By Asanda Ngoasheng
We need a law that bans colonialism and apartheid denialism and it should come with a minimum of a year spent in jail for those who are found guilty, writes Asanda Ngoasheng.
Helen Zille’s latest declaration that colonialism cannot be compared to the Holocaust deserves to see her spend some time in jail. The denial of the pain of billions of people globally who are direct and intergenerational carriers of the pain caused by colonialism and its interrelated systems of slavery and apartheid should be declared a crime against humanity.
The statements and controversy which began with a tweet that she later claimed was in reference to how Singapore has done well in the post-colonialism era deserve to see her expelled from the Democratic Alliance and removed from the Premier position in the Western Cape Provincial Government.
We can no longer accept leaders that don’t understand that making statements like those Zille has made over the years is erasure and denial of people’s past and current suffering. The survival of people of colour in spite of the genocide, persecution and erasure they faced and continue to face globally does not mean colonialism was not all bad, it means we are people who are survivors.
Zille and her ilk of all ages and generations must be relegated to history books which must recognise her role in telling the story of Steve Biko, developing the Democratic Alliance as well as her fall from grace over the years and her racism. Just like the statue of Rhodes fell at UCT after students demands, all South Africans must stand united and demand that #ZilleMustFall
We can longer accept leaders that deny colonialism, even as it continues to impact the life of every black child in Africa and every person of colour throughout the world.
It was colonialism and in particular the legacy of Cecil John Rhodes (founder of Lonmin) that laid the foundation for a massacre like Marikana where 34 people lost their lives, all for demanding a living wage for them and their families. It is colonialism that laid the foundations for apartheid. It is colonialism that broke the family structure of Africans and has led to a population with majority of children being raised by single mothers.
Global inequality between the North and South, hunger, poverty, ill-health, high infant mortality rates and many other societal ills continue to plague former colonies more than colonising countries. Colonialism continues today globally while the world celebrates colonial masters such as Queen Elizabeth.
Whiteness continues to erase blackness and define human identity. Western knowledge and thought continues to dominate universities and public discourse at the expense of African, Asian, South America and other thoughts. Colonial regret and apology remain pipedreams while racism, sexism and homophobia continues to grow across the globe in the name of “conservatism”.
When I read of the statement and listened to the podcast of her latest interview on Powerfm I wondered if victims of colonialism would agree that no genocide took place. Would the few remaining Native Americans who were almost wiped out in the US, the few remaining Aborigines who were almost wiped out in Australia agree there was no genocide? I wonder if those who lost their limbs and were maimed in the Congo would agree. What about the Herero and Ovambo who were also almost wiped out in Namibia, would they agree there was no genocide? Would the descendants of the Khoi, the San, the Griqua and all the other groups of South Africans whose ancestors were classed in the same category as game and killed by colonisers who had game licences agree?
I wonder if when making this brutal erasing statement she thought about those of us who are descendents of Hintsa who was mercilessly murdered and then had his skull taken across the world, Makana who died trying to escape imprisonment in Robben Island and so many others who lost their lives, souls, languages, cultures, humanity at the hands of colonialism and its relative apartheid.
We need a law that bans colonialism and apartheid denialism in South Africa and it should come with a minimum of a year spent in jail for those who are found guilty.
We are a young democracy that grapples with a long and brutal history and we can’t be continuing to be triggered and erased carelessly, especially not by politician with millions of followers, power and influence in society.
Helen Zille is the highest official in the province with the second largest economy in South Africa. Her statements have a huge impact and affect the way people think and act. If she really believes the things she has been saying as innocent and harmless then we have an answer for why the Western Cape continues to be one of the least welcoming provinces for African people in particular.
I believe Helen Zille was able to make the statements she made recently because she has a history of making racist statements and getting away with it. There are at least five incidents of racism that stand out to my mind and missed opportunities for the Democratic Alliance to discipline or expel her. She once lamented about the Western Cape Province being bombarded with educational refugees from the Eastern Cape each year. She claimed that the unplanned nature of the emigration for education from particularly the Eastern Cape made it impossible for her Democratic Alliance government to provide schooling for all.
This statement could easily have been debunked by looking at the migration figures of a province like Gauteng which actually is a mix of people who originate from all provinces in South Africa, the continent and the world.
In a different world, the Democratic Alliance would have asked the African National Congress government how they dealt with influx and migration into the province and consequently the provision of services including schooling for all residents. It was not about that though, the statement showed a flicker of the racism that we are now experiencing as a raging inferno that threatens to engulf her career and the future of her political party, the Democratic Alliance. Zille made that statement fully aware that during apartheid Africans were declared illegal immigrants in Cape Town and given residency in Bantustans.
Companies were incentivised financially to institute this apartheid laws and not hire Africans, laws that to this day sees Africans struggle to make careers in the Cape. Zille called people educational refuges and othered them in their democratic country of birth. She was fully aware that for most of apartheid the government would routinely pick up any and every black man and woman found on the streets of the city and “deport” them back to the Transkei and Ciskei Bantustan.
Cape Coloureds who were deemed too dark to be coloured, Basotho, Ma Pedi, Amazulu, Cape Xhosas and all types of other people whose only crime was having too much melanin have told stories of how they would find themselves dumped in the Transkei and have to walk back to Cape Town to reclaim their lives.
This process could happen more than once in the life of any person of colour in Cape Town. To be a leader in the province of Cape Town and still make such statements was deserving of at the very least a disciplinary hearing if the Democratic Alliance she led then was serious about eradicating racism and nation building.
In yet another instance of racism she told songstress Simphiwe Dana to stop being a “professional black”. This statement suggested that there were people who walked around abusing their pain for personal gain. In a country with such a long history of pain committed by white people towards black people she had no right to make such a statement.
In doing so she again was denying that black people have very real pain and reasons to be angry because they carried intergenerational trauma from colonialism and apartheid as well as having fresh scars from the daily racism and micro-aggressions they were exposed to by those who supported and thought like Helen Zille.
In two other instances she again showed her racism when she claimed to have “made” Lindiwe Mazibuko – a woman who met Helen Zille as an Honours student at the University of Cape Town. This was yet another instance of erasure of a black person because her statements denied the effort and hard work that Mazibuko put in getting a matric pass good enough to get her into UCT degree, never mind the stringent entry requirements for an Honours at said university. This fails to acknowledge Mazibuko’s own agency in recognising opportunities and realising her own career path.
At the height of the #FeesMustFall protests, madame Zille saw it fit to suggest that if the protesting students did not like UCT and its rules and methods they must just leave or UCT must cut off their funding. This was yet another instance of erasure of black people and dismissal of their current and intergenerational pain. She had forgotten that we lived in a country with a constitution that declared that “South Africa belongs to all who live in it”. I won’t even go into the absurdity of someone telling students that belong to the overwhelming majority population of a country to leave an institution in their home country because they did not agree with their colonial rules and wanted them changed.
South Africa belongs to all who live in it, means that Africans belong in Cape Town as much as the belong in East London or any other city in South Africa. It means students of colour belong in any university they deem good enough for them and they have a right to demand that the university change and accommodates them if it is alienating to them and people like them, especially when they are the majority in the country.
* Asanda Ngoasheng is a lecturer of political reporting at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology and when not delivering a decolonised curriculum spends her time helping young people unlearn racism and prejudice through workshops