What’s the deal with decolonisation?

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Discussions about decolonisation have been ongoing for a number of years now yet the debates truly became heated and took centre stage in South Africa between 2015 and 2016, mainly fuelled by the RhodesMustFall campaign and subsequent Fees Must Fall nationwide protests.

The term “decolonise” is a more confrontational and bold term for what was already popularised as “black conscious”, “uhuru”, “power to the people” and “mayibuye iAfrica” which were chanted ceaselessly during the struggle against apartheid. To call for decolonisation is to implicate racist, sexist, anti-poor doctrines and their advocates. It is to reject the ideas and presuppositions that our societies and institutions have so deeply entrenched to become the norm, in which there is often no room for the African, the Indian, the Coloured or any “other”.

While the abovementioned versions of decolonisation which preceded the term as we use it today were centred on the affirmative transfer of power “to” those who were disenfranchised without any or little reference to those who held the power, this recent talk of decolonisation speaks of the affirmative transfer of power “from” those who have illegitimate monopoly of it “to” the disenfranchised. This explicit denouncing of colonial remnants in various spheres of life have exacerbated racial and class tensions across South Africa.

Part of the resistance to decolonisation is the misinterpretation of “colonial” to be synonymous with “white”. For some, this is a valid concession, however, colonial means much more than merely white. It refers to white supremacy and the structures and practices which uphold it at the expense of the rest of the population. To decolonise is to challenge the innate associations of white to the standard of success, wealth, beauty, professionalism and competency (re the African time jokes) or even purity, while the opposite is perceived of other races.

Many opposers of the decolonisation project refer to it as the revert back to a Hobbes “state of nature-like” primitive time where disease and war are rife, in the absence of law, art, science, philosophy and modern technology. This very attitude demonstrates not only a deep misunderstanding of the term “decolonisation” but the out-dated Eurocentric perception that disregards the advanced nature of precolonial African civilizations, history, art, philosophy and traditional medicine.

The biggest mistake made here is to assume that because a country is independent  that it is also free from colonial influences and constructs. The first revelation of this thinking is associating colonial rule with bringing civilisation and all the luxuries and innovations of the modern world, while ignoring cheap/forced labour, native taxes which were economically crippling, systematic and institutional racism. The second mistake made is to ignore the lost generations which perpetuated cycles of poverty as a direct result of the colonial rule and the inverse, generational wealth legacies created by the same systems.

The way forward regarding decolonisation depends on the collective effort to rebuild a society whose values, culture and institutions reflect its identity. If we claim our identity is of a reconciled or reconciling nation wherein all are equal, then those remnants which prove otherwise must be uprooted. This will require a concession to the dehumanising and oppressive nature of white supremacy and its guardians. Decolonising requires imagination, brutal honesty, reflection, co-creation and re-invention by an entire generation, as opposed to the view that it is an anarchic upheaval of civilisation and order by a politically frustrated  and free-riding few.

Reuniting black and white (and all else that clashes)

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This type of kindness that goes unmentioned in the news is what will heal us, not feeble promises made over glossy-tabled boardrooms.

I cannot imagine that there is a single soul that is aware of but unmoved by the spike in race-related protests and violence around the world at this particular time. What with the police brutality protests in Ferguson and Baltimore, the anti-colonial statue protests in South African universities, the anti-racist protests in Tel Aviv against the Ethiopian Jewish population… Whether one is politically inclined or not, I would like to believe that the humanity in each and every one of us has been shaken.

I hold a particular belief when it comes to issues pertaining to injustice. I believe that justice is the concern of every person that walks the earth. This was challenged by a friend of mine a few years ago when I expressed my annoyance when I came across someone who told me that she did not know what or whom Syria was. I told her that I found it shameful that one would not know about one of the largest political insurgences of our time – to not care of the hundreds of lives that were lost amid that, the steps (or lack thereof) of the rest of the world in response to this. My friend said I was being somewhat irrational in my anger as she could not possible see the value of knowing all about world crises if one can do nothing about them anyway.

My response to her was to at least care about the welfare of others who are less fortunate is indicative of selflessness and empathy which is greatly needed in the world. This empathy is what makes hash tags trend, trends which unsettle people whose interests might be jeopardised by inaction, inaction which puts pressure on a couple of circles or powerful individuals, individuals who can be forced to recalculate their actions in the face of pressure from a larger force than them. The motto of my church, after all, is that light always overcomes darkness.

On that light and dark note, I am aware of a lot of tension among the white people around the world. Within this tension is a mixture of sympathy, guilt, denialism, proactivity, solidarity, and critique. This is understandable. They are generations born into privilege which was sown and harvested by their forefathers – something which they cannot reverse. To be angered by the outburst of emotions and pick on the wounds of black skins by declaring their own innocence is not something I advise.

There are centuries of humiliation, whipping, chaining, flogging, imprisoning, starving, agitating, depriving, shaming in our blood as black people. These legacies were not and cannot be undone by Constitutional Rights and laws. These legacies are evident in our ‘rural’ and ‘ratchet’ accents, the stereotypes used to “other” us, the residential area divides, income gaps, crime and unemployment statistics… These are the centuries of history that made it possible for us to protest for rights to vote, to earn fair wages, to live in dignified circumstances.

So what I suggest is that we don’t fool ourselves into blanketing our prejudiced eyes with the sheepskins of the “colourless society” myth. I suggest that we read about the unsettling truths of our past, talk about them and confront them. Watch Vice News documentaries on Youtube, read journals and newspapers, talk to people who don’t look the same as you. We need to air the discomforting thoughts we dismiss as the subconscious entrenched by ‘society’ and strip them of their weight. Racism must carry no weight in our conversations. I hope that soon we can speak freely and truly freely about race issues all around the world without the need for riot police and crowd dispersers. I hope that we can beat against the wind together to not get over racism, white privilege and supremacy, but get through them.

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