Re­morse over coloni­sa­tion

In Ger­many it is treated as a ‘sen­si­tive mat­ter’

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS - LUYOLO MKENTANE

WESTERN Cape Premier He­len Zille, who has been cen­sured by the DA fol­low­ing her se­ries of tweets prais­ing cer­tain as­pects of colo­nial­ism, would be shocked to learn that some pro­gres­sive former colo­nial­ists deeply re­gret ever en­trench­ing colo­nial­ism.

In Ger­many, for in­stance, colo­nial­ism is treated as a “sen­si­tive mat­ter”. But not so in South Africa, where some sec­tions of so­ci­ety still believe that the masses who were sub­ju­gated should be grate­ful to the colonis­ers, be­cause what­ever atroc­i­ties they com­mit­ted were in pur­suit of a greater good.

In Zille’s case, the greater good would be our in­de­pen­dent ju­di­ciary, the trans­port in­fra­struc­ture and piped wa­ter, as per her tweet which landed her in hot wa­ter and pit­ted her against DA leader Mmusi Maimane.

The Ger­mans, mean­while, are plan­ning to hold a se­ries of di­a­logues with schol­ars in coun­tries that were pre­vi­ously part of the Ger­man colo­nial em­pire. In Africa these in­clude neigh­bour­ing Namibia and Tan­za­nia, among oth­ers.

Uni­ver­sity of Ham­burg re­search as­sis­tant Kim Se­bas­tian Todzi, who is at­tached to the de­part­ment of his­tory’s re­search cen­tre fo­cus­ing on colo­nial heritage and early glob­al­i­sa­tion, said colo­nial­ism was a “sen­si­tive mat­ter” in Ger­many.

“The nar­ra­tive is that Euro­pean colo­nial­ism was de­vel­op­men­tal and that the colonised ben­e­fited through in­fra­struc­ture such as rail­way lines… that is what we are try­ing to de­con­struct,” Todzi said.

He said dou­ble stan­dards were ap­plied in com­mem­o­rat­ing the “crimes of the past” and said civil so­ci­ety needed to be in the fore­front of the planned di­a­logues aimed at re­dress­ing the painful and of­ten bru­tal legacy of colo­nial­ism.

Todzi’s pro­fes­sor, Dr Jur­gen Zim­merer, said that two decades ago, colo­nial­ism was told as a dif­fer­ent story in Europe, and as “an ad­ven­ture trip to for­eign coun­tries”. “But now if you men­tion the Herero and Nama in Namibia, peo­ple have some­thing bad to re­flect on about the Ger­man gov­ern­ment,” Zim­merer said.

He lashed out at the Ger­man gov­ern­ment for its “half­hearted ef­fort” in ad­mit­ting that it im­ple­mented grand­scale geno­cide in Namibia. He was also not happy that nei­ther Pres­i­dent Frank-Wal­ter Stein­meier nor Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel had apol­o­gised.

“Look, the di­a­logue with Namibia is needed now be­cause the Herero and Nama are su­ing Ger­many in New York. In my opin­ion, the Ger­man gov­ern­ment is shy­ing away from this class-ac­tion law­suit, be­cause it will bank­rupt us. In fact, if the Herero and Nama win in court, a lot of law­suits (against Ger­many) will pop up all over the place,” said Zim­merer.

The law­suit by descen­dants of the Herero and Nama peo­ple per­tain to a geno­cide by Ger­man colo­nial troops in the 1900s, in which more than 100 000 peo­ple re­belling against Ger­man rule in what was then South West Africa were mur­dered.

It has been writ­ten that the first phase of the geno­cide was char­ac­terised by wide­spread death from star­va­tion and de­hy­dra­tion due to the pre­ven­tion of the re­treat­ing Herero from leav­ing the Namib Desert by Ger­man forces. It is fur­ther stated that once de­feated, thou­sands of Herero and Nama were im­pris­oned in con­cen­tra­tion camps, where the ma­jor­ity died of dis­eases, abuse and ex­haus­tion.

Zim­merer said the Ger­man gov­ern­ment had been given a July 21 dead­line to ap­pear in the US court over the law­suit.

There were many op­tions Ger­many could con­sider rather than pay­ing repa­ra­tions for the geno­cide. Those in­cluded stu­dent ex­change pro­grammes, among oth­ers, he added.

That’s how se­ri­ous the Ger­mans take their legacy of colo­nial­ism. Todzi said there was also de­bate on whether it was morally right to con­tinue “hon­our­ing” racists and slave own­ers/traders who have streets named af­ter them. “This is a crit­i­cal dis­cus­sion at the mo­ment,” he said.

But back home, Jonathan Witt took to Twit­ter last week and de­scribed the ANC ban­quet menu as a “de­li­cious legacy of colo­nial­ism”. There are no prizes for guess­ing who re­sponded. Zille tweeted Witt, com­ment­ing: “You will un­der­stand why I can’t RT that.” To which Witt re­sponded: “Yes in­deed. No­body has a sense of hu­mour any­more, rather not up­set the of­fendotrons.”

Mkentane is on a twom­onth fel­low­ship with the In­ter­na­tional Jour­nal­ists’ Pro­grammes

Peo­ple have some­thing bad to re­flect on

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