Unfashionable reflections on the coming of the Europeans: An Azanian Critique of white settler colonialism

“Through a vision I saw nations emerging from the ocean. Once as the sea lay calm, throwing off only trembling waves. A strange race emerged from the ocean… He reported to the Assembly: O my lord, the country is infested with bad bugs. We have encountered a race of red ants” (Mazisi Kunene in Emperor Shaka)

“Have you judged correctly these bloodthirsty foreigners? Such people dig deep into a nation’s life. They strip the wealth and power that once was its greatness” (Mazisi Kunene in Emperor Shaka)

 

The persistent celebration of the so-called “miracle” of post-apartheid “South Africa” by some “free South Africans” necessitates from radical quarters, such as the Azanian tradition, the need to intensify our “critique” of this so-called “new” political order and social reality/ “new South Africa”. This short article will proceed based on the fundamental distinction between a “critique” (which effects a “structural rupture” and envisions and creates an alternative to the status quo) and a “criticism” (which merely pursues an inclusion through a reconfiguration of the terms of order of the status quo) on the one hand and a “liberation movement” (which is critique-oriented) and a “civil rights movement” (which is criticism-oriented) on the other.

The fundamental point of departure is that land is the material and epistemological foundation of politics, thus the basic fundament of a political order and social reality. This article is divided into two short sections which discuss the above in detail. We now turn to the first section which discusses how the nomos of white settler colonialism and its later reconfigurations was inaugurated in Azania since 1652. The second section will discuss how Azania, following unjust Conquest in wars of land dispossession and the concomitant violent imposition of the law of the white settlers, was consolidated into “South Africa” which the Azanian “critique” seeks to bring to an end and usher in a Post-conquest/-settler Azania with its “liberated” Azanians as opposed to the current so-called “free South Africans” both black and white a la the Freedom Charter and the preamble of the current constitution. First a brief explanation of the origin of the nomos of white settler colonialism…

 

Azania’s time of trouble: The inauguration of the nomos of white settler colonialism

“Nomos is the measure by which the land in a particular order is divided and situated; it is also the form of the political, social and religious order determined by this process”. The nomos by which a tribe, a retinue or a people settled, i.e. by which it becomes historically situated and turns a part of the earth’s surface into the force-field of a particular order, becomes visible in the appropriation of land and in the founding of a city or a colony” (Carl Schmitt in The Nomos of the Earth)

“How can one man possess land as though it was life itself? Is land not the vast endlessness where man lives?” (Mazisi Kunene in Emperor Shaka)

Land is the material and epistemological foundation of politics, thus the fundament of a given political order and social reality. This fundamental postulation applied in Azania before the “disastrous coming” of the Europeans. The precolonial evolution of Afrikan nationalism in the sense of an evolution from simple societal organisations to complex ones in certain instances was based on land owned by the Indigenous people. Whether a given societal organisation was centralised or decentralised it was, nonetheless, based on the ownership of land and a complementary land tenure system suitable to the needs of the members of this societal organisation. Thus, forms of societal organisation fundamentally depend on land. All Indigenous political orders and social realities were based on land ownership. Whether the Indigenous people were transhumant or sedentary agriculturalists, land was the fundament of their national existence. Land is also tied to their identities, norms and values. Thus, land is not only a material foundation of their political order and social reality, but it is also the epistemological fundament of their normative framework which regulates their social relations.

When the Europeans “arrived” in Azania, they found in existence since time immemorial an Indigenous political order and reality based on land ownership. Conquest since 1652, in the form of land dispossession and epistemicide which inaugurated the nomos of white settler colonialism, meant an attempt at the destruction of the material and epistemic foundation of the existing Indigenous political order and social reality. Conquest since 1652 was based first on the violent dispossession of land and thus the erosion of Indigenous land tenure system, and then the imposition of a new pattern of land ownership and division mainly through the law of the conquering white settlers such as decrees and proclamations – which with shameless arrogance violated Afrikan law; the then supreme law of the land and nation. The violent dispossession of Indigenous land meant that there occurred a forceful re-ordering of the Indigenous political order and the imposition of a new social reality through the attempted re-ordering of the Indigenous normative framework. By the latter I imply an ensemble of norms, values and identities which regulate Indigenous social relations and thus an Indigenous social reality.

From 1652 the Dutch settlers through the Dutch East India Company violently dispossessed Indigenous land and introduced the free-burgher system. The latter was the process through which white settler colonialism was prosecuted by Van Riebeck and his “gang”. We use the latter name deliberately because these where “white criminals” on campaigns of rape and theft euphemistically called “journeys of discovery”. The Dutch East India Company, through its introduction of “white farming” in the Cape, encouraged the settlement of whites who were granted freehold pieces of land and the labour of the enslaved. Thus, the free-burgher system, the free-hold land tenure system and the labour of the enslaved signified a new white settler colonial political order and social reality. This is briefly how the nomos of white settler colonialism was inaugurated and consolidated since 1652.

The “arrival” of the English settlers did not mean a discontinuity of the inauguration and consolidation of this nomos of white settler colonialism but rather its expansion and sophistication. Their so-called “domination” of the Dutch settlers which “triggered” the so-called “great trek” that entailed the murdering of the resisting Indigenous people in the interior led to the creation of Boer republics, thus white settler colonial political order and social reality were extended into the interior of Azania. When the Indigenous people were fighting in the so-called “frontier wars” they were not only defending their land from violent dispossession, but they were also, most importantly, defending their Indigenous political order and social reality of which they were gradually and painfully losing control. They knew very well that their land is the material basis of the way of life. The centralisation of social organisation (especially during the Mfecane) was an attempt on their part to defend and sustain their Indigenous political order and social reality from being replaced by white settler colonial political order and social reality which was already violently implanted at the Cape and now being extended into the interior. Thus, the emergence of the “irreconcilable antagonism” between white settler colonial political order and social reality and the Indigenous conquered people’s political order and social reality, which has always been the fundamental problem to this day and the fundamental pivot of any liberation-oriented analysis such as ours.

The fundamental point of a liberation movement is to resolve this “irreconcilable antagonism” by subverting white settler colonial political order and social reality and thus restoring the autonomy and evolution of the Indigenous conquered people’s political order and social reality which were “disrupted” by Conquest since 1652. A civil rights movement on the other hand pursues inclusion into the white settler colonial political order and social reality through a “negotiated” change of the terms of order. For a civil rights movement, European law, equality and freedom as the terms of order of white settler colonialism should be extended to the Indigenous conquered people. Because, white settler colonial political order and social reality are characterised by a European/liberal “civil society”, a “civil rights” movement led by “civilised natives” pursues inclusion into this civil society. These “civilised natives” are naively duped by the ideology of universal and abstract individual citizen of liberalism and its constitutionalism which are constitutively inflected with European racism and cultural imperialism.

A liberation movement pursues a “critique” of an existing political order and social reality. Thus, the Azanian liberation movement seeks to negate white settler colonial political order and social reality. The “critique” by the liberation movement is based on what Ifi Amadiume, in Re-inventing Africa, calls “historical depth”. Based on the latter, the Azanian liberation movement is characterised by a “radical historiographical imagination”. This is because its political praxis is not fixated on a manifestation/form of the nomos of white settler colonialism such as apartheid but on white settler colonialism itself, which began in 1652 with unjust Conquest. Because of its “radical historiographical imagination”, the Azanian liberation movement understands that there is a distinction between the Indigenous conquered people’s political order and social reality, which are based on Indigenous land and normative framework since time immemorial, and white settler colonial political order and social reality, which are immoral not to mention parasitic as they are founded on an unjustly dispossessed land. Thus, based on the above, the Azanian liberation movement pursues a Post-conquest/-settler Azania rather than a post-apartheid “new” South Africa. This is because if apartheid is just a form of the nomos of white settler colonialism then one can transcend the former without negating the latter. Thus post-apartheid “new” South Africa is compatible with the nomos of white settler colonialism – it is just a change of form and a retention of substance.

 

The nomos of white settler colonialism was founded on land dispossession and the imposition of the law of the white settlers. Thus, it can only be negated through the restoration of sovereign title to territory and epistemic autonomy/sovereignty. In the current post-apartheid “new” South Africa, white settlers still own the land (which they should not own in the first place, it does not matter the percentage, as they have no “right” to be in Azania) and are protected by a constitution which is based on their laws, norms, values, culture and philosophy with misleadingly dangerous universal pretensions (which defends, through a European private property rights regime, their unjustly acquired title to territory of the Azanians and thus justifies their historically unethical presence in Azania that is based on unjust Conquest since 1652). Thus, the Azanian liberation movement rejects this constitution in its entirety and pursues the restoration of sovereign title to territory and epistemological autonomy through politics outside of the terms and parameters of the current constitution. The restoration of the entire Indigenous territory will mean the concomitant restoration of the material basis for the Indigenous people’s political order and social reality premised on Ubuntu/Isintu/Botho/Setso as an Indigenous normative framework, literally without both whites and Indians as they are “non-Indigenous” (after all, Indians/“amaindia” were brought to Azania by whites/abelungu/makgowa, following the latter’s “disastrous coming” to Izwe Lethu).

Only a civil rights movement like the ANC can pursue, without a contradiction in terms, a post-apartheid “new” South Africa. A civil rights movement just like its radical counterpart, the liberation movement, has its own “historiographical imagination”. A civil rights movement is characterised by a “liberal historiographical imagination”. In terms of this imagination, history and politics “proper” begin with the arrival of white settler colonialism with European institutions, laws, culture, values and norms. European/white settler colonial education and christianisation are the sources of this “culturally mis-oriented” imagination to quote Kobi Kambon in The Afrikan Personality. This imagination is hopelessly locked inside the white settler cultural room; thus it cannot “return to the source” and “the moment before the master” but can merely, in confusion, “look through the keyhole” to quote Chabanyi Manganyi in Looking Through the Keyhole. Based on the above, a civil rights movement cannot “critique” the white settler colonial political order and social reality but can only “criticise” it. Only a “radical historiographical imagination”, which can return to the source and “critically” engage with and draw from its heritage, can embark on a “productive ontological invention” of a political order and social reality other than the white settler colonial one it is “critiquing”.

The dispossession of Azania as land resulted in the erosion of the material basis of Azania as an Indigenous political order and social reality as “creatively imagined” by the Indigenous conquered people since time immemorial. Instead of “one Azania and one nation” in terms of Afrikan nationalism, which was enjoying pre-conquest autonomous evolution, white settler colonialism introduced native reserves/Bantustans and “white South Africa” and fragmented the Afrikan people for the purposes of racial control and domination. The architects of “white South Africa” (such as Lord Milner, Cecil Rhodes and Jan Smuts as demonstrated by Makhosezwe Magubane in The Making of a Racist State) were clear about their intention, namely, South Africa is a white man’s land/country. Thus, both under the British settler regime and the Dutch settler regime South Africa was a white man’s land/country. The natives/bantu were only admitted when they minister to white settlers’ needs, while unenviably categorised “as a child-race of boys and girls no matter their age”. The material and historical foundations of the “liberal historiographical imagination” of the civil rights movement are land dispossession and the resultant land division. In the following section we discuss the origin of South Africa and the “liberal historiographical imagination” of the civil rights movement.

 

The consolidation of the nomos of white settler colonialism through and in South Africa

“But with all these various images, for our legal-historical context we must take heed that the word (nomos) not lose its connection to a historical process—to a constitutive act of spatial ordering” (Carl Schmitt in The Nomos of the Earth, my italics)

“……an original, constitutive act of spatial ordering. This original act of nomos. All subsequent developments are either results of or expansions on this act….” (Carl Schmitt in The Nomos of the Earth, my italics)

Although “South Africa” traces its origin to a Boer Republic as a Dutch version of white settler colonial political order and social reality, we will in this section rely on its emergence in 1910 with the Union Act. We must also bear in mind that white settler colonialism preceded “South Africa” by at least two centuries; the latter is a reconfiguration and manifestation of the former in 1910, just as the former would again, a few decades later, reconfigure and manifest itself in 1948 and in 1996. This process of systemic and systematic reconfiguration and manifestation is a mode in which white settler colonialism preserves itself in the constant face of Indigenous conquered people’s unstopping efforts to destroy it. Put elegantly, white settler colonialism is a system of white domination with consecutive iterations (a series of changes/transformations) over time.

“South Africa”, both as a name and political order and social reality, was invented in 1910 after white tribal wars between white settlers and their “white tribal reconciliation” in 1903. Before 1910, white settler colonial political order and social reality were relatively fragmented. Following a long and violent process of land dispossession since 1652 due to the protracted wars of national liberation on the part of the Indigenous conquered people (which have been the source of inspiration for both the Azanian “critique” and liberation movement), Azania was divided into two British colonies and two Boer republics. After the 1903 “white tribal reconciliation” in the name and interest of white settler nationalism, there was a legislative consolidation of the two colonies and republics into the Union of “South Africa”. The Union Act as the constitution of “South Africa” was clear about its exclusion of the natives.

White settler colonial land dispossession resulted in the creation of native reserves on the one hand and “white South Africa” on the other. They were called Native reserves by the British settlers initially through the Glen Grey Act of 1894 and then during apartheid they were called Bantustans through, among other Acts, the Bantu Authorities Act of 1951. This is how Azania was dispossessed as land and divided by white settlers, thus consolidating a white settler colonial political order and social reality premised on the “structural relation” (a relation of asymmetrical power) between the white settlers as conquerors and the Indigenous conquered people who were called natives/kaffirs/bantu, etc. This land division which resulted in the emergence of “South Africa” and the native reserves/Bantustans was a mere later reconfiguration of the so-called “frontier wars” from the time of the Dutch East India Company’s land division in favour of the free-burghers/Dutch settlers, British system of land annexations and to the so-called “great trek” into the interior of Azania and the Berlin conference (which resulted in the division of Azania into among other things the so-called “protectorates” and the European spheres of influence doctrine which disguised European aggression as benevolent trusteeship).

It is important to note that “South Africa” as a social formation/political order is a material and epistemological manifestation of this nomos of white settler colonialism (the material reality of exploitation and oppression and the racist name based on structural domination that is based on race, by the white settlers over the Indigenous conquered people). In other words, there is no “South Africa” prior to the inauguration through Conquest of the nomos of white settler colonialism. This is the reason why the Azanian critique which informs this paper envisions the transcendence of “South Africa”. “South Africa” is here not understood merely as a geographical name, but as a white settler colonial political order and social reality introduced through Conquest since the “catastrophic moment” of 1652.

The transcendence of the nomos of white settler colonialism means the demise of “South Africa” as we know it (with its current misleading “terms of order” such as “post-apartheid”, “rainbow nation” and “nonracialism”). This means that liberation in “South Africa” is an absurd contradiction in terms, what is sensible is liberation from “South Africa” into Azania (a transcendence of one political order and social reality into another one and just to add an important rider, namely, the fact that, based on our “critique”, the ANC is not a “liberation movement”). A liberation movement understands that ownership of land (sovereign tittle to territory) is the foundation of politics in the sense of “the fundament of power”, the control of resources and the basis of a form of social relations, thus a political order and social reality.

A civil rights movement, which is what the ANC is, confuses “the foundation of politics” with “institutions of politics” (which merely facilitate politics rather than serve as its foundation) such as parliament and political parties. This explains why whites (who own the land and other resources on the land) who are a minority in parliament and without a governing/ruling party are still in power in its true sense as opposed to the black elite’s positions of mere authority and influence within the white settler colonial political order and social reality (the ANC only succeeded in the pursuit of inclusion into these “institutions of politics” of a white settler colonial political order and social reality without introducing a “structural rupture” with the “horrible date” of 1652, thus merely refined “indirect rule”). “South Africa” encapsulates land dispossession and the renaming of the dispossessed land in the image and interest of the dispossessor.

Thus Azania here is not just a name but a new political order and social reality beyond Conquest and thus the nomos of white settler colonialism. (Azania signifies liberation from white settler colonialism which began in 1652 and not the 1948 apartheid regime which even had “white enemies”/“friends of the natives” of whom Steve Biko in I Write what I like warned the Azanians, and this is because 1948 was a reconfiguration of 1652). Put simply, Azania means a “structural rupture” with 1652 and not a “struggle” against apartheid “South Africa”. “South Africa” as a white settler colonial name is just one of “the terms of order”, of the nomos of white settler colonialism, to use Cedric Robinson’s terminology in The Terms of Order.

The ANC as a civil rights movement based on a “liberal historiographical imagination” merely “criticised” the apartheid regime for its exclusion of the Indigenous conquered people and the violation of their so-called “human rights” (this is ridiculous because at the very foundation of the racism of white settler colonialism is the categorisation of the Indigenous conquered people as not human and the complementary treatment by white settlers; not that we care much about this racist categorisation but mainly the power to translate it into a material reality as white settlers have been doing since 1652). The ANC’s “criticism” in this regard was based on the acceptance of the terms of order of white settler colonialism and frustration with the reality of exclusion from these terms by the apartheid regime. European democracy, law, freedom and equality are some of the terms of order of white settler colonialism in its liberal guise which claimed to be universal thus seduced the ANC to pursue their extension to “everyone” in “South Africa”.
Thus, the ANC ‘s “criticism” was that the fundamental problem was not white settler colonialism itself but the refusal to extend to “everyone” in “South Africa” the terms of order of white settler colonialism. As a civil rights movement, the ANC only wanted to “negotiate” a change in how white settler colonial liberalism manifested/failed-to-manifest itself in “South Africa” under the apartheid regime. Thus the ANC “negotiated” a change of “apartheid” “South Africa” and ushered in a “new” “South Africa” (a change of one form of white settler colonialism to another as opposed to the destruction/negation of white settler colonialism itself). This is what happens when you “trans-form” rather than “de-colonize” in the sense of restoring, through politics as opposed to “rights-discourse” (for example, constitutional guidelines/principles and human rights ideology), sovereign title to territory and epistemic sovereignty/autonomy. Through a “bill of rights” suggested by the ANC (which is a long-standing tradition of the ANC given the dominance of “liberal historiographical imagination”), the terms of order of white settler colonial liberalism were this time after its “in/famous” “international campaign of criticism” extended to “everyone” in a “new” “South Africa”.

A liberal framework cannot and will never negate white settler colonialism as it is one of its constitutive pillars; for example, the so-called Cape liberalism/liberal tradition (whose inherent racism was exposed by Eddie Maloka in Friends of the Natives) was compatible with British settler colonialism and imperialism. Nozipho Majeke, in The role of Missionaries in Conquest, demonstrates very well that the so-called “friends of the natives” facilitated Conquest and white settler colonialism. In its current form this liberal constitutional framework, through European abstractions and universalism, only serves to conceal white settler colonialism and therefore only re-inscribes it.

Because the ANC’s “international campaign of criticism” was just a “criticism” and not a “critique” it led to the inclusion of the formerly excluded natives/bantu into the “new” “South Africa”. Post-apartheid “South Africa” now comprises of “black South Africans and white South Africans”. Historically speaking, “white South African” is a racist redundancy because “South Africa” was always a white settler colonial name and political order and social reality by whites and for whites. “Black South Africans” on the other hand are a ridiculous contradiction in terms since they are named after a white settler colonial political order and social reality based on the dispossession of their land and the concomitant racial domination and economic exploitation at the hands of whites and Indians.

They are blacks (who are misled by white/abstract citizenship rights without a material foundation and reality) who, unlike “white South Africans” who own that which they are named after, don’t own “South Africa”, but are merely its “newly” included citizens thanks to the ANC’s “successful criticism” of apartheid. What these so-called “free” black “South Africans” need is a Post-conquest/-settler Azania (in the sense of the land of the blacks – Indians/ “amaindia” and whites/abelungu/makgowa are excluded literally) beyond and without “South Africa and white South Africans”. In other words, a liberated Azania as opposed to the so-called “new South Africa” of the so-called “free South Africans” – a racist homogenous liberal fiction. Adjectives such as “new”, “post-apartheid”, “constitutional” and “democratic” don’t negate “South Africa” as a white settler colonial political order and social reality based on unjust Conquest since 1652, but merely reinforce/re-inscribe it through obfuscation (confusing concealment). To be black and to seek liberation in “South Africa” is to be frightfully delusional, a testament to what Bobby Wright called “mentacide”.

“But anyone who accepts the full intellectual task of social science cannot merely assume the structure of any society. In fact, it is his job to make that structure explicit and to study it as a whole” (Makhosezwe Magubane in African Sociology, Towards a Critical Perspective, my italics)

“How can he be considered great, since he has been a philosopher for so long and has never yet disturbed anybody? (Nietzsche in Untimely Meditations, italics original)

 

By Masilo Lepuru

 

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