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Dear Helen Zille, Without Colonialism, Africa Would Never Have Needed To Mimic Europe

European forms of healthcare developed on the back of the lives of many an African life turned into an instrument of exploration for colonial doctors.

19/05/2017 03:58 SAST | Updated 19/05/2017 03:58 SAST
Siphiwe Sibeko/ Reuters

Read the first part of this blog post: Helen Zille And The Urgent Need To No Longer Accept The Universality Of Colonial Thought - blogs editor.

Statistically, nothing suggests that Africans we were dying like fleas before the permanent arrival of the European settlers with the Dutch East India Company in the Cape in 1652. In fact, as has been widely reported, it is the Europeans themselves that were sick from scurvy and other diseases when they made permanent residence on our land. It is their nascent capitalist forms of life that had exposed them to incurable diseases that their own health systems could not cope with.

Our health system, on the other hand, was not in any way found wanting in dealing with the forms of ill-health in our society. This is because, as a people, we practiced a very sophisticated form of family-based health-care that often ensured that we avoided incurable diseases and also sought to treat ill-health as incongruity between spiritual and bodily forms of existence. The food we ate was healthy, such that by its nature it limited us from getting the sort of brazen diseases that were brought into our lives by the grandchildren of the European thieves that made port in the Cape without invitation.

The question then arises, if our form of healthcare was sufficient for our needs, whence did it dissipate? Was it as Helen Zille suggests, overtaken by a "superior" form of healthcare or does the answer lie elsewhere? A multiplicity of reasons suffice to dispel this lingering question, including but not limited to the fact that the slave trade and the colonial migrant labour system destroyed the methods of sharing knowledge that were so essential to the dissemination of information among our people.

In our society, as is well known, knowledge was often passed on from one generation to another through intimate interactions between learners and their teachers in the continuum that characterised African life. The removal from our midst of the young and elderly through migrant labour and slave trade broke this intimate chain of transferring knowledge about our own forms of existence leaving us susceptible to reliance on colonial forms of healthcare which as we all know constitute nothing else but glorified mortuaries.

Consequently, slave trading and migrant labour systematically destroyed the African way of life replacing it with the colonial capitalist means of subsistence and its reliance on genetically modified organisms meant intended for mass production rather than consumption by those whose lives the producer cares about, threw us into the doorstep of the glorified colonial mortuary, better known as a hospital. I can already hear Helen Zille murmuring in the background, how else would we have learnt of the heart-transplant or the vast anatomy of the human flesh so lovingly brought to us by the benevolent lash of our colonial master? The answer to this is simple, we probably would not have ever learnt about some oddities because we were not engulfed by these life-threatening illnesses!

We would not have learnt of the vast anatomy of the human body through the killing of black slaves and the use of Africans as guinea pigs to test the efficacy of nascent forms of healthcare because we were not as barbaric to the point of cutting to pieces the flesh of the deceased without their consent let alone that of their loved ones. We pay great respect to the departed, we would not have permitted any attempts to defile their bodies because in their mute nature they cannot speak in a language intelligible to the ears of the living. Lest we forget, European forms of healthcare developed on the back of the lives of many an African life turned into an instrument of exploration for colonial doctors, cut to pieces without consent on numerous occasions.

I am not arguing here that African healthcare would not have evolved, yet I insist that it would have evolved on its own terms and as we can discern certainly not on the barbaric grounds upon which colonial healthcare progressed.

I submit, none of the illnesses we had went beyond the capacity of our own forms of healthcare. Our forms of healthcare were tested to the limits when our knowledge about them was destroyed systematically and our bodies were introduced to forms of colonial living which bring with them diabetes and many forms of incurable diseases because of genetically modified organisms consumed in the modern world of European Enlightenment which produces for the market rather than for the consumption of other humans whose livelihood is greatly treasured.

I am not arguing here that African healthcare would not have evolved, yet I insist that it would have evolved on its own terms and as we can discern certainly not on the barbaric grounds upon which colonial healthcare progressed. It would not have taken the route that was brought by mercantile capitalism that destroys those who cannot buy a ticket to life through medical aid. Had anyone suggested to Africans in the zenith of our independence that let one person be empowered with the right to preside over cases and pass judgement, such a preposterous notion would have been met with nothing else but laughter and scorn. Our people would have never lived under the despotism of any one person, not even a chief had such a free reign.

Justice was always exercised by Africans as a collective. It was the people as a whole that listened to cases. It is they, through consensus, that passed judgement, and therefore, the modern despotic form of justice called an "independent judiciary" can only pass muster in a colonised setting, where only those who have acquired the honoured position of "judge" know right from wrong and the rest are taken as nothing but lifelong children.

In the colonial world, justice relies on the infallibility of one person, the judge. Whatever may have been the evolution of our justice, we certainly wouldn't have gravitated towards Roman-Dutch law. We would have taken our course of development, learning from ourselves and the world, assimilating whatever is suited to the unique way of African life. Thus, whatever form of African justice would have been prevailing today, we can say with certainty, it would not have been the mimicry of Europe that Zille imagines.