By Dr Tafataona Mahoso
THE mass media overflow with the effervescence of human rights propaganda, blinding the ordinary African from the persistence of material and economic factors in North-South relations.
In White Supremacy: A Comparative Study in American and South African History, George M. Fredrickson enumerated the points of view from which white settlers looked at natives in both South Africa and North America.
What is instructive is the underlying material/economic interests behind each perspective.
Fredrickson listed five such points of view:
– First in time but least in long-range historical importance was the point of view of those Europeans whose primary interest was trade.
Whether the trade was in furs and skins, as in English North America, or in cattle and ivory (much later, gold), as in South Africa, it was clear that the traders per se had no incentive for dispossessing or enslaving their indigenous partners.
-A second and much more significant perspective was that of the frontier farmers themselves, who invariably wanted access to land still occupied by indigenous peoples and hoped for rapid extinction of native title (to land and cattle) by any means necessary.
-A third point of view was that of the responsible (white) political authorities, whether they represented a chartered company, direct imperial rule, a self-governing colony, or an independent (white) republic.
This authority was interested in stability
– A fourth perspective was that of the mother country, as distinct from the resident political authority.
This mother country already had a long history, an old cultural legacy with its ideology and religion – all of which had much to say about so-called ‘savages’, ‘heathens’ and ‘kaffirs’.
The mother country was also interested in expansion of foreign possessions and in their stability. Colonies created stability at home because they helped to syphon off excess populations from the home country.
– A fifth perspective was that of ‘large-scale entrepreneurs with an interest in land speculation and the control of natural resources for capitalistic accumulation’. In the 19th Century Cecil John Rhodes stood out as the arch-speculator with tremendous influence in the colonies as well as in the metropolitan countries behind slavery, colonialism, apartheid and imperialism.
While the missionary could be viewed as the exception who was interested in welfare and spiritual matters, it would be foolish to overlook the economic, material and political effects of missionary endeavour.
Missionaries needed to highlight the alleged moral, cultural and spiritual deficiencies of native societies in order to justify their own mission and that of the entire white ‘civilisation’.
Missionaries were the fashion and consumption models marketing the invaders’ goods to the ‘savages’.
They created a colonial market for goods from the mother country.
If we take a long-term view of these five inter-locking white points of view, it is easy to see that, on the African continent, the success of African liberation movements had brought the white legacy under enormous pressure by 1960 and all the way to the independence of Namibia (1990) and SA (1994).
This pressure was reflected in P.W. Botha’s 1985 speech as President of white SA.
It is worth quoting Botha because he confirmed two things: The material bases for slavery, colonialism, imperialism and apartheid; as well as the existence of a pan-European acceptance and understanding of white supremacy dating back to slavery.
Botha said: “It is our strong conviction, therefore, that the black is the raw material for the whiteman. So, brothers and sisters, let us join hands together to fight against this black devil… Surely, God cannot forsake his own people (the white race) who we are.
(It) is comforting to know that behind the scenes, Europe, America, Canada, Australia and all others, are behind us in spite of what they say (against apartheid). For diplomatic relations, we all know what language should be used and where. To prove my point, comrades, does anyone of you know a white country without an investment or interest in (apartheid) South Africa?
Who buys our gold? Who buys our diamonds? Who trades with us? Who is helping us develop our nuclear weapon? The very truth is that we are their people and they are our people. It is a big secret. The strength of our (white) economy is backed by America (the US), Britain and Germany.”
The global pressure against statutory white supremacy was what Botha was reacting to by 1985.
The rest of the white world, under US leadership, also felt that pressure, with the US passing their token Anti-Apartheid Act in 1986. The result was that a new post-Cold War doctrine of human rights was needed, to be led by white powers just like the doctrine of anti-slavery in the 1830s and 1840s, when chattel slavery had run its course.
The same people who created the evil had to cleanse themselves by seeming to lead in its condemnation and abolition.
So, in the 1980s and 1990s, a modified doctrine of ‘human rights’ was fashioned and a programme unveiled with the singular aim of salvaging white supremacy and, in the words of Mahmood Mamdani: “Paralysing and disintegrating embryonic revolutionary initiatives…” in the southern African region.
In other words, the Anglo-Saxon world, under the leadership of the US, unveiled a ‘human rights’ plan intended to demobilise the African revolution in its infancy and to save white capital and white settlers while appearing to be advancing a form of ‘human rights’ for everyone; a new form of human rights seemingly far superior to the demands of the African liberation movements themselves.
As Mamdani demonstrated: “Human rights (as redefined by the Anglo-Saxon powers) summed up the new US offensive (against southern Africa) in the new situation (after 1975-1976).”
The Anglo-Saxon strategy was to split the African concept of liberation and revolutionary justice into two apparently opposed clusters of values: Popular power, sovereignty, justice and reparations were to be cut off from ‘human rights, good governance, rule of law, reconciliation, forgiveness and national healing’.
Since then, our people have become victims of this binary thinking.
The first set of values were seen as a weapon pointed at white capital, against imperialism as well as against settlerism and white supremacy.
The second set of values were seen as protecting corporate interests and preserving the white racial and class structure.
In fact, this set (when cut off from popular power, national sovereignty, equality, justice, reparations and empowerment) was bound to rehabilitate apartheid and settlerism.
Not only did it lead to the granting of Nobel Peace Prizes to F.W. De Klerk, Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela on the same platform – but it also led to the false conversion of the former white racist settlers into human rights activists.
This conversion has been so widespread that most Africans are now aware of Jenny Ellis, Peta Thorncroft, Peter Hain, Mike Auret, Georgina Godwin, Gerry Jackson, George Feltoe, Cathy Buckle, Roy Bennett and so many other former white settlers emerging in the 1990s as champions of human rights and press freedom for Africans.
These are the newly recruited frontline troops for white soft power.
In other words, a new myth of human rights and democracy was created in which the Anglo-Saxon oppressors became the teachers once again.
The principle which Professor Magubane has documented in Race and the Construction of the Dispensable Other was explained by Sasha G. Lewis in her book the Slave Trade Today, 1979.
“(Anglo-Saxon racism) rests chained in a back corner of the white… psyche, ready to be unleashed like hounds at the first scent of danger. In periods of economic distress the white man has sniffed the air and smelled danger, and the dogs were let loose for their deadly chores, blinding their masters to all else but the prey and the chase.”
This white awakening happened in southern Africa in the post-UDI, post-apartheid era.
Its current imperial face is Donal Trump, President of the US.
Such moments, throughout the last 500 years, are explained in Race and the Construction of the Dispensable Other.
But is there indeed an established pattern of Anglo-Saxon myth-making and criminal defamation of the African over the last 500 years?
Is there also a discernible method by which the myth, once constructed, is promoted and maintained?
First, let us compare two such myths, one from the 1850s/1860s and another from the 1960s.
In an attempt to bolster Dr Robert Knox’s pseudo-scientific book, The Races of Men (1850), and to set up a false science of race, Dr James Hunt set up an ethnological ladder made up of 13 supposed human races.
The purpose of this pseudo-scientific ladder was to create the necessary ideological scaffolding for the second British Empire after Britain lost its North American colonies.
Dr Hunt claimed he had marshalled scientific evidence to show that there were 13 known human races on earth and that the most superior race, at number one, were the Caucasians.
The Africans were far down at number seven.
But below the Africans there were still six other distinct and inferior races, the ladder accommodating altogether 13 different races!
Professor Magubane’s title to his book arises from the fact that the Anglo-Saxon scientists and propagandists concluded that all the ‘races of men’ populating the earth were disposable and dispensable, except the superior Caucasian race!
According to Professor Magubane, Anglo-Saxon imperialism has not stopped creating such constructions even now.
The labels change, but the purpose is the same – to justify power and material gain in a competitive world in which the white rulers still believe in white supremacy.
The crisis which Knox, Hunt and their age had to cope with was made up of the following developments:
Britain’s loss of its North American colonies which then fought a civil war among themselves over the question of slavery and the identity and fate of the African in the world.
The revolutions of 1848 in continental Europe which were paralleled in England by a massive class struggle in response to the Industrial Revolution.
One form which this struggle took in England was the Chartist Movement.
The publication and popularisation of the Communist Manifesto which advocated class revolution, as well as Reverend Thomas Malthus’s Essay on Population which depicted England as doomed by overpopulation and starvation.
The philosophical and moral assault on chattel slavery and its apparent humanising of the African as well as its apparent indictment of the white society at a time when imperialism needed to move away from reliance on slavery to reliance on colonisation and colonialism which alone could keep up with the demand for raw materials for an expanding manufacturing industry.
Therefore the new ‘science’ of race helped to justify land theft, looting, genocide and brutal exploitation beyond the former slave plantations and beyond the confines of the first British Empire.
To test Professor Magubane’s claim about self-justifying Anglo-Saxon constructions, let us move more than one century from the 1860s to 1961.
In response to the challenges of socialism, communism and the liberation movements of the South, Professor W.W. Rostow published a book called The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto, which, like the constructions of Knox and Hunt, also claimed to be scientific.
On Page X1, Rostow also created a construction in the form of a development ladder ranking 14 nations.
He created three clusters within which the 14 nations were made to fit – the stage of industrial take-off; the stage of industrial maturity; and the stage of high mass consumption.
At the top of the ladder, and leading the whole world, were Britain, the US, France and Germany.
At the bottom of the 14 were India and China.
The whole of Africa had not yet even attempted a take-off.
In Latin America, only Mexico and Argentina had begun to take-off, according to Rostow’s scheme.
The biggest problem with these types of construction and explanation is what the former slave and African freedom fighter in the US, Fredrick Douglas, explained in his speech at Western Reserve College on July 2 1854, where he said:
“The evils most fostered by slavery and oppression are precisely those which slaveholders and oppressors would transfer from their system to the inherent character of their victims.
Thus the very crimes of slavery become slavery’s best defence.
By making the enslaved a character fit only for slavery, they excuse themselves for refusing to make the slave a freeman.”
In the Rostow scheme of 1961, the global effects of slavery, colonialism and neo-colonialism are presumed to be given and natural.
As a result, the potential for China and India to overtake Europe and the US could not even be entertained.
Even more profound is the fact that Rostow used the pseudo-scientific myth to hide the fact that Britain plundered and destroyed indigenous Indian industry and society in order to enable itself to ‘take-off’.
This history is most relevant to Zimbabwe and the problems of the MDC formations, illegal sanctions, human rights and media freedom, for instance.
Few Africans are able to see the selfish material and economic interests behind Western interventions in our affairs in the name of democracy, human rights and gender equality.
Even fewer Africans do bother to study their own revolutionary struggles which were even more radical than what the Western-sponsored ‘rights’ have to offer.