Category Archives: Postcolonial

Unleashed: Leaving home — on South Africa today and those who wish to leave…

I am blogging Unleashed: Leaving home by Johann Rossouw, a South African philosopher based in Pretoria, and its accompanying thread, which I urge you to read too, without adding my own two cents worth, except to say I am interested, having heard much through Sirdan and from other sources, and casting my mind back to a time when I worked with many South African Jews. I think it is sadly only too true that Thabo Mbeki in an infamous speech in 1999 wiped Nelson Mandela’s “rainbow nation” off the table; while there are still those carrying that torch forward, such as Desmond Tutu, the path of South Africa since 1999 goes a long way towards explaining the softness shown to Robert Mugabe in neighbouring Zimbabwe.

portrait_naiker South Africa’s Complex Challenges (by Seth Naicker) from the God’s Politics Blog is also worth looking at. That’s him on the right, still carrying the torch.

People are feeling the pinch of living in a South Africa where democracy has seemingly celebrated a capitalistic culture that does very little for a large population of impoverished people in this developing country. Within an environment where democracy is in need of a social consciousness, reform is needed for the large majority of people who have been denied their rights to basic needs of education, housing, water, etc.

There are several more complexities that South Africa is dealing with, related to a failing democracy and a government that is losing sight of the vision for which it was elected. The complexities of corruption, fraud, arms deals, the Zimbabwe crisis, unemployment, HIV/AIDS, violence and crime, children living on the streets, extreme poverty, etc., are those foremost in my mind and in discussions I have been having with people working in development, child and youth care, corporations, churches, and mosques.

People are facing outrageous hikes in costs on their home loans, where monthly repayments have doubled in just two months. Prices of meat and vegetables, oil, rice, and maize meal have escalated so that a low-income family cannot afford to even purchase toilet paper and bathing soap.

However, among all the chaos of my current-day South Africa, there remains a mystical faith that propels people in the most adverse circumstances to look forward to a brighter day. I have found it most difficult at times to understand how people in such dire straits could still have the audacity to hope and have faith that things will work out right. That mystical faith, with which I have come into contact in the land of my dreams, encourages me, challenges me, and changes me. It further centers, conscientizes, and mobilizes me to continue believing, striving, pursuing, and demanding transformation that will ensure a South Africa that is caring for all its people: citizen, immigrant, and refugee.

Very much a Christian is Seth, of course…

On the broad issue of which South Africa is a part, and indeed of which Australia is a part, my slow ongoing reading of David Day’s important history Conquest is reshaping my views. I do commend it to you all. Day does not come at the issue from a religious viewpoint, and the review I have linked there is rather unfriendly — it appeared in the NY Sun — and its sticking point is this:

One also need not be a supporter of Israel to sense that Mr. Day’s discussion of its history is offered up in an exclusively negative context. From Mr. Day’s account, no one would imagine that the Jews had a connection with Palestine in some form or another for some 5,000 years, that early Jewish settlers often bought rather than stole Arab properties, and that Israel fought numerous existential wars against autocratic neighbors that sought to liquidate Israeli democracy and with it all traces of Jews in the Middle East. The 1 million Arabs who vote and participate in contemporary Israeli politics — uniquely so in the otherwise autocratic Arab Middle East — surely enjoy a much different status from the Untermenschen who were slaughtered en masse by Hitler’s Wehrmacht. There is also something jarring in reading about the plight of the Aborigines, Palestinians, and Native Americans juxtaposed with similarly brief accounts of Hitler’s Final Solution. Orders of magnitude, then, are of less importance to Mr. Day; thus the 4,000 lost along the Trail of Tears take their places alongside the million-plus butchered in Rwanda, apparently as proof of similar barbarism on the part of the supplanting society.

I find this unfair to Day, and I’m afraid too that while I can be accused of having been in many ways a supporter of Israel myself, I, not unlike many Jews in fact, have to concede that the issues Day raises on Palestine and the State of Israel are real issues. The author of that review is really nailing his colours to the mast, I would have thought. Realising that there have been and are big moral and practical issues wrapped up in the reestablishment of a State of Israel does not make one an antisemite. Jews had a connection with Palestine in some form or another for some 5,000 years is true up to a point, but also extremely  tendentious. It certainly is no justification for much that has happened since 1967.

But here of course we have one of the world’s thorniest issues, bedevilled at every turn by fundamentalists of many stripes, most of whose assumptions are historically suspect, even  nonsensical. You see, Abraham is, was, um, a legend — literally, not in the everyday sense. No doubt about it… Many aspects of that legend and its playing out through Judaism, then Christianity, then Islam, have been and continue to be inspiring, but many have been pernicious. The more literal the clinging to the legend, the more pernicious the heritage tends to be. It is a troubled heritage… You may as well base a national claim, or a theological claim, around Robin Hood. That’s the inconvenient truth of the matter, by which I have now offended many people in the three major Book religions…

Back to David Day…

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Posted by on August 13, 2008 in Africa, awful warnings, Bible, challenge, Christianity, fundamentalism and extremism, History, humanity, Islam, Israel, Middle East, Postcolonial


Zimbabwe: why it can never be 1870 again, or even 1970…

Clearly my coffee break hasn’t lasted… 😉

Consider the history of Zimbabwe, according to Wikipedia:

From circa 1250–1629, the area that is known as Zimbabwe today was ruled under the Mutapa Empire, also known as Mwene Mutapa, Monomotapa or the Empire of Great Zimbabwe, which was renowned for its gold trade routes with Arabs. However, Portuguese settlers destroyed the trade and began a series of wars which left the empire in near collapse in the early 17th century. In 1834, the Ndebele people arrived while fleeing from the Zulu leader Shaka, making the area their new empire, Matabeleland. In the 1880s, the British arrived with Cecil Rhodes’s British South Africa Company. In 1898, the name Southern Rhodesia was adopted.

As colonial rule was ending throughout the continent, and as African-majority governments assumed control in neighbouring Northern Rhodesia and in Nyasaland, the white-minority Rhodesia government led by Ian Smith made a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) from the United Kingdom on 11 November 1965. The United Kingdom deemed this an act of rebellion, but did not re-establish control by force. The white-minority government declared itself a “republic” in 1970. It was not recognised by the UK or any other state. A civil war ensued, with Joshua Nkomo’s ZAPU and Robert Mugabe’s ZANU using assistance from the governments of Zambia and Mozambique.

On 18 April 1980, the country attained recognised independence and along with it a new name, Zimbabwe, new flag, and government led by Robert Mugabe of ZANU. Canaan Banana served as the first president with Mugabe as prime minister. In 1987, the government amended the constitution to provide for an executive president and abolished the office of prime minister. The constitutional changes went into effect on 1 January 1988, establishing Robert Mugabe as president.

Under the leadership of Mugabe, land issues, which the liberation movement promised to solve, re-emerged as the vital issue in the 1990s. Beginning in 2000, Mugabe began an effort to redistribute land from white holders (predominantly large farms) to 250,000 Africans.

And so what superficially seems a just cause is being played out with results that have so far been disastrous for Zimbabweans of all backgrounds, except for a few, and promise no better. Why? Because [former?] Catholic boy Robert Gabriel Mugabe has seen the promised land and doesn’t care what it costs to get there — as long, one might add, as it doesn’t cost him or his cronies. The result is the eyesore of southern Africa, as we all know.

That is, apparently, unless you are an Australian Communist. The little group that carries the name Communist Party of Australia these days, the original CPA having long ago abolished itself, has no doubt at all about the sanctity of St Robert the Born Again Marxist and Hero of the Great Liberation. Don’t believe that this doublethink is not still alive and well in some leftist brains: all you have to do is read the current issue of the Sydney CPA paper: July CPA Guardian (PDF). There you will find an article on the correctness of Mugabe’s ideology and the evil of the running dogs of capitalism and imperialism who are trying to get the Great Zimbabwean Working Class and Peasantry to betray the Noble Cause. Such purblind crap takes me back to the drivel I used to see about the likes of Pol Pot.

I am not downplaying the complexity of the postcolonial condition, or extolling the virtues of capitalism and imperialism, neo- or otherwise, nor am I nostalgic for the piratical Cecil John Rhodes, but the romantic dream of somehow unravelling all the injustice in some glorious revolution had joined the ranks of great illusions of the twentieth century by the end of the 1980s, if not before. It has never worked out quite as the dreamers and revolutionaries might have hoped, has it?

There are also some good articles in that Guardian, I have to say, and I cherish the fact they can publish freely in this country. Such press freedom is in short supply in Zimbabwe.

More promising than that particular Marxist analysis is a book I am just getting into which rethinks the whole scene, and not just relating to Zimbabwe: Conquest: A new history of the modern world by David Day (Harper Collins 2005). As one review quoted on that page says:

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Divine right of Mugabes and other illusions

Well, now we have it. The man is barking mad.

Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe says “only God” can remove him from office, as the opposition MDC considers pulling out of next week’s run-off election amid escalating violence.

“The MDC will never be allowed to rule this country – never ever,” Mr Mugabe told local business people in Bulawayo – Zimbabwe’s second largest city – referring to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

“Only God who appointed me will remove me, not the MDC, not the British.” — ABC News.

I can’t help but reflect on the sad history of good ideas gone wrong.
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Great movie, great ironies: “Cry Freedom” 21 years on

If David Smith is still following this blog, he will recall that Cry Freedom (1987) was one of the items in our Year 10 course way back in 1996. If I remember correctly it supplemented our study of that beautiful novel Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton, bringing aspects of that story up to date. I distinctly recall David modestly and truly saying that he had, as a matter of fact, met Desmond Tutu, and becoming from that point on a ready reference on South African politics for the class. I had of course a few years earlier worked with many South African Jews at Masada College; there is a scene in Cry Freedom where the police arrive in the early hours of the morning to search for “subversive literature”, and one of my colleagues at Masada told me once that she appreciated most about Australia that the police did not do such things here. Some may fear we have moved on a little since 1988 when I was told that…

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Posted by on June 10, 2008 in Africa, dvd, human rights, humanity, inspiration, movies, Postcolonial, racism


Interesting on India, and on left politics generally

I am no expert on her work, in fact I am expert on very little really, but whenever I read something by Martha Nussbaum I am usually impressed.

Martha Nussbaum was born in New York in 1947. Her father was a lawyer, her mother an interior designer. Nussbaum gained a BA from NYU and an MA and PhD from Harvard. Currently professor of law and ethics at the University of Chicago, she is considered one of the world’s foremost philosophers. She is an award-winning author whose many books include The Fragility Of Goodness, Sex And Social Justice and Hiding From Humanity. Earlier this year she published The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence and India’s Future.

What is your guiltiest pleasure?

Reading mysteries when I am supposed to be reading student papers. And answering this questionnaire when I am supposed to be writing letters of recommendation.

To whom would you most like to say sorry, and why?

My teacher and friend, Bernard Williams, for depreciating some of his more anti-Enlightenment writings. Not that I’ve changed my view, but I am sad we were less close in the later years of his life…

Which living person do you most despise, and why?

I don’t waste time despising people. Anger is much more constructive than contempt.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

‘Deep’, ‘fascinating’.

What is the worst job you’ve done?

Acting in a theatre company whose director was having a mental crack-up and kept changing everyone’s parts.

If you could go back in time, where would you go?

I’d like to be a student in Rabindranath Tagore’s school in Santiniketan in around 1915, dancing in the dance-dramas he wrote…

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And how about that Mugabe…?

Oh my God, when will Africa’s most recently unelected “leader” die of old age, retire, disappear, self-destruct, or become the victim of a well-deserved assassination?

ABC reports:

Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe has used the United Nations world food summit in Rome to accuse Britain of fomenting Western efforts to bring on an “illegal regime change” in his country by crippling it economically.

Mr Mugabe’s presence at the summit has been roundly condemned by countries including Australia, Britain and the USA who accuse him of plunging millions of Zimbabweans into hunger.

Zimbabwe’s inflation is 165,000 per cent, unemployment 80 per cent and there are chronic shortages of basic necessities including food and fuel. Some 3.5 million people have fled to escape poverty.

Mr Mugabe used his speech to the summit to defend his policy of seizing land from white farmers, saying 300,000 families had been given land in a program designed to ensure food security.

He accused Britain and other western countries of trying to force him from power with sanctions that had crippled Zimbabwe’s economy.

“In retaliation for the measures we took to empower the black majority, the United Kingdom has mobilised their friends and allies in Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand to impose illegal economic sanctions against Zimbabwe,” he said…

As one ABC commenter says: “Amazing, Mugabe is in control and he is blaming everyone else for what goes wrong. The food grows or does not grow in Zimbabwe subject to what the Zimbabwean Government does, it is out of the control of everyone outside Zimbabwe. Mugabe needs to have his mind de-colonised. Start taking responsibility for HIS actions.”

Meanwhile, check out how this “defender of the poor” lives, in splendour that his colonial predecessors could only have dreamed of!

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Posted by on June 4, 2008 in Africa, current affairs, Postcolonial


The Lion of Zimbabwe

This is the story from May’s South Sydney Herald that I alluded to in the previous entry. It is by Michele Freeman:

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Posted by on May 14, 2008 in Africa, current affairs, human rights, humanity, music, Postcolonial