventually ceasing to make financial sense. In the early days of world exploration the mercantilist school of thought reasoned that the more gold bullion; spices; foodstuffs; precious minerals; timber for building; sugar and other items of scarcity in the mother country had value and could be acquired cheaply. After a time however, the costs of holding such possessions once they had become colonies and required management and oversight, outweighed the economic and political benefits.

So they had to go.

Woven into this chapter of history there were many sub-plots, and Cecil John Rhodes wrote one of them. His loyalty to the Crown persuaded him that the delusion of British hegemony from the Cape to Cairo was a good thing and in the process enriched himself as a mining magnate and businessman. His achievements were remarkable and his involvement in the sub continent opened a window to the world – without which it might have remained a global backwater.

The second – and ultimate - answer to the question of why colonialism collapsed is simply that it never did. It metamorphosed and grew in scope and stature. The global village was born.

Indeed without world exploration and colonialism, globalization could not have happened. It was a sine qua non to the modern world, in much the same way as the Wright brothers experiments preceded air and space travel. That globalisation is the progeny of colonialism and was always inevitable is, again with the help of hindsight, to point out the obvious.

I am now prompted to ask the million dollar question – one almost as ridiculous as the issues of dried out chewing gum and why people topple statues. Does Zuma - our president – eat with a knife and fork?

Of course I know the answer already because of all those official dinners, banquets in the public eye and hobnobbing with foreign diplomats. I would also lay money on the fact that parliamentary lunches and dinners at the Union Buildings include polished cutlery and neatly laid out knives, forks and dessert spoons to accompany the fine china crockery.

Now, I wonder. Where did he, his recent forebears and fellows in the struggle learn to use such tools of European culinary etiquette; such icons of foreign coercion and symbols of oppression? The answer is that they came free of charge with colonialism and the western influence that he despises when rounding on van Riebeeck or disparaging the rigours of a democratic constitution that cramp his style.

And how about jeans, t-shirts, and automobiles? And surely brick and mortar homes, office technology, air transport and a host of other examples that all qualify as proxies for the great Satan of colonialism?

The answer is that ours is a racist government cherry picking icons and issues to support its urge to confiscate, purloin and attach. It distorts and conflates the notions of oppression, “transformation” and restitution only for political and material gain, spawning an entitlement mentality to amplify the voter ignorance that sustains it.

And that is how Zuma gets to eat with a knife and fork! Oh me oh my, oh you - can that ever be so true?

Whilst he, his drones, acolytes and allies promote policies that result in collapsing infrastructure, basement level education and grant recipient queues to buy putu pap eaten without a knife and fork, he harvests the fruits of colonialism, uses silver cutlery and turns a blind eye to the realities of history.

So there you go Mr Zuma!

You may now eat.

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