We must understand coloniality if we are to dismantle it

The 1994 vote was not decolonisation. There is still a need to physically decolonise the country and decentre whiteness as the only legitimate form of civilisation. Otherwise we will continue to scoff at brilliant young black minds who remind us of the need to decolonise not just our education but our country. This is why student movements like Rhodes Must Fall (RMF) and Fees Must Fall are increasingly important in South Africa.

Universities are strongholds of colonial means of knowledge production and capitalist imperialism, and are full of colonial symbolism. RMF centered its early protests around the presence of a statue of coloniser Cecil John Rhodes at the heart of the University of Cape Town, forcing South Africa to face the psychological violence of colonial symbolism. It translated an alienating academic concept like decolonisation to the public and used it as a tool of resistance.

The movement challenged the public to think deeply about the legacy of colonialism, apartheid and the fallacy of the rainbow nation. By insisting on centralising Black pain as a legitimate cause for resistance, it challenged notions of social cohesion and deconstructed coloniality and the violence of structural racism. In fact, what the students often refer to as decolonisation is actually decoloniality.

Maldanado Torres, a scholar of decolonial theory, describes decolonisation as the withdrawal of direct colonialism from the colonies. Decoloniality meanwhile refers to the undoing of colonial patterns of power that defined “culture, labour, intersubjectivity relations and knowledge production beyond strict limits of colonial administrations”.

For Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni, coloniality is a “racially hierarchised, imperialistic, colonialistic, Christian-centric, heteronormative, patriarchal, violent and modern world order”. It is the historical subjugation that resulted from the slave trade, imperialism, colonialism, apartheid, neo-colonialism, neo-liberalism and globalisation.

The call for decolonisation, and for decoloniality, comes from the need to extricate the global South from historical subjugation under white capitalist imperialism.

Colonisation, and by extension coloniality, are imperialist models that centre whiteness while simultaneously dehumanising people of colour. Post-colonial theorist Frantz Fanon argued that colonialism not only dehumanises but also reaches back to the subject’s past to distort, disfigure and destroy it.

For example, the root of anthropology as an academic discipline was to study people of colour and create meaning of our social relations based on prejudices (i.e, that we were barbaric and uncivilised). In a sense, most histories about African people are highly unreliable. They were written to prove racist notions of black inferiority, aid imperialists or justify colonial brutality.

Not only did colonialism destroy our past, it disconnects us from the legacy of colonisation and blinds us to the ways that centring whiteness is violent to the black psyche.

“Perhaps we haven’t sufficiently demonstrated that colonialism is not satisfied merely with holding a people in its grip and emptying the native’s brain of all form and content. By a kind of perverted logic, it turns to the past of the oppressed people, and distorts, disfigures, and destroys it. This work of devaluing pre-colonial history takes on a dialectical significance today.”
― Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth

Today, most of what we consider to be knowledge and “civilised” comes from historical systems of white domination. Feminist theorist bell hooks argues that because of these historical systems, most of our models of relationships are premised on this domination model.

Still, most South Africans are unaware of how the violence and trauma of colonisation, apartheid and coloniality still affect us. If we have no historical understanding of why we are in this rut as black people – that is, because of white supremacy – then we will not see the need to destroy white supremacy. Like neo-liberal capitalism, white supremacy and coloniality set themselves as the norm and the epitome of civilisation.

Just as capitalism locates itself as the only viable economic model (despite markets failing and crashing repeatedly), white supremacy forces us to rely on its racist logic to make sense of our humanity. So we believe we are poor because we are lazy rather than because we were and are still relegated to slave labour.

When we have no historical understanding of colonial brutality and systematic racism, we cannot mobilise against it. If our point of reference is whiteness as the height of civilisation then we will always fall short.

White supremacy is dependent on domination, racism and the erasure of black people. To destabilise whiteness as the norm, it is imperative that we deconstruct our reality as a result of colonisation and coloniality.

Featured image by Ashraf Hendricks

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7 Comments

  1. Anton van der Merwe says

    I find this article very disturbing. Beneath all the jargon there is a demonization of whites and western culture, and a clear implication that they should be eliminated from South Africa. This is dangerous sentiment of the sort that precedes racially based violence and murder. There is also considerably hypocrisy. Is the author aware of the fact that the bantu speaking people who have ruled South Africa for the past 23 years are themselves migrants who colonised Southern Africa before the Europeans? How would she feel if the cultures that were displaced by the Bantu speaking people voiced the same opinions as she sprouts about how Bantu culture was toxic and needs to be excluded in order for them to survive. One aspect of this oppressive western culture is tolerance of diversity is sexual identity and orientation, not a notable feature of current black culture. How does she feel about this particular import of western culture?

    1. Pongo says

      Everyday we demonise rapists, murders and other criminals because they harm individuals and in turn harm societies. Whiteness as a concept of systematic and institutional oppression does exactly the same thing, and deserves to be demonised as a tool of changing it until it is reformed. Today’s whites, and western culture, must continuously be derided, confronted and rejected because they (and it) still seeks to dehumanize people who are not white as a matter of its operational design. The threat or fear the comment writer above is feeling regarding “implications of elimination [of whiteness]” is a reaction to imminent loss of privilege for his people. It is also a stark reminder of insistent white denial of the devastation caused by them with a ridiculous justification of why western culture should remain at status quo despite its dangers.

      The statement on so called “Bantu colonization” is laughable. How is it possible for the Bantus, as pastoral settlers, to have colonized the Nomadic Natural People of Southern Africa who, as hunter-gatherers, did not organize themselves along ideas of ownership of property, including land, in any sense. It is not. Worse still, how could it possibly be said that the Bantu Migration is akin to white colonialism when the effects are no where near similar i.e displacement, slavery, slave labour, destruction and denial of cultural knowledge, exclusion from access to upward mobility and such.

      Tolerance of sexual diversity and tolerance of oppressive constructs are two completely different things. How on earth can you say that yes western culture is oppressive but it brought us this and therefore we should continue to accept all of it, including the parts which degrade Human lives? No, Helen, no.

      1. Bob says

        ” The threat or fear the comment writer above is feeling regarding “implications of elimination [of whiteness]” is a reaction to imminent loss of privilege for his people. ”

        I cant speak for the author of the comment but I think you miss his point by a country mile, those of us born with a melanin deficiency are not afraid of losing privilege – we’re afraid of being physically attacked by angry mobs who have no inkling that the term “whiteness” doesn’t mean “all white people” when it is used by scholars. Using sophisticated terminology in populist rhetoric is a very dangerous game and I personally think that a lot of fallists and EFF leaders are fully aware of this fact and continue to use the term regardless.
        When an 18 year AIDS orphan with a bad Nyaope habit decides whilst performing an armed robbery whether or not to pull the trigger on another human being I promise you that the fine nuances in meaning of terminology like “whiteness” is the furthest thing from their minds.

  2. Battousai says

    Why not start with your cellphones, computers & cars when dismantlement colonialism? or does that go against your hypocritical stand?

    1. Pongo says

      You are under the assumption that these technological advances would not have arrived in Africa through trade and industrialization, as they have in every other part of the world. And yet even if I were to take your misguidance as true, what is oppressive about cellphone, computers and cars as relates to western culture and whiteness?

  3. Grow up says

    You offer 3 brief quotes, from thought leaders in the field, but have offered very little critique or even real discussions of their work. That is why you are still a Masters candidate and not a graduate. Now get back to your studies where you hopefully understand that your beliefs are fundamentally flawed as you still believe in the them and us ideologues. So while you fight the White man, the rich steal everything! Finally, I have noticed that your writing are predominately in English and yet you complain about Colonisation, that just makes you a hypocrite!

    1. Thabo says

      Why should an author of work written in this form and medium be necessitated to critique the tools with which she is proving her arguments when those tools have already been proven by their creators and confirmed in subsequent analysis? Again, whiteness tries to pacify Black People.

      What about English is oppressive, especially when it is being used for decoloniality? So basically whiteness enforces its structure by making sure that anyone who is not expressive in English won’t succeed at white institutions, where thought production is predominantly white, but now that same whiteness demands that for any critique or deconstruction of it not be in English for it to be valid. What is this witchcraft you all are trying? Lol, your time is up though.

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