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Helen Zille, And The Urgent Need To No Longer Accept The Universality Of Colonial Thought

The acceptance of the “superiority” of colonial justice or infrastructure is not organic to the African people. It was forced through the barrel of a gun.

12/05/2017 03:59 SAST | Updated 18/05/2017 14:19 SAST
Zohra Bensemra / Reuters

Read the second part of this blog post: Dear Helen Zille, Without Colonialism, Africa Would Never Have Needed To Mimic Europe - blogs editor.

Coloniality of mind is coloniality of being. It is this phantom spirit that Helen Zille summons into life in her spurious attempts to erect a diamond on the bloodstained crown of colonialism. Assured about universal acceptance of the superiority of colonial modes of being in the world, whose bloody rise to prominence she dares not enunciate, instead she declares without hesitation that despite its monstrosity: colonialism brought with it to the colonised world the gift of an "independent judiciary, transport infrastructure, piped water etc", never mind the gunpowder.

If our dramatis persona is so certain that the colonial form of justice, transport infrastructure and piped water are superior forms of being in the world for which we, the colonised, should be eternally grateful - whatever the savagery of the colonialist, the question arises, what makes them superior, or better yet, over what are they superior?

What is it that happened that universalised these forms of colonial modes of being in the world? Some may very well answer the question in short-hand: it is white arrogance. I submit that we need to do more than just recognise that this constitutes white arrogance, we also need to understand what breathes life into it apart from the already well-known economic edifice. To do that, we will have to turn towards European Enlightenment which allocates for itself universality and apportions on everything else the notion of inferiority. (A point eloquently made by former President Kgalema Motlanthe at the funeral service of Ahmed Kathrada. - blogs editor.)

The modern form of justice and transport infrastructure did not emerge, as we all know, organically out of the African continent or out of the lived experience of the colonised people, it was imposed upon us through violent expropriation, rape and plunder. Thus, the acceptance of the "superiority" of colonial justice or infrastructure is not organic to the African people, it was forced through the barrel of a gun.

To state the matter plainly, there was and would very much still be no need for colonial forms of transport infrastructure in our lives because as the African people, we did not need to be transported to the mines in Rustenburg from Libode: We did not need to be transported to the sugarcane fields in Natal, nor the farms of Grabouw in the Western Cape in forms of transportation which are nothing else but mobile coffins. We were secure in the comfort of our own evolving forms of life, without need for this hazardous transportation to colonial nodes of production.

What necessitated colonial forms of transportation was our forced removal from our own forms of living through the expropriation of our land, stealing of our livestock, the transformation of the African into a slave, resulting in the collective impoverishment of the African people and thereby forcing us to seek colonial forms of being in the world in order to eke out a living by availing our labour power to the colonialist for exploitation.

We will not be able to exorcise the spell of colonialism without felling down its tree of ideological justification.

This in itself imposed upon us, violently, a relationship with colonial forms of transport which were otherwise foreign to our needs. The colonial modes of "transport infrastructure" which we use today, cannot be thought of outside the violence that brought us into using them in the first place. Neither can we ignore the fact that we would not be using them had it not been for that violence that was enacted on our bodies and which continues to aid the extraction of labour power from our bodies for the continued exploitation by our colonial overlords.

Colonial transport infrastructure only holds the unearned position of "universal acceptance" because of the violence that was used to force us into accepting it as a necessary instrument of transportation from one colonial node of production to another. It with this in mind that we should view Helen Zille's spurious attempt to capitalise on our begrudging use of colonial forms of transport as a bat to browbeat us into accepting the very coloniality of our being.

I am certain, as we progressed, we would have further developed our already evolving methods of transportation and its related infrastructure as we had done by the time of the arrival of the employees of the DEIC. One thing is certain, that development would never be the mirror image of the modern forms of transport which connect nodes of capitalist production to one another and which render those that use them as nothing but appendages in a brutal process of profit-making. Even if we needed to be transported to Rustenburg, it would not have been for purposes of seeking to avail our labour to any colonial capitalist, but would have been to meet with others and to share and enjoy the abundance of African culture and forms of being in the world.

As a society in progress, various forms of African life were themselves in progress. These forms of peopling the world were violently disrupted, yet, in studying African modes of being, we can discern in them a radical difference to the capitalist barbarism that came from colonial Europe. It is with this that we also reject the notion that seeks to render natural that in our progression, we would have had to pass some supposedly capitalist stage of development as alleged by 19th century Marxist thought.

In ending as we started, we will not be able to exorcise the spell of colonialism without felling down its tree of ideological justification, the notion of the universality of European Enlightenment which confers upon modernity the position of universal acceptance thereby negating the colonised as nothing but the timid cousins of their European counterparts which were helpfully leap-frogged into modern rational life. As we piece together the shattered fragments of our lives that are defiled by colonialism, we will certainly have to turn away from the notions of universality of modern forms of being.