Letter: Race rather than facts dominates SA debate

The debate around colonialism has drawn interesting comments, not necessarily for the comments themselves, but for the implied assumptions.

To quote two columnists, “colonialists came to exploit, control and dominate other people and their lands” (Ian von Memerty) and “their core intention was not development but for plundering and looting” (E Maloka).

These quotes are immediately interpreted in terms of race, since by implication colonialists are assumed to be white. There are problems with such broad, unqualified statements, since they categorise people.

By implication all colonialists (whites) therefore came out to South Africa with the sole intention to exploit, control, dominate, plunder and loot.

Such thinking is symptomatic of the apartheid mentality, where personal characteristics are supposedly determined by skin colour.

People are individuals, not bound by superficial attributes such as skin or hair colour or even cultural background.

The case of Eva Krotoa is a good example. A Khoikoi, she was adopted into the household of Jan van Riebeeck as a young girl, taking on the culture of the new settlers and eventually marrying a Danish surgeon. Look at the Freedom Charter. The final document was drawn up by ANC leaders including Z K Mathews, Lionel Bernstein, Ethel Drus, Ruth First and Alan and Beata Lipman.

The race of these people was irrelevant, because it was what they thought that was important.

The struggle against apartheid would also not have succeeded without the support from overseas groups such as the anti-apartheid movement, and the prohibitions against sports teams and South African officials.

While governments as such took time to mobilise, it was the individuals of all races who pressurised them.

There was also substantial opposition in the white electorate in South Africa, led by Helen Suzman.

Then to imply all people who came from Europe to South Africa were only here to plunder ignores the facts. European missionaries had a calling to convert people to Christianity, and succeeded to such an extent that it is now the most popular religion in South Africa.

The missionaries also established schools which taught recent leaders such as Thabo Mbeki, Steve Biko and Albert Luthuli. They did this despite fierce opposition from the then Afrikaner nationalists. There are other consequences. Settlers introduced sports such as soccer, rugby and cricket.

Unfortunately at present in South Africa the political debate is more concerned with race than with facts, with political parties exploiting every opportunity to emphasise racial differences instead of unifying individuals of all races for the national good.

Nonetheless, it does actually seem that most individuals do think for themselves, and the Institute of Race Relations has found that only 20% of South Africans believe that race relations have become worse since 1994.

So perhaps the future of South Africa lies with its people, and particularly the youth, and not with bigoted political commentators.

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