Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Uncolonised Africa wouldn’t know what it was missing

With David Bullard back at his best, I thought it apt to revisit that infamous article that got him into hot water. It remains a classic, a pin to back of toilet door stuff.

By David Bullard

Suddenly the indigenous population realise what they have been missing all along: someone to blame. At last their prayers have been answered.

Imagine for a moment what life would be like in South Africa if the evil white man hadn’t come to disturb the rustic idyll of the early black settlers.

Ignored by the Portuguese and Dutch, except as a convenient resting point en route to India. Shunned by the British, who had decided that their empire was already large enough and didn’t need to include bits of Africa.

The vast mineral wealth lying undisturbed below the Highveld soil as simple tribesmen graze their cattle blissfully unaware that beneath them lies one of the richest gold seams in the world. But what would they want with gold?

There are no roads because no roads are needed because there are no cars. It’s 2008 and no one has taken the slightest interest in South Africa, apart from a handful of botanists and zoologists who reckon that the country’s flora and fauna rank as one of the largest unspoilt areas in a polluted world.

Because they have never been exposed to the sinful ways of the West, the various tribes of South Africa live healthy and peaceful lives, only occasionally indulging in a bit of ethnic cleansing.

Their children don’t watch television because there is no television to watch. Instead they listen to their grandparents telling stories around a fire. They live in single-storey huts arranged to catch most of the day’s sunshine and their animals are kept nearby.

Nobody has any more animals than his family needs and nobody grows more crops than he requires to feed his family and swap for other crops. Ostentation is unknown because what is the point of trying to impress your fellow citizens when they are not impressible?

The dreaded Internet doesn’t exist in South Africa and cellphone companies have laughed off any hope of interesting the inhabitants in talking expensively into a piece of black plastic. There are no unsightly shopping malls selling expensive goods made by Asian slave workers and consequently there are no newspapers or magazines carrying articles comparing the relative merits of ladies’ handbags.

Whisky, the curse of the white man, isn’t known in this undeveloped land and neither are cigars. The locals brew a sort of beer out of vegetables and drink it out of shallow wooden bowls. Five-litre paint cans have yet to arrive in South Africa.

Every so often a child goes missing from the village, eaten either by a hungry lion or a crocodile. The family mourn for a week or so and then have another child. Life is, on the whole, pretty good but there is something vital missing. Being unaware of the temptations of the outside world, nobody knows what it is. Fire has been discovered and the development of the wheel is coming on nicely but the tribal elders are still aware of some essential happiness ingredient they still need to discover. Praying to the ancestors is no help because they are just as clueless.
Then something happens that will change this undisturbed South Africa forever. Huge metal ships land on the coast and big metal flying birds are sent to explore the sparsely populated hinterland. They are full of men from a place called China and they are looking for coal, metal, oil, platinum, farmland, fresh water and cheap labour and lots of it.

Suddenly the indigenous population realise what they have been missing all along: someone to blame. At last their prayers have been answered.

6 Opinion(s):

Viking said...

And where exactly is the controversial part??

Funny thing is, if this had been written a hundred years ago, it would've been the height of progressive thought, with Europeans enviously admiring the simplicity and purity of the African way of life.

He makes a point too, that's often repeated on this site; namely that the Chinese will make far more ruthless colonisers than their paler cousins were.

Doberman said...

Note the bit that I've highlighted. Bullard got it spot on with that one statement.

Exzanian said...

The only controversial part I can see is "The family mourn for a week or so and then have another child"
But that is just crass insensitivity, certainly not racist. The fact of the matter is that Bullard hit a nerve, an honest-to-goodness, matter-of fact, spot-on-the-head "truth nerve"

Black Coffee said...

The controversial part, I think, is that even if this piece is not racist, it has a racist or at the least an Afro-pessimist tone. Being a historian myself I do not subscribe to the view that they way things turned out HAD to turn out that way. I agree with Xolela Mangcu on essential point that, contrary to Bullard's argument here, there is no reason to believe that Africans would not have developed had they not encountered Europeans.

Viking said...

I disagree BC. There was no incentive or evolutionary need for black Africans to develop. They were 100% adapted to their environment. Without basic literacy, development is almost impossible.
It's one of the great 'what ifs' but when you follow the evolution of, say, European culture, the seeds of industry were sown thousands of years ago and these are completely lacking in Africa.
I don't think the statement "they mourn for a week or so then have another child" is racist. It's a fact of life that life itself has a lower value in cultures where mortality is an everyday occurrence. In hostile environmental conditions, even infant mortality is accepted as a fact of life.

Anonymous said...

@BC - "being a historian myself" - who the fuck are you kidding?? hahahahaha