100 years on, Bal­fourMustFall

CityPress - - Voices - Ebrahim Moosa voices@city­press.co.za

March 9 2015 saw the be­gin­ning of a move­ment di­rected at the re­moval of the statue of mega­lo­ma­niac Bri­tish colo­nial­ist Ce­cil John Rhodes from the cam­pus of the Univer­sity of Cape Town (UCT). What be­gan as op­po­si­tion to a sin­gle bust soon mor­phed into a wave of protests that sparked an un­prece­dented level of de­bate, cap­tur­ing the imag­i­na­tion of count­less par­tic­i­pants across the coun­try and the globe.

Af­ter weeks of spir­ited ac­tion and chal­leng­ing supremacy, priv­i­lege, racism and the lack of trans­for­ma­tion, the move­ment’s ac­tivism bore tan­gi­ble div­i­dends. Rhodes fell on April 9 that year, when the statue was re­moved from the cam­pus.

While Rhodes is of­ten eu­lo­gised as a phi­lan­thropist, in the south­ern African con­text the busi­ness­man-turned-politi­cian typ­i­fied im­pe­ri­al­ism and en­ti­tle­ment, with his grandiose hopes of con­quer­ing ter­ri­to­ries from the Cape to Cairo and es­tab­lish­ing se­cret so­ci­eties for “bring­ing of the whole un­civilised world un­der Bri­tish rule”.

Dur­ing his ten­ure as prime min­is­ter of the Cape colony later, Rhodes en­trenched this in­sid­i­ous colo­nial out­look through the Glen Gray Act, a pol­icy of­ten seen as the blue­print for the for­malised sys­tem of apartheid that was to fol­low, due to the re­stric­tions it placed on black land own­er­ship and its fos­ter­ing of the mi­grant labour sys­tem.

In in­tro­duc­ing the act, Rhodes spelt out his ap­praisal of the black ma­jor­ity: “As to the ques­tion of vot­ing, we say that the na­tives are in a sense cit­i­zens, but not al­to­gether cit­i­zens ... they are still chil­dren.”

Ad­mit into this dis­cus­sion Pales­tine, other Bri­tish ac­tors and Novem­ber 2 1917, and be pre­pared for some un­canny par­al­lels.

On that date, Arthur Bal­four, Bri­tish for­eign sec­re­tary at the time, and a for­mer prime min­is­ter (in­ci­den­tally, also a close as­so­ciate of Rhodes) is­sued the in­fa­mous Bal­four Dec­la­ra­tion. It promised lead­ers of the Zion­ist move­ment that Britain viewed “with favour” the es­tab­lish­ment of a na­tional home for the Jewish peo­ple in Pales­tine – with­out the con­sent of the Arab in­hab­i­tants of the coun­try who con­sti­tuted some 94% of its pop­u­la­tion at the time. The move was at odds with Britain’s own World War 1 prom­ises to the Arabs that it would al­low self­de­ter­mi­na­tion in the re­gion.

“In Pales­tine we do not pro­pose even to go through the form of con­sult­ing the wishes of the present in­hab­i­tants of the coun­try. Zion­ism, be it right or wrong, is more im­por­tant than the wishes of

700 000 Arabs,” Bal­four wrote in 1919, shed­ding light on a racist world-view not un­like that of Rhodes.

The con­se­quence of Bal­four’s “legally void, morally wicked and po­lit­i­cally mis­chievous” dec­la­ra­tion, as ju­rist Henry Cat­tan put it, was the Bri­tish Man­date for Pales­tine, whereby Britain im­posed mil­i­tary rule on the Pales­tini­ans and vi­o­lently sup­pressed their le­git­i­mate con­cerns. When Pales­tini­ans protested against this pol­icy, Bri­tish colo­nial rule re­sponded bru­tally, killing, wound­ing, im­pris­on­ing or ex­il­ing over 10% of Pales­tine’s adult male pop­u­la­tion be­tween 1936 and 1939.

As Charles Glass wrote in the Lon­don Re­view of Books, dur­ing this pe­riod, Bri­tish se­cu­rity forces re­sorted to us­ing the stan­dard tac­tics of anti-colo­nial war­fare: tor­ture, mur­der, col­lec­tive pun­ish­ment, de­ten­tion with­out trial, mil­i­tary courts, aerial bom­bard­ment and “puni­tive de­mo­li­tion” of more than 2 000 houses.

By 1947/48, this colo­nial pol­icy segued to the mass dis­pos­ses­sion of the Pales­tinian peo­ple by Zion­ist paramil­i­tary gangs, a sta­tus quo that was en­trenched un­der Is­raeli rule. The Bal­four Dec­la­ra­tion and the decades of Bri­tish man­date rule ef­fec­tively pro­vided the ar­chi­tec­ture for dis­pos­ses­sion and dis­en­fran­chise­ment of an en­tire na­tion, which con­tin­ues to­day.

And thus, 100 years to the date of that fate­ful mis­sive, ac­tivists the world over are call­ing on the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment to of­fi­cially apol­o­gise for the dis­as­trous con­se­quences of the Bal­four Dec­la­ra­tion.

“It is im­por­tant to re­mind the world and par­tic­u­larly Britain that they should face their his­toric re­spon­si­bil­ity and atone for the big crime Britain com­mit­ted against the Pales­tinian peo­ple,” reads a com­mu­niqué from the UK’s Bal­four Apol­ogy Cam­paign.

“We be­lieve that the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment’s recog­ni­tion of its de­struc­tive colo­nial past is a nec­es­sary step to­wards achiev­ing peace, jus­tice and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.”

With its cur­rent lead­er­ship, an of­fi­cial Bri­tish apol­ogy ap­pears dis­tant. Nev­er­the­less, just as with the re­moval of the Rhodes statue at UCT, ag­i­ta­tion for an ac­knowl­edge­ment of the colos­sal dis­dain which Bal­four showed the Pales­tini­ans is a highly sym­bolic un­der­tak­ing. It is vi­tal to re­dress the in­jus­tices meted out to the Pales­tini­ans that his dec­la­ra­tion set in mo­tion, and to reignite the pur­suit for last­ing peace and jus­tice in the re­gion.

Moosa is a re­searcher with the Pales­tine In­for­ma­tion Net­work. Fol­low them on Twit­ter


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