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?