Colonial Legacies

February 22, 2015

Unity in Colour

My last post was a little while back, actually back in November 2014. I have been focusing on completing my first draft of 'Blighty To Bengal' hence the absence. The story I am about to write has been playing on my mind for a while. I have been contemplating whether to write it or not, but as it is a subject that has affected me and brought me to where I am today I was compelled to chronicle it.

Whilst I was in Mozambique I was working with expats from all over the globe. There was myself, who was labelled the Anglo-American Bangladeshi, there were Australians, Irish, English, Zimbabweans and South Africans consisting of Whites, Blacks and Cape Coloureds. Last but not least a large population of the workforce were Mozambican. Again they consisted of many ethnic groups, the largest being the Makua who dominated the north of the country where I was working.

The team  I was working with consisted of Cape Coloureds, one man from the Xhosa tribe and another young chap of Zulu descent, with all of them coming from South Africa

One day late in the evening when all the 6am to 5pm workers had gone back to camp I was chatting with a couple of the Cape Coloured managers under my tutelage. We were talking about South Africa's 20th anniversary of freedom from Apartheid in April 2014. With South Africa and the Indian sub-continent having been a colony of Great Britain our conversation turned to colonialism and its pros and cons. The conversation went something along the lines of, "So what are your thoughts on colonialism in South Africa?" I asked.

"Well, what happened after the British left was not good. When they left they said they would come back, and they did with their Land Rovers," smiled one of the men.

"We the Cape Coloureds, the Zulus, the Xhosas and all the other tribes of South Africa suffered badly," he continued before pausing.

"Please go on," I urged.

"For example, my family were very poor and we had no opportunities but to join the army, which I did as everything else was stacked against us," he stated.

"In the army we were made to hate the black South Africans as well as the Cape Coloureds, it was drilled into us. So we did because that was the only way we could make any progress," he ended sadly.

"That is scary, I could not even imagine what that must have been like," I replied shocked at what had just been disclosed. However I continued with my questioning trying to glean more insight without being insensitive.

"Tell me what, if any, benefits came out of colonialism in your view?" I asked.

The man who was in his late forties hesitated, took his glasses off and rubbed his eyes, and without looking at me, "For me I am sad to say that being colonised has given me what I have today, if we weren't colonised we may still be hunting our food with spears and arrows," he replied.

A Cape Coloured person was of mixed heritage, being that of 'white' European and African 'black' or Asian ancestry. This was the official definition by the South African government from 1950 to 1991. Since then the term used has been 'coloured', even though the former seemed to be still in use from what I could gather from my conversations. Furthermore I ascertained from my associates, the Western Cape was where they were the dominant ethnic group.

The answer I was given paused me to think about my thoughts and opinions about colonialism. Even though I could not speak from first hand experience of living under colonial rulers, the whole Indian sub-continent was historically forever under some foreign rule. From Alexander The Great in 327BC to the departure of the British in 1947, non-native empires have come and gone. The last remnant of a foreign power in my lifetime to have an impact on me as a child was the departure of Pakistani occupiers of Bangladesh in 1971.

I did not continue the discussion with my associates that evening and we left shortly afterwards having concluded our day's work.

Several days later I was in a conversation with a native Mozambican and again a discussion arose around the colonial power that was Portugal who ruled the country. I did not have to say much before the Mozambican chap gave a fiery speech on his views of Western colonial powers.

"I do not understand the South African blacks, why do they not kick out the whites? Why do they let them stay?" he stated vehemently.

"Look at us and look at Zimbabwe, Mugabe is doing the right thing. White Europeans have no right to be here," he concluded.

I did not seek to carry on the discussion any further for fear of unleashing an unstoppable tirade that could detract from the work day. This topic of colonial exploitation was still very fresh and seared into the minds of many Africans and I could not begin to comprehend nor understand the sufferings of the people of the continent at the hands of the Europeans. Even to this day the same protagonist nations from Europe are still dabbling in the livelihoods of every African man, woman and child.

Today a neo-colonialism sees a fiercer competition for Africa's mineral and natural resources. There are newer players in the theatre where the scramble is being fought over by proxy through multinational corporations from Brazil, Russia, India and China among others. Of course the U.S. is in there also, having botched Liberia in the 20th century is meddling in more ways than one in many other nations. Some in Africa may say this is welcome and others will look at history and try to stop it.

Whatever your views on 'old school colonialism' and the clandestine 'neo-colonialism' that is taking place. It is very important for a group of people whether they be a tribe of 1000 or a nation of millions to be masters of their destiny. Self determination on a level playing field that is fair and does not subjugate one group over another must surely be the desired way forward?

When Orwellian Eyes Are Not Watching!

January 19, 2014

Orwellian Oyster

Orwellian Oyster

So would you do it? If you were not being watched would you commit an act knowing you could potentially get away with it?

What am I talking about?

Well, I live in London, England which is part of the United Kingdom. The people of the United Kingdom are the most watched in the world. We have CCTVs everywhere, They watch us leave our homes, board the trains to work, enter our work offices and they record our movements throughout the day until we return home at night.

CCTVs were introduced to the UK in 1960 by the Metropolitan Police. They installed two temporary cameras in Trafalgar Square ahead of the visit by the Thai Royal Family and Guy Fawkes Night. The first permanent installation of cameras was at London Transport stations in 1961. Since then the proliferation of Big Brother cameras has gone unhindered. As of July 10th 2013, according to an article in The Telegraph they quoted the British Security Industry industry Authority (BSIA) which estimated there to 5.9 million closed-circuit television cameras in the country. That works out at one camera for every 11 people. According to a report in The Evening Standard newspaper dated March 3rd 2011, an average Briton is caught on camera something in the region of 70 times day, today this figure could be higher. It does seem to be that we are the most watched people in the world.

I have been commuting daily for the last three or so months using London's brilliant public transport system. It's quite a convoluted trek starting at 6:25 am and ending when I reach my destination at 7:25 am. My journey requires a short walk to Poplar DLR which takes me to Canary Wharf. From there I walk to the underground station of the same name which transports me to London Bridge. Another short walk and I am on Platform 5 waiting for the 7 am fast train to East Croydon. Once at East Croydon I take a taxi to my final destination at an industrial estate in Sutton.

The transport system at all of the points of entry and exit is controlled by barriers that are touched in and out using a prepaid Oyster Card or feeding a ticket through the barrier. The only network to not operate a barrier system is the DLR. Here one is left to self-regulation. You are left to your own devices to be honest and touch your Oyster card as you enter and exit a DLR station, or have a ticket for your journey. The paper-based ticket does not require you to touch in or out so the trust placed on you to buy a ticker is immense. Above all the CCTVs on the public transport system is extensive and you cannot walk more than a few feet until another camera catches you.

During my daily commute and particularly in the mornings the number of passenger is small but noticeable on the DLR. The passengers are of all hues, attire, ages and gender. The guards and train conductors are non-existent. Sometimes there will be a conductor but most times there is no one around. So when I alight the train at Canary Wharf DLR, walk down the escalator and touch out to have my fare for the trip deducted I am amazed to see the number of people who do not touch out with an Oyster Card. Now, I am probably wrong in some cases as certain people may have purchased a paper ticket. However, some of these faces are regular commuters and a paper ticket would be far more expensive than an Oyster Card. For commuters the Oyster Card is the cheapest option.

Don't get me wrong I have on the odd occasion failed to touch out at the end of my journey and have been deducted a capped fine for not doing so. For me the deterrent is not the CCTVs watching, yet even as recent as Saturday January 17th 2014 I got off at Canary Wharf DLR and as I touched my Oyster Card, three fellow passengers who were in the same carriage as me walked right out of the station. Yes, they may have had paper tickets, but it seems that CCTVs do not have the effect they were meant to and people brazenly will flout a rule if they know they can get away with it.

It is predicted that in the years to come we will be scanned entering train stations, shops and other establishments, the nightmare of Big Brother continues to grow.

So whether it's touching out of a DLR station with your Oyster Card or handing in a wallet found on the street, what would you do with Orwellian eyes watching our every move?