Columns 16.3.2017 12:21 pm

Helen Zille, black people have nothing to thank Europeans for

An informal settlement. Picture: Michel Bega.

An informal settlement. Picture: Michel Bega.

The insinuation that black people should look at all these roads (that many don’t have cars to drive on) and computers (many can’t afford) with childlike wonder is insulting.

Let’s get this out of the way: Black people have nothing to thank Europeans for. Not even, as Helen Zille listed them on Twitter this morning, an independent judiciary, transport infrastructure, Wi-Fi, piped water, specialised healthcare and aeroplanes, et cetera.

The assumptions the former DA leader makes in her tweets are tragic: that African people did not have societies with their own complex indigenous knowledge systems (IKS) that more than make up for the complex machinery we “lacked”.

Western infrastructure and technological advancements do not have an inherent value to humanity, nor are they in and of themselves negative. They just are. Their value comes from what we get out of them – sometimes good things, other times bad.

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Helen Zille apologises for justifying colonialism

Before Europeans arrived with their shiny toys and majestic structures that glide on the surface of the water, Africans did not just sit around and think: “Hmmm, our already very complex kinship structures, religious beliefs and hunting strategies are sorely lacking something – what could that be? Could it be the blue-eyed man and his Wi-Fi? It must be. Being made to feel inferior on my own land surely must be the price to pay for this plane I’m about to get on.”

Oh, and as one Twitter user pointed out:

So yes, the people who came bearing these awesome gifts still maintain a system that disproportionately benefits them anyway. What is there to be thankful for when it was not meant for African people to begin with?

If Zille is trying to find something to validate why she is on this continent, a continued stay whose legacy is stained by the injustices of colonialism (and the erasure of IKS for the sake of piped water), then she has some serious soul-searching to do.

Bringing up the joys of Western technology just doesn’t cut it. The callousness of this way of thinking cannot be emphasised enough.

Zille’s argument implies that black people cannot innovate on their own, which is a massive oversight for someone who insists she is not racist.

The question now is not whether black people would still be living in huts and running around in skins were it not for white people, but rather, would we have found the necessity to do away with those modest inventions in the absence of environmental incentives?

Tsholofelo Wesi

Tsholofelo Wesi

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