Why the British are the other Villains in the History of South Africa

Cecil Rhodes

In the luxury beach clubs and restaurants of Cape Town and Johannesburg, a bizarre form of middle class segregation endures. But it is not about race.

Staying within their circles of ethnicity and language, white South Africans, those who claim descendant from European settlers, bear a subtle animosity towards each other. It’s a saga that in the true South African way of things remains defined by land, war and the ‘crimes’ of the past.

This feeling isn’t just felt in white South Africa’s privileged circles. The sense of difference between white folks of Dutch speaking origin, also known as Afrikaners, and those of British ancestry is a national pastime hiding in plain sight. And although many now socialise with each other and claim a stake in a modern and multicultural South Africa, some wrongdoings have neither been forgotten nor forgiven.

If we can say anything about South Africa’s history, we can say it is  multi-layered, deeply complicated- and marred by pain. Many different people have claimed ownership of its land over the centuries. From its indigenous inhabitants such as the Khoisan, Zulu and the Xhosa, to Early Modern Dutch settlers, and later the British Empire; the conflicts of different races and ethnicities weave through the fabric of South Africa, making it a centuries old battleground for both black and white tribes.

After the end of the apartheid regime in South Africa we saw the rise of a more authentic African nation. Following increasingly fair representation in government under the leadership of the African National Congress, we saw black majority society rightly become enfranchised in all walks of social and economic life. But if only apartheid’s end marked the final demise of South Africa’s sad legacy of discrimination and difference.

Whilst white South Africa has in part apologised for the institutional evil of apartheid, the British element has not done the same for the crimes it enacted against the white Afrikaners.

Although the macabre history of white supremacy in South Africa should continue to inform school and university curriculums, we should also acknowledge and resolve the outstanding injustices enacted against the Afrikaner people by the British. Because if we do, we may help extinguish South Africa’s cultural penchant for social hatred and partition once and for all.

The descendants of Dutch speaking settlers arrived in the Cape for its trading opportunities from the seventeenth century. But the region’s economic and agricultural riches soon attracted families as well as merchants. The diseases they imported and the chattel slavery they imposed wiped out nearly 90% of the indigenous Khoisan population. But they were to get a taste of their own medicine when another European power, the British arrived, and monopolised their trade resources.

Forcing the Boers to seek independence in the rural heartlands of the country, many perished from sickness and through wars with African tribes on a journey that would go down in Afrikaner memory as the “Great Trek”.

The tensions between the two new “tribes” of South Africa eventually culminated in the South African wars by the late nineteenth century where up to 100,000 British, Afrikaner and Black South-Africans died. The military might of the British Empire eventually won them the war and thereafter the nation was named ‘The Union of South Africa.’

An even more disturbing result of these wars was the creation of concentration camps by the British. Built to house the women and children of Boer servicemen who surrendered to the empire; over 4,000 women and 22,000 children starved to death in conditions that were not unlike Hitler’s ‘final solution’ that would stain the memories of European society under fifty years later.

These facts are still not publically recognised by the British state in educational centres, nor has any significant public apology been made for the events that took place.

We all know the Dutch settlers did some terrible things in South Africa, things that would have centuries long repercussions for the racial politics of the country; but so did the British. There are arguments that it was the British who were the true architects of apartheid to begin with. One such orchestrator was Englishman and villainous colonial poster boy Cecil Rhodes. As Prime Minister of the Cape in 1890, he passed the Glen Grey Act that set precedents to vote. The act barred many Black South-Africans from being able to exercise their citizen’s rights.

Both of South Africa’s “white tribes” have enacted immeasurable damage to the social fabric of the nation. Their actions have disenfranchised the indigenous populations from their rightful inheritance for centuries. But in the post-apartheid age, we must also call out the British State for the crimes it enacted against Afrikaners, who had lived in the region centuries before the British even arrived.

By demystifying the history of the British Empire in South Africa, we highlight its injustices. And along with remembering the crimes the apartheid state enacted against Black South Africans, we must move forward and support a South Africa that can finally atone for all of its sins. Where its slate, once stained by racial and colonial injustices, can finally be wiped clean.


–Featured image– Cecil Rhodes | wikimedia commons 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.

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