For Janus

I apologise for hijacking your post about education, but it did lead elsewhere and left me wondering about your views on colonisation, especially the colonisation of Africa about which you seem to be extremely critical. I would genuinely like to know, where you think the colonisers went wrong and how things could have been better managed. This is not about mud-slinging and name-calling but a sincere attempt to understand why it is that you think that we, the colonisers and ‘white ruling class’ were so much at fault and what we could have and should have done better. That mistakes were made, I cannot disagree, but they were not all made with malice of forethought.

I asked you to explain how you think the colonisation of Africa should have taken place starting in 1488 when Bartholomew Diaz rounded the Cape. Of course you are right and I cannot expect you to rewrite history, but that was meant as a starting point at which, you might have claimed, it all went wrong, and Diaz should never have set out to explore foreign lands. You can take any period from then on to say this is where the colonisers went astray. Of course you are right to say that the motives of many weren’t half as laudable as I would have liked them to have been, but one has to put everything into the context of the period and prevailing cultures of the different racial and ethnic groups as well as the state of affairs that existed elsewhere in the world.

I would fully understand if it was my online personality that so irritated you and that your attitude was limited to that.  But you seem to have taken against all white Africans. I cheerfully admit that I often display an arrogant attitude when discussing colonialism; deliberately so. I do it for effect, to provoke a reaction. I want people to tell me, not just that we were wrong, but why we were wrong and what were the mistakes we made. From my perspective, it appears that current events have justified the stance ‘we’ took during the colonial era. I happen to believe that we did more good than harm, and I think our objectives were more noble than many outsiders give us credit for. Bear in mind that we were there, they were not, nor did they remotely understand the situation on the ground.

So please, can we enter into a legitimate debate on the subject? Ask any questions and make any charges you like. I will endeavour to answer or counter them to the best of my ability. I would really like to know why you have such a low opinion of us and I would like to try and justify the path we took.

38 thoughts on “For Janus”

  1. I find your question very challenging, mainly because your objective is so general: “I want people to tell me, not just that we were wrong, but why we were wrong and what were the mistakes we made.” I bow to your knowledge of the history and assure you that I have no ingrained prejudices about the ‘colonists’ or ‘colonisation’, ‘low’ or otherwise. I too like to provoke responses!

    On the principle that I can only judge by what I have gathered has happened in Africa since your ‘white ruling class’ began its rule, I conclude that you expected your local subjects to be welcoming, understanding, diligent, loyal and for ever grateful for your presence in their countries. You lived a life of Reilly while they subsisted on crumbs from your table – so your expectations were bound to be dashed before long.

    How’s that for a general answer for starters? 🙂

  2. Janus, well, I am gald your prejudice is not ingrained. 🙂

    “You lived a life of Reilly while they subsisted on crumbs from your table – so your expectations were bound to be dashed before long.”. I certainly agree with the latter part of that remark. It was true for many, but somehow I grew up with a sort of inherent knowledge that our presence on the continent was a never a sure thing. Perhaps that was because my parents were a tad more liberal and circumspect than 2nd or 3rd generation colonials.

    However, I take issue with you over the first part. Most whites worked extremely hard and under great stress. They were true pioneers. For example when we first arrived, my father, who was fortunate enough to be relatively wealthy compared to most others, had to build a house for us out of mud bricks and thatch. We did not have electricity for several years. We were 80 miles from the city along dirt and strip roads. We were educated at home by my mother until the age of 10. The farm had to be developed from virgin bush and buildings had to be erected. My mother built a magnificent kitchen garden from scratch that had every conceivable fruit and vegetable and several nut trees. Of course there were lots of labourers to do the grunt work, but the work and conditions were such that their were always people looking for jobs. They had a piece of land to build their houses and grow their crops which subsidised the rations they were given by my father over and above their pay. When they got sick my mother dispensed medicines or took them to the clinic.

    For many life was very lonely. Farmers, some single, others married with small families, lived miles from neighbours with whom they could engage. People had to get on and they had to learn to cooperate and socialise with whomever they were stuck with. That could be immensely hard. There was little or no other entertainment apart from sports such as hunting and fishing.

    Yes our standard of living was generally much better than those of the indigenous, but ‘we’ (and I use that word in the generic sense) planned hard, invested hard, risked and worked hard to get what we got. Nevertheless, English visitors were frequently appalled by the relative squalor in which we lived. Insects and dust everywhere, spiders in the brown bath water, ceilingless roofs, barefooted children with badly cut hair, running around in t-shirts and shorts full of holes. The attraction for all of us was the beauty of the surroundings, the fabulous weather, the absence of petty bureaucracy and the overwhelming optimism that life was getting better and would continue to do so.

    And life did get better for some. As the economy matured so infrastructure improved. New roads were built and electricity delivered. Party lines gave way to direct dialling, in the cities anyway. The judicial system was effective and crime was low. We never locked our house. Nobody did.

    But life improved for black and white. My father, like many farmers, built a school on the farm for the local children. Wages and general working conditions improved. Of course they were not perfect, but they had to start somewhere and they were getting better. There had to be balance whereby an employer concluded that the potential rewards were worth the risk, effort and investment. Many did not and went elsewhere. Many artisans started their own businesses where in the UK they would have been employees for the rest of their lives. Some failed and left, some succeeded and stayed.

    While many blacks lived in relative poverty a significant number of others went from grass skirts to saloon cars in two generations. There were only ever 270,000 whites at their peak in Rhodesia. It would be impossible in 90 years to pull an entire nation out of the stone age into the electronic age in that short time. We made a damn good fist of it.

    Sorry if this is disjointed. I wanted to respond, but am busy and have to go out now.

  3. Considering since the colonists left there have been nutter dictators, mass famine, constant wars, genocide and a hideous quantity of disease on the continent, I rather think you, the colonists, were a vast improvement.
    Notably the Chinese are now trying to colonize the place economically with their agricultural land purchases and bring their own peasants with them. I think the blacks will rue the day they ever let them over the threshold and come to view them as a very bad replacement for yourselves.
    They obviously can’t run the place themselves by the look of the shambles most of the countries have become, whole place is a bad joke.

  4. Sipu, no mention yet of apartheid, colour-coded rights and genocide. I’m sure you were all jolly good chaps, officer material and all that, but your legacy doesn’t do anybody much credit. Sorry.

  5. Janus :

    Sipu, no mention yet of apartheid, colour-coded rights and genocide. I’m sure you were all jolly good chaps, officer material and all that, but your legacy doesn’t do anybody much credit. Sorry.

    It is too late to respond now. I am disappointed by the way you are approaching this discussion. But I will try and get back to it tomorrow. But if you do not want to pursue it, let me know and I wont waste your or my time.

  6. Sipu, my approach is informed by my observations of the ‘white ruling class’ – your words. The very fact that you used such a phrase indicates to me that a discussion might not please you.

  7. Janus, I am not going to fall into the trap of attempting to defend apartheid. Rather I would suggest that you put such things into perspective.

    Consider these facts.
    In 1720 only about 5% of the UK population were eligible to vote
    In 1741, a mere 5,723 persons elected 254 (i.e. a majority) members to Parliament (John Wilkes MP in a speech to the House in 1776)
    In 1800 Irish, but not Catholic MPs were able to sit in Westminster.
    In 1829 Catholics finally receive emancipation and can sit in Parliament.
    Only in 1832 did the Reform Act receive Royal Assent
    (Incidentally, the Reform Act actually formally prohibited women from voting.)
    Universal suffrage for adults over 21 is not achieved until 1928, only 20 years before the introduction of apartheid.

    Britain abolishes the slave trade in 1807, but slavery continues until 1833, while existing slaves in the Empire are transformed into indentured servants.
    Slavery in the US continues until 1865
    In 1950, Saudi Arabia had an estimated 450,000 slaves, or 20% of the population.

    The legitimacy of Segregation in the US was upheld by the US Supreme Court in 1896. Separate distinct facilities were maintained for each race. This was standard in the southern states and though never mandated in the northern states a de facto system existed until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – 17 years after the introduction of apartheid.

    Only in 1965 did the UK Race Relations Act outlaw discrimination on the “grounds of colour, race, or ethnic or national origins” in public places

    In 1968 the Act made it illegal to refuse housing, employment, or public services to a person on the grounds of colour, race, ethnic or national origins.

    In 1976 the Act was updated again to ban all discrimination.

    Only in 1975 did the Sex Discrimination Act enforce sexual equality. Apartheid had been in force for 27 years.

    With regards to South Africa, the colonisation of the Cape was never intended to take place. The Dutch East India Company wanted nothing more than a refuelling post to supply their ships trading with the Far East. The original settlers to the Cape were indentured servants of the Company. They were for the most part economic refugees, victims of unemployment, religious discrimination and intense poverty and injustice. They found huge tracts of under utilised land which they inhabited. Treaties with the scattered indigenous people were ignored and broken so frequently that they reverted to force to achieve their requirements. It only took 30 years for a generation of ‘Afrikaners’ to emerge. These were people who were born in Africa and had never been to Europe. They and their descendents considered themselves as much African as the indigenous people, in much the same was as children of Nigerian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi immigrants consider themselves British. In a lawless land the powerful make the laws.

    In 1806 the British occupied the Cape and took control of the Colony away from the Dutch. They too did not want a colony, but the Napoleonic threat meant that they had to gain control of such a strategic territory and with that came responsibilities. They imposed their laws on non British people, black and white. Because of British interference many Afrikaners were forced to leave there homes in the Cape and trekked north to find new lands. They encountered multiple lawless tribes engaged in continuous and brutal internecine warfare. The Afrikaners were just one more tribe in search of land. They settled in the Orange Free State and the Transvaal, where to a large extent they prospered under their own government. When diamonds were discovered at Kimberly in the 1860s Britain annexed that part of the country as part of Griqualand West an act that nearly led to war between the Free State and Britain.

    The Witwatersrand Gold rush led to further incursions by the British in Afrikaner states leading to the Jameson Raid and ultimately the Boer War, a war deliberately provoked by the British government to gain control of the whole of South Africa. During that conflict the Afrikaners were treated abominably by the British. Sir Henry Campbell Bannerman, leader of the Liberal opposition in 1901, described the treatment of the Afrikaners as barbaric. The use of concentration camps and the scorched earth policy of the British is well documented.

    It is hardly surprising that the Afrikaners hated the British. When in 1948 the National Party won power, they realised that they had an opportunity to consolidate their position and protect their culture. The new government was well aware that neither Dutch nor British administrators had been able reconcile the differences between black and white South Africans. Culturally they were too distinct and three centuries of living amongst them had demonstrated to the Afrikaners that blacks were not ready to assume the mantle of civilization, let alone the seat of government. Leaving aside their innate abilities, or lack thereof, it was and is still perfectly clear that western style democracy was beyond them.

    The Nationalist government introduced apartheid so that, amongst other reasons, the country could be developed and wealth created in a way that would not be possible with universal suffrage. Africans were not ready to govern and they still do not understand the need to build and maintain infrastructure, or that wealth needs to be created, not stolen.

    Segregation, as we have already seen, was not an unusual phenomenon in the 1940s. It had de jure recognition in the USA and de facto recognition in the UK and elsewhere around the world.

    Apartheid lasted from 1948 to 1991. It came to an end when it did because the Cold War had ended. What cannot be said for certain is whether it might have ended sooner had the US not tacitly supported the South African government during that period. America did not want an ANC government in place while the USSR was still a global power. Britain maintained a naval base at Simonstown until 1975. Even after that period, Royal Navy ships continued to visit.

    43 years of apartheid provided the incoming ANC with a well developed infrastructure and diversified economy, the strongest in Africa. Such strength would not have been achieved nor would such wealth have been created had universal suffrage been introduced 40, 30, 20 or even 10 years earlier.

    In summary, as I said at the outset, you have to examine the situation in the context of history, culture and circumstances. With regards to the social ills that existed elsewhere, you may well say that two wrongs do not make a right, but before you go pointing fingers, take a look at your own back yard.

  8. Janus :

    Sipu, my approach is informed by my observations of the ‘white ruling class’ – your words. The very fact that you used such a phrase indicates to me that a discussion might not please you.

    I put that phrase in quotes. How else would you describe that class of people that you seem to detest so much? They were the ruling class by the very nature of their being white. That much was true in India, Australia, New Zealand and the whole of colonial Africa. I imagine it was true in the Philippines under US control as well. ‘The White Man’s Burden’ and all that?

    Why on earth do you think I raised the subject if you think it would not please me. On the contrary, I think your refusal to engage properly has shown it does not please you because you cannot justify your stance on the matter.

  9. Sipu, I don’t ‘detest’ anybody. I take the view that your use of the phrase demonstrates a mind-set about your clan’s superiority based on colour that I can’t accept.

  10. Janus, for the record, the phrase actually originated with Bearsy in his comment here.
    http://bearsy.wordpress.com/2010/09/14/needs-must/#comments

    I do not understand what you mean in your comment #17. Are you suggesting that ‘my clan’ as you call it, was not ‘white’ and not the ‘ruling class’? I made no suggestion that it was superior just that it existed. The colonies of which I speak were ruled by whites, superior or otherwise. You are avoiding the issue.

    If all you have against colonisation is the fact that you believe some whites feel they are superior to blacks with regards to their ability to govern, perhaps you would be so kind as to consider the alternative points of view and produce the evidence that might support them.

    1) There is no fundamental difference between blacks and white with regards to their abilities to govern. The evidence to support this point of view is……

    or

    2) Blacks are superior to whites with regards to their abilities to govern. The evidence to support this point of view is……

  11. I’m not sure that I agree at all with either 1) or 2) What I would say is that some consideration of the development of ‘under-developed’ countries in Africa in the three decades between the ‘winds of change,’ in the sixties and the first full-franchise elections in South Africa, in comparison with that in South Africa might repay the effort.

    the colonisation of the Cape was never intended to take place.

    This is also true of much of the reat of the acquisition of Empire by Great Britain as the most successful, and the other European powers.

  12. Sipu, I’m avoiding answering leading questions, yes. I’m absolutely sure that at the moment of birth 1) is true and 2) is untrue. Beyond that, you’ll have to allow me to say ‘It depends´’. I having nothing in principle against colonisation – how could I? It happened and it no longer does – at least not in the way you have described. What do I have to justify about my ‘stance’?

    Bravo, are you suggesting a course of study might bring us to your state of understanding? Why don’t you just come up with the answers?

  13. Bravo, are you suggesting a course of study might bring us to your state of understanding?

    Nope. I’m suggesting that a look at the real world often produces results that are at variance with received wisdom, in this case, colonialism – bad. ‘Colonialism,’ itself is a mis-nomer. There was never a ‘colonialist’ movement – nor an ‘imperialist’ movement, as such, in fact, as Sipu hinted, and in the case of Great Britain, certainly, the Government was more concerned with preventing the acquisition of new territories rather than abetting such. Once acquired, however, such territories had to be governed and it was pretty damn obvious, according to the mores and actual conditions of the time that the local inhabitants weren’t up to it, hence the requirement to ‘take up the White Man’s burden…’

  14. Janus, if you really do believe option 1) is true, at the point of birth, then you are exceptional. The chances that two races that have evolved separately over millennia in vastly different environments and with different historical events could actually have equivalent mental prowess and characteristics when their physical prowess and characteristics are so clearly different is highly unlikely. It just does not make genetic sense and there is plenty of scientific evidence to demonstrate that it is not the case. I do not need, nor do I want to make my own judgement about ‘superiority’ which is, after all subjective, but one thing I am sure about is that they are not the same.

    As for your judgement on the merits of colonialism, you might just as well say that you have no opinion about the merits of the Holocaust, that too is past and is no longer practised.

    Finally, with regards to your stance and your justification of it, you have, since I have ‘known’ you on these forums, (or is it fora?) made some very negative and insulting observations about white Africans. We first crossed swords, I think, about the Springbok Tour, following the team’s success in the Rugby World Cup. You described the fact that they did not tour Soweto as being racist. A series of derogatory comments has followed at intervals, without, as far as I can see, any justification. I would like to know why it is you detest, though you say you do not, white Africans.

  15. Janus, your failure to offer a reasoned argument or discussion coupled with the continuous stream of insinuation and invective you spout, indicates that you are very stupid, or exceedingly nasty or deeply dishonest, or any combination of the above. I am just not sure which.

  16. Sipu, Adolf Hitler agreed with you, if that’s any consolation. I note that like most bigots you now resort to ad hominem arguments. QED.

  17. Btw, “one thing I am sure about is that they (blacks) are not the same.” Xenophobia is at the root of your prejudice. they ain’t the same but that doesn’t mean they have what you see as inferior genetic qualities. That’s called racism.

  18. Janus :

    As I suspected, Sipu, your opinions are racist. End of.

    And this is not ad hominem? I asked for a reasoned discussion without a slanging match. You failed to make any serious contribution or even justify the few scant remarks that you made. And then you finish it with an unsubstantiated insult. If you did not want to participate, you might at least have had the manners to say, thanks, but no thanks. I stand by my #24.

  19. Janus :

    Btw, “one thing I am sure about is that they (blacks) are not the same.” Xenophobia is at the root of your prejudice. they ain’t the same but that doesn’t mean they have what you see as inferior genetic qualities. That’s called racism.

    You are talking crap. Try thinking for a change. Your prejudices are far more virulent and nasty than anything you suspect of in me.

  20. Sipu, I admit it: I am deeply prejudiced against racists like you. I’m afraid any ability to think that you possessed at birth has been nurtured out of you. But settle down: I hate the sin, not the sinner! 🙂

  21. I’m going to add my pennyworth here.

    It does seem, Sipu, that you seem to be saying that black Africans are, simply because of their race and colour, incapable of running a country. That is racism – and is patently inaccurate. However, it is quite different if you mean to imply that many can not because of their culture, education, etc. That is patently obvious, much as none of the lay-about whites in the UK would be able to run a country and would almost certainly bring the country to its knees… it is not a matter of race and colour.

    There is no point in discussing the rights and wrongs of ‘colonisation’ – it happened and that’s it. There is also, in my view, little point in discussing the rights and wrongs of ‘decolonisation’ – that’s happened.

    My only opinion on the subject is that the ‘colonies’ wanted independence, they got it, and they should by now be standing on their own feet – and if they are not they should not keep looking to ‘Mummy’ Britain to bail them out of their self-inflicted problems.

  22. No need to apologise Bearsy. However, do me a favour and define what you mean by racist. You see I like to distinguish between ‘racism’ and ‘racialism’. Now I know that there will be those who say I am using semantics to disguise my true colours. But that is not the case. So despite your anticipated objections, I am going explain myself anyway. I think of a racialist as someone who believes that there are measurable differences between races while a racist is somebody who actively tries to harm members of one or more races purely on the grounds of race.

    I have in the past, used the example of breeds of dogs as a parallel with human races. Dog breeds have evolved rapidly, because of human selection, to inherit certain specific characteristics that cover physical and behavioural traits. We know that a German Shepherd is very different to and American Pitbull and that both are different to a Border Collie and so on. Nobody would deny that.

    While human evolution has taken place through natural selection and over a longer period, the effects are still the same, if somewhat less dramatic. Nevertheless, while there are, unquestionably, physical differences between races, there are certainly, I believe, behavioural differences as well. Richard Dawkins says as much in his book, The Greatest Show on Earth. That it should prove so controversial to admit, I can understand, but that it must inevitably be the case is obvious to most broadminded people.

    Different environments require different survival techniques and the attributes that best serve the individual improve that individual’s chances of procreating. It stands to reason that the ability to plan ahead to deal, for example, with a dramatic change in seasons is beneficial to an individual who lives in a climate that suffers harsh winters. If he has not built up a store of food during the summer, he will die. It is much less of a benefit where there is scarcely a change in climate throughout the year. Why people find this so hard to understand and acknowledge truly baffles me.

    If one studies human migration from its African source one can see that it makes perfect sense that different races have evolved to inherit different characteristics. Whether those characteristics are considered beneficial or not depends on the environment and if they are considered beneficial, then humans, being what they are, are likely to consider them superior. In a barbaric society where conflict is the norm, having an aggressive nature can be seen as beneficial and therefore superior. In a peaceful democratic society, such characteristics are despised.

    It is very plain to see that the various races around the world have different attributes that may or may not benefit them according to their environment. Europeans have evolved to the extent that the characteristics that make western democracy possible, are valued. What has happened in Africa, is that the socio-political environment has changed dramatically in the last couple of centuries, as a result of colonialism, and the people of have Africa have not evolved to keep pace with it. A society of hunter-gatherers and to some extent subsistence farmers does not have the means to deal with an environment that depends of trade, industry and the division of labour. The ability to plan ahead is sorely missing in African people. Of course there are exceptions, but in general that is true.

    Racists, as far as I can tell, tend to despise all races other than their own. Or at least that is the stereotype which those who yell, ‘racist’ at every opportunity would have one believe. I do not have a low opinion of all other races. Of those that I have encountered in my life, I like and admire most Asian races. By definition therefore, I have a less high regard for some other races. I might have a prejudice towards Pakistanis, for example, but that is based on their culture of Islam rather than their racial characteristics. How can one not admire and respect the Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, Indians etc for their intellectual and creative abilities and capacity for hard work. Also I should point out that while I am not generally attracted to the Oriental look, I do find Indian and Arabic people to be generally very good looking, Aborigines perhaps less so. But regardless of whether I admire or another race or not, I do not want to go and kick the heads in of any of them. You might just as well believe that I would want to kick an ugly woman or a stupid or crippled man.

    I grew up on a farm where there were about 60 African families living. We were taught to help and look after them and above all, always be polite. I administered medicine, organised loans, helped them write letters, answered their questions. When I could drive, I would take them to hospital, including mothers who are about to give birth at two in the morning. I went to a multi-racial boarding school. I played rugby with black kids. I taught them to play bridge. I helped the poorer ones with spare cash. When I was in the army, I confronted my commanding officer about the harsh treatment of black prisoners. I took a stand and was transferred to an all black regiment for my efforts. I defy you or anybody else to find an example where I have behaved unfairly or unjustly to an African. I am not saying that I have never lost my temper with them or sworn at them with racial epithets. When a grown individual who should know better sets fire to a field and burns down half the farm, I think a few choice expletives are well deserved and certainly understandable.

    I, and people like me understand better than you or Janus ever will, the ways of the black man. They bloody well are different, so get used to it. That makes me a racialist, but it does not make me a racist. Well not by my definition anyway.

  23. boadicea :

    I’m going to add my pennyworth here.

    It does seem, Sipu, that you seem to be saying that black Africans are, simply because of their race and colour, incapable of running a country. That is racism – and is patently inaccurate.

    Would you care to substantiate that?

  24. Janus :

    Poor chap.

    For goodness sake, Janus, say something substantial. Your contributions are pathetic. I do not mind insults. I just want to have a debate and I would be thrilled if you were able to prove me wrong. Or if you can’t have the grace to say so. Saying I am a racist does not prove anything. Saying ‘Poor chap’, is just feeble. It takes a better man than you to patronise me.

  25. Sipu, I mean it. I pity your pathetic justifications for your pseudo-scientific conclusions about race. Prove you wrong? If you are too obtuse to see the point, nobody will ever satisfy you.

  26. PS I suspect your spoiled upbringing never included rigorous debates where you were not always declared to be a clever white heir-to-the-throne.

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