Uprooting Colonialism and Dismantling Colonial Ways in the Afrikan Community

Veli Mbele
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  • The author offers a detailed analysis on how to decolonise African minds and to fight against neo-colonialism, not only in South Africa, but also across Africa.

Introductory remarks

Siyacamagusha Mafrika!

In the spirit of our ancestors, whose names are unknown and bodies were violently snatched from Afrika and scattered of all over the world like worthless grain. Camagu!

They whose bodies were thrown off the slave ships and fed to the sharks that have learned to trail these ships. Camagu!

They whose bodies were bent beyond their limit, wrapped around trees and had their flesh ripped from their bones by the whips of their slave masters. Camagu!

Let me express my sincerest appreciation to the sisterhood of Mthubi for the invitation to come and break bread with members of the Afrikan family. I must also commend Mthubi for the boldness to choose a topic that many would ordinarily shy away from: decolonisation.

I have been requested to speak on the theme “Uprooting Colonialism and Dismantling Colonial Ways in the Afrikan Community” and also link this to the meaning of uMam’u Zanyiwe Nomzamo Madikizela to the fight for decolonisation today. A closer look at the main theme provokes a number of supplementary questions, some of which are:

  • What do we understand by the concepts of colonialism or colonial?
  • Why should colonialism and colonial ways be uprooted and dismantled in the Afrikan community?
  • Who is the Afrikan community? and
  • Why is uMam’u Zanyiwe Nomzamo Madikizela important for the fight for decolonisation today?

The approach we propose is to seek to answer these supplementary questions as a way of deconstructing the main theme. However before we go into these answering these questions, I think it would be useful to lay the foundation for our conversation by reflecting on some of the critical moments that shaped the chronicle of Black decolonial resistance that occurred during the month of April.

Some critical moments in the chronicle of Black decolonial resistance that occurred in April

In the month of April we remember the 366th anniversary of the arrival of the European invader Jan Van Riebeeck on the southern tip, on 6 April 1652. We also marked the 135th anniversary of the passing of Hubert Henry Harrison on 27 April 1883. Harrison was a West Indian-American writer, orator, educator, critic, and race and class conscious political activist and radical internationalist based in New York, United States of America. He is often described as the “the father of Harlem radicalism” or “Black Socrates”.

We marked the 112th anniversary of the Bambatha Uprising on 19 April 1906. This uprising took place in what is called KwaZulu-Natal and the 102nd anniversary of the birth of the cofounder of the African National Congress (ANC) Youth League and leading Afrikan Nationalism theorist, Ashby Peter Solomzi Mda, on 5 April 1916.

We marked the 90th anniversary of the birth of the political theorist and founding president of Tanzania, Julius Kambarage Nyerere, on 13 April 1922 and the 90th anniversary of the birth of the poet, author and activist, Mama Maya Angelou. Born on the 4 April 1928. As we know, she is the author of the book I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings and the timeless poems, Phenomenal Woman and Still I Arise.

We marked the 68th anniversary of the passing of Dr Carter Godwin Woodson, on 3 April 1950. Woodson was a historian, author, journalist and the founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. He is also author of the seminal book The Miseducation of the Negro and pioneer of Negro History Week—a precursor to today’s Black History Month.

We remembered the 68th anniversary of the passing of the anti-Black Group Areas Act on 27 April 1950 by the settler-colonial regime. This Act enforced the segregation of the different races to specific areas within the urban locale. It also restricted ownership and the occupation of land to a specific statutory group. This meant that Blacks could not own or occupy land in White areas.

We marked the 59th anniversary of the founding of the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC), on 6 April 1959 and the 58th anniversary of the founding of the South West African People’s Organisation in Namibia, on 19 April 1960 by among others Andimba Toivo Ya Toivo.

We mark the 58th anniversary of the passing of the Unlawful Organisations Act No 34, on 7 April 1960, by the settler-colonial regime. This act provided for organisations that were deemed to be threatening public order or the safety of the public to be declared unlawful. Following the Sharpeville massacre, this law was used to declare the ANC and the PAC unlawful.

We marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Black leader, Dr Martin Luther King Junior, on 4 April 1968 and 46th anniversary of the passing of the foremost theoretician of 20th century pan Africanism, Kwame Nkrumah, on 27 April 1972. We marked the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Azanian People’s Organisation, on 28 April 1978 and 39th anniversary of the execution of the uMkhonto Wesizwe operative, Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu, by the settler-colonial regime on 6 April 1979.

We marked the 38th anniversary of the declaration of independence by the people of Zimbabwe on 18 April 1980 and 30th anniversary of the murder of four innocent Black people by the defence of the settler-colonial regime on 4 April 1988 in Botswana. This was believed to be a raid on ANC members who were in hiding in Botswana.

We marked the 25th anniversary of the assassination of the Chief of Staff of uMkhonto Wesizwe, uBab’u Thembisile Hani, 10 April 1993 and 7th anniversary of the brutal killing of Andries Tatane, on 12 April 2011.

We marked the 2nd anniversary of the passing of uZikhali Mazembe, uBab’uMlamli Makwetu, the former president of the PAC, on 1 April 2016.

We also marked the 1st anniversary of the brutal murder of 16-year-old Mathlomola Mosweu who was brutally murdered last year on a farm in Coligny, in the North West Province, South Africa. He was killed for allegedly stealing sunflower. And of course more recently, the passing of one of the most iconic figures of Black resistance, uMama uZanyiwe Nomzamo Madikizela, on 2 April, this year.

What do we understand by the concepts of colonialism or colonial?

In his seminal work, The Wretched of The Earth, under the chapter “Concerning Violence”, Frantz Fanon makes the point that:

“Decolonization, which sets out to change the order of the world, is, obviously, a program of complete disorder. But it cannot come as a result of magical practices, nor of a natural shock, nor of a friendly understanding. Decolonization, as we know, is a historical process: that is to say that it cannot be understood, it cannot become intelligible nor clear to itself except in the exact measure that we can discern the movements which give it historical form and content. Decolonization is the meeting of two forces, opposed to each other by their very nature, which in fact owe their originality to that sort of substantification, which results from and is nourished by the situation in the colonies. Their first encounter was marked by violence and their existence together—that is to say the exploitation of the native by the settler—was carried on by dint of a great array of bayonets and cannons.”

Informed by Fanon’s understanding of decolonisation it follows therefore that colonialism or colonisation refers to the violent take over or invasion of a specific territory belonging to a particular group, by a foreign or alien group. And as part of this take over, the colonising or invading group then proceeds to forcefully and fundamentally change the way of life of the indigenous people by imposing their own way of life on them.

In practice, this means that, the identity symbols of the indigenous people such as their languages, beliefs, customs, rituals, mode of learning and production and even their social institutions get destroyed and are replaced with those of the colonising or invading group. In essence, their entire memory of self is wiped out.

In the context of Afrika, this conception of colonialism or colonisation helps us to understand why today there are parts of Afrika that are under the influence of Islam/Christianity or Arab-speaking or those that are referred to as Anglophone, Francophone etc.

Colonialism or colonisation is therefore not just an act of foreign invasion, but also an act of multiple forms of direct and indirect violence. The other consequence of colonialism is neo-colonialism. This is the perpetuation of the agenda of the colonisers, through mantshingilane governments that are led by members of the native population, who have been handpicked by the colonisers.

It is also important to note that, often when Black people talk of colonialism or slavery, they focus more on the Europeans and forget the Arabs. The Arabs invaded Afrika and enslaved Afrikans, almost a thousand years before the Europeans could unleash their wave of violence on the bodies of Afrikans.

In reaction to the Arab and European invasion of Afrika, successive generations of Black people waged gallant anti-colonial resistance wars. For over 500 years, anti-colonial wars were waged by people such as Emperor Menelik of Ethiopia who defeated the Italians in the Battle of Adwa. Others include the Warrior Queen Yaa Asantewaa, Queen mother of the Edweso community of the Ashanti people of Ghana. She was an exceptionally brave warrior who led an army of thousands against British invasion. Queen Nzinga Mbande of the Ndongo and Matamba Kingdoms. She fearlessly and cleverly fought against the Portuguese.

The Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya, under the leadership of among others Dedan Kimathi. The Mau Mau rebellion was a response to European invasion, land theft and gave impetus to the liberation struggle in Kenya and Afrika.

In the southern tip, from 1659 to about 1803, there was a series of resistance wars that were led by the people referred to as the Khoi, under freedom fighters such as Die Strandloopers, the Goringhaiqua under Gogosa and Doman. One of the outstanding warriors of this period is uTshangisa, kaSkhomo, kaRhudulu! Ahhh Zululiyangoma! AaahMgwevu! The legendary Inkosi uDavid Stuurman, who escaped more than once from the colonial dungeon now known as Robben Island.

We would also recall how in 1879 Black people trounced the British in the Battle of Isandlwana, during the time of Inkosi uCetshwayo. One of the commanders during Isandlwana is my great ancestor, uMavumengwana kaNdlela Ntuli.

Then there is the Herero and Nama uprising in what is now known as Namibia, in 1904, under the leadership of Samuel Maharero. They decided to rise up against the German invaders, killed about a 123 of them and set buildings alight. In reaction, the Germans launched a bloody and brutal war of extermination against the Herero and the Nama. This extermination is considered by some as the first genocide of the 20th century.

Then you also had the rebellion led by Inkosi uBhambatha kaMancinza Zondi in 1906. This rebellion is usually reduced to a revolt against a British-imposed tax, but like all the resistance wars that were fought in Afrika, the Bambatha rebellion was actually a revolt against European invasion.

All of these wars which were fought over 500 years ago by our warrior ancestors, constitute our proud heritage of decolonial resistance as Black people. The phenomenon of decolonisation is therefore more than 500 years old.

Why should colonialism and colonial ways be uprooted and dismantled in the Afrikan community?

What do the words ‘uproot” and “dismantle” mean? Commonly understood, to “uproot” means to pull something out of the ground, root out, take out, rip out/up, tear up by the roots, grub out/up or move someone or something from their familiar location whereas “dismantle” means take apart, take to pieces, take to bits, pull apart, pull to pieces, deconstruct, disassemble, break up or strip down. From the meaning of these words it is clear that Black people cannot be gentle, polite or non-violent when the intention is to uproot or dismantle colonialism.

In crafting the wording for this conversation perhaps the hosts of this event also understood that, if Afrikans intend to uproot or dismantle colonialism they should be prepared to engage colonialism in accordance with its roots: the force of violence. Fanon illuminates this point when he says:

“National liberation, national renaissance, the restoration of nationhood to the people, commonwealth: whatever may be the headings used or the new formulas introduced, decolonization is always a violent phenomenon….”

Therefore if successive generations of Afrikans are either afraid to uproot or dismantle colonialism, then we as Afrikans must not just accept our status as the permanent slaves of various non-Black groups, but we must also accept our permanent erasure from human history.

But who is an Afrikan or who constitutes the Afrikan community? The definition of who is an Afrikan or Black is contested. In some cases, even people whose ancestry is traceable outside the Afrikan continent are also referred to as Afrikan or Black. In my view, not everybody can be Afrikan or Black.

In his classic, Discourse on Colonialism, Aimé Césaire, makes the point that:

“Yes, the Negro question. At that time I criticized the Communists for forgetting our Negro characteristics. They acted like Communists, which was all right, but they acted like abstract Communists. I maintained that the political question could not do away with our condition as Negroes. We are Negroes, with a great number of historical peculiarities.”

Dark skinned people with Negroid physical features have a unique history in the world. Wherever they are in the world, they are likely to be attacked, oppressed or killed purely because of their dark skin or Negroid features. The Caucasoid and Mongoloid races don’t have this burden of their skin colour magnetically attracting violence. In fact, the Caucasoid and Mongoloid races constitute the principal enslavers of the Negroid race. And this is true both in historical and contemporary terms.

Therefore even though legislation in South Africa suggests that groups such as the Indians or Chinese are Black, I hold a different view. In terms of our history of slavery, colonialism and our current condition, we have nothing in common with the Indians or Chinese. The history and condition of Black people is not identical to that of any other group and we must have an honest conversation about our relationship with groups such as the Indians and Chinese.

They are therefore not Black or Afrikan, both in historical and relational terms. Besides, in India and China, Indians and Chinese use their institutional power to perpetuate anti-Blackness against Black people. Take the case of the Sidi people of India.

How is Mama Zanyiwe Nonzamo Madikizela connected to fight for decolonisation today?

Since her passing, the life and meaning of Mama Zanyiwe Nomzamo Madikizela has thrust us into a lively national conversation. This is not usual for someone of her stature, but in her case, her passing has given us the courage to openly interrogate those subjects that are usually avoided such as the negotiated settlement reached at the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA), the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the apartheid spies in liberation movements and whether or not, we as Black people have been sold out by some of our leaders.

This is also because Mama Nomzamo is one of the few Black leaders who was unapologetic about her views on CODESA talks, the land question and the role of her own party in the negotiations with European invaders.

Even though the sum total of her meaning to us as Black people still requires more penetrating study, there are a few observations we can make. One, she represented a rare breed of Black leaders who were defiant and unapologetic in the fight against white supremacy.

Two, her life represents a defiance of patriarchy and betrayal within liberation movements and male dominance in the liberation struggle project, especially in the area of armed struggle. Three, she represents the triumph over the tyranny of the violence of oppression in how she endured incessant surveillance, harassment, banishment, incarceration and torture.

Four, she is important because she was one of the few who didn’t actively promote the falsity of the rainbow nation and reconciliation without justice. Five, just like male revolutionary icons such as Thomas Sankara or Ernesto Guevara, she has shown that it is possible to be a revolutionary and stylish as the same time. I can’t think of any female revolutionary figure of the 20th century that is as iconic as her.

In terms of her contribution, she can stand shoulder-to-shoulder and even tower above some of the male revolutionary icons. Finally, Mama Nomzamo is important for the decolonisation project today because she understood that there is no such thing as non-violent decolonisation and that, what lies at the heart of colonialism and white supremacy—is gratuitous and anti-Black violence.

Therefore if we look at the general condition of Black people today, in the white criminal settler colony referred to as South Africa and the fact that whites, through groups like Afriforum are openly and unapologetically organising for the consolidation white power—we will realise that, in fact, we desperately need the fearless, radical, militant and uncompromising spirit of Mama Zanyiwe Nomzamo Madikizela, today more than ever before.

* Veli Mbele is an essayist and Secretary of Black Power Front.

* This is redaction of a lecture that Veli Mbele delivered at Mthubi’s Afrikan Literature Book Exchange on 27 April 2018 at Hatfield, Pretoria, South Africa.

Selected readings

Césaire, A. (1972). Discourse on Colonialism. Monthly Review Press. New York.

Fanon, F. (1963). The Wretched of The Earth. New York: Grove Press.

Memmi, A. (2003). The colonizer and the colonized. London: Earthscan.

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https://www.sahistory.org.za/topic/arrival-jan-van-riebeeck-cape-6-april-1652 accessed 21 May 2018

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