Thabo Mbeki: The terrible legacy of British colonialism in Africa

From a speech by the President of South Africa, given to the Sudanese National Assembly
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The Independent Online

Winston Churchill wrote the famous account of the colonising exploits of Lord Kitchener in Sudan in the book The River War. Let me quote a short paragraph from this book, which quotation tells the whole story about what our colonial masters thought of us:

"How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and in insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live."

What Churchill said about Mohammedans was precisely what our colonisers thought about all Africans, whether Muslim or not. And this attitude conditioned what they did as part of their colonial project, including what their soldiers ... did to those they sought to colonise.

Perhaps you are wondering why I make this brief excursion into Sudanese colonial history. In reality, it was also an excursion into our own, South African, colonial history. The same British names also appear in our own colonial history.

When these eminent representatives of British colonialism were not in Sudan, they were in South Africa, and vice versa, doing terrible things wherever they went, justifying what they did by defining the native peoples of Africa as savages that had to be civilised even against their will.

Our shared colonial past left both of us with a common and terrible legacy of countries deeply divided on the basis of race, colour, culture and religion. But surely, that shared colonial past must also tell us that we probably need to work together to share the burden of building the post-colonial future.

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