How Africans were conned
15 June 2010
RECENT eulogising and celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Union of South Africa reflects an incurable pathological colonial mentality of many African leaders who ought to know better. The Union of South Africa is a classical example of the mutilation of African history and manipulation of international law by Britain and its colonial settlers.
Celebrating the Union of South Africa is like dancing on the graves of African ancestors. They braved the bullets of imperialist forces in defence of their country against colonial aggression. The union of four British colonies was constituted by the Union of South Africa Act on September 20 1909. The first movement toward this union came from the Orange River Colony.
In 1885 the settlers there sent a document to Sir George Grey, a Cape Colony governor. Among other things, they wanted the Orange River Colony allied with the Cape Colony and “the prestige of national federation which would prevent lamentable strives with the native races”. Grey referred this memorandum to the British Secretary of State for Colonies. In the memorandum, Grey warned that the natives were restless and that the only way for the settlers to maintain “peace” would be to unite.
Why were the four British colonies formed into a Union of South Africa? Many settlers recognised that the colour question in all the colonies had to be dealt with, not piecemeal by separate governments, but as one complex whole.The Cape Colony had one native policy: Natal, an entirely different one, the Transvaal, a third and the Orange River Colony a fourth. Different remedies were being applied to the same disease. Apart from this there was always the danger of a native uprising.
The white population, if united under one government, would be strong enough to deal with that kind of danger. But under four governments, not one of them was safe.
Historians Fowler and Smith have corroborated the purpose of uniting the four colonies. They wrote: “Peace in South Africa depended to a large extent on a sound relationship between the colonies … and the native tribes. “Unified control of native tribes in South Africa through some form of federation would minimise the danger of costly native wars.” African leaders such as Tengo Jabavu, together with African political organisations in the Cape Colony, Transvaal and Orange Free State, opposed the Union of South Africa . They all sent their petitions to King Edward VII of England.
The Anti-Slavery Society in Britain also opposed the union of the British colonies.In 1909 there were more than five million Africans in South Africa, but the union of the colonies was meant to benefit 349834 colonial settlers. The indigenous African majority was ignored and remained helpless spectators as their tragedy was unfolding before them. Yet today, one hundred years after this tragedy, there are some African leaders who are celebrating and eulogising the economic slavery, social degradation and land dispossession of African people that stem directly from the Union of South Africa. After consolidating their imperialist grip, the colonialists treated the African country as terra nullius and res nullius – literally empty land belonging to nobody.
Britain smuggled this union of colonies into the League of Nations in 1919. In 1931 it granted it so-called “dominion status”, a term that does not exist in international law. It got the Union of South Africa to the United Nations in 1945 and paraded it as a “sovereign independent state”. This act of Britain was a desperate colonial attempt to transfer an African country to colonial settlers. This was in violation of the principle of the old law of nations that “natural reason concedes ownership to the first occupier”.
Furthermore it is an established fact of international law that if a state transfers a territory, the legality of the transfer depends on the title it holds. If it is defective, the title of the state to which it is being transferred or ceded will be vitiated by the defect. South Africa was kicked out of the UN through lobbying and campaigning by the Pan Africanist Congress .
As Tom Lodge put it: “In November 1974 the PAC lobbyists succeeded in obtaining the expulsion of South Africa from the United Nations and in July 1975 the OAU Kampala meeting adopted as official policy a long document prepared by the PAC arguing for the illegality of South Africa’s status.”
Peace and reconciliation have lost their meaning in South Africa. They now mean appeasement, justice and pandering to the arrogance of Eurocentric forces. This country must not live a lie that lulls it into a false sense of security. Only truth and justice, and not tricks and hypocrisy can liberate this country. Africans must stop celebrating colonial history. They must stop dancing on the graves of their ancestors.
The time has come for the dispossessed victims of the Union of South Africa, as Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe put it, “to remember the men and women who begot us, to remind ourselves of where we come from and to restate our goals … to draw inspiration from the heroes of Thaba Bosiu, Isandlwana, Sandile’s Kop, Keiskammahoek and numerous battlefields where our forefathers fell before the bullets of the invader. We must commence the tremendous task of rebuilding the broken walls of Africa”.
•Dr Pheko is an author and former MP and PAC president