Dismantling the legacy of colonialism once and for all

Andrew Donaldson says maybe we should rid ourselves of the boundaries the imperialists foisted upon us


GOVERNMENT is resolutely barging ahead with radical economic transformation — although perhaps not as intended, if you consider, among other cock-ups, the South African Social Security Agency debacle.

It goes without saying, of course, that some 17-million welfare and social grant recipients stand to undergo a severe transformation of sorts come April 1 should this disastrous mess not be sorted out.

The ANC Women’s League has swiftly rallied to the defence of sober Bathabile Dlamini, the Minister of Social Development following calls from all quarters for her dismissal.

The fact that Dlamini is also the president of the women’s league should in no way detract from the legitimacy of the league’s position. To suggest otherwise would be nothing more, as its secretary-general, Moekgo Matuba, will tell you, than a “populist posture”.

Besides, the minister, who absolutely hates alcohol, does have an important role to fulfill in the forthcoming factional fighting ahead of the ANC elections later this year, and President Jacob Zuma and his allies would prefer it if Dlamini just stayed put for the time being.

Another notable ally, and a man who intends playing no small part in returning the country to its former 19th century peasant glory, is Gugile Nkwinti, the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform.

He is indeed rather special. In the recent debate on Zuma’s State of the Nation Address, Nkwinti called for the uprooting of “the current system and structure of the economy” and outlined a plan to achieve “radical socio-economic transformation” with regard to land reform.

“Firstly,” he said, “undertake a pre-colonial audit of land ownership, use and occupation patterns. This is very important. Once the audit has been completed, a single law should be developed to address the issue of land restitution without compensation.”

Note the emphasis on “pre-colonial”. Which presumably means the R97-million farm at the centre of the lease deal that Nkwinti allegedly “facilitated” for his friends in Luthuli House — reportedly pocketing R2-million for himself in the process — will be exempt from a land audit because its ownership is now post-colonial. 

However, the brightest among us at the Mahogany Ridge remain puzzled at the clamour for “land reform”. 

It’s another tilt at the windmills, one as opportunistic as that other fashionable distraction, “white monopoly capital”. The “land reform” rhetoric conveniently overlooks the massive migrations from rural areas to the cities. You know, where the jobs are. 

And speaking of which, most people don’t want to be farmers. It’s bloody difficult. Ask Julius Malema, famous cabbage wrangler.

Perhaps it would be better if decolonisation was taken to a logical conclusion. Debate here justifiably focuses on redress for the exploitation of resources but lamentably ignores the most consequential aspect of the colonial era: the erratic designation of territories that took place in European capitals in the 19th century.

Those who drew the lines on the maps have a lot to answer for. Driven by greed, they merrily carved up the place either splitting ethnic groups or forcing them into “unitary” collections.

Quite why African “nationalists” doggedly maintain these borders is a mystery. All they’ve ever done is ensure yet more internecine conflict and economic turmoil.

There were other consequences of this willy-nilliness — landlocked regions doomed to institutional backwardness and developmental regression or absurdly large “countries” to manage — but the upshot is simply this: it is perhaps time we abandon Africa’s present political entities and redraw the map.

Which would then look like … what? 

The anthropologist George Peter Murdock gave us some idea in his celebrated map of African ethnicities at the time of colonisation. There were more than 820 different groups. But with the current political map, about 230 of those groups are now considered “partioned” — that is, divided into two or more artificial “countries”. 

Research quantifying the relation between violence and ethnic division by unnaturally imposed boundaries is still in its infancy. But what if these boundaries were simply removed? What would we then have?

An Africa of about 820 homogenous entities. Think of them as more natural states. Most of them, the itty bitty ones, would be up there, in the armpit of the continent, Nigeria, Ghana and what have you. 

“South Africa”, as we know it, would consist of 19 or 20 different entities. Here, in Cape Town, we would live in a territory that Murdock described as the land of the “Cape Hottentot”. It’s a colonial name, admittedly, but then his map was drawn up in 1959. 

It’s terrific real estate otherwise and includes most of the Western Cape and the better parts of the Eastern Cape. The wines, certainly, are great. Who wouldn’t want to live in such a country?

This article first appeared in the Weekend Argus.