Humanity Is Greater Than Tribe
IT IS truly frightening that we continue to have debates about miscegenation in this day and age!
The ground-breaking scientific research of Charles Darwin or the anthropologist Ashley Montagu should have put these backward discussions to rest a long time ago. If that did not succeed, then surely the recent human genome project, that completely demolished the myths of ‘race’, should definitively have allowed us to move forward to substantive debates.
In the words of a comrade who was on Robben Island, we should be in the forefront of a global anti-racist movement given our history. We should reject these racist and tribal labels with the contempt that they deserve. Tragically, Africans can be highly tribalistic even if the concept does not exist in a language. Alas, we are still stuck in fascist thinking about race and purity. And if this mentality comes from one of the prominent public intellectuals in Namibia, then we are definitively in serious trouble as a nation.
Joe Diescho (About Tribalism and Coloureds, The Namibian, 13 July) clearly still accepts the concept of ‘race’ as a biological category and this places him firmly in the same camp with fascism. His letter is filled with racist thinking and displayed a disturbing level of uncritical and a-historical ideas.
This public intellectual does not seem to care much for scientific research. There is such a wealth of information that easily refutes the piffle written by Diescho. Allow me to briefly point out some research. With regards to miscegenation, for example, Nelson Mandela (2001), in the essay ‘Whither the Black Consciousness movement?’ said that ‘What is a myth is the theory that there is a pure race, for miscegenation has taken place throughout the world since the dawn of history.’
A book by progressive scholars entitled ‘Beyond Racism – Race and Inequality in Brazil, South Africa and the United States’ (2001), edited by Charles Hamilton et al, in referring to Coloured people, stated that ‘It was an internally diverse group that was invented by white census takers in the mid-nineteenth century and then left in an ambiguous intermediate position when the confrontation of Europeans and Bantu-speaking Africans became the central theme of South African history. No mulatto category developed out of the frontier interactions that led to white dominance over most of South Africa in the course of the nineteenth century. The offspring of the black-white sexual unions that occurred on the frontier normally became African tribesmen rather than Coloureds.’ (p. 20).
The notion of an ‘internally diverse group’ refers to three categories: The majority of Coloureds are of Khoi-San origin; they are the first peoples of southern Africa. The disrespect towards Coloureds today is linked to the centuries of denigration and dehumanisation of the Khoi-San people by colonialism and imperialism.
The racist arguments about not being ‘pure’ or not having a culture originate from that oppressive mindset. The oppressor tried to instill a sense of shame into the Coloured identity in order to justify the oppression.
The second largest group that makes up the Coloured people is the slaves brought in from the Malay Islands, Mozambique, Angola and Namibia. The slaves were given surnames based on the month (January, February, etc) that they were brought to Cape Town or simply from bible names (Abrahams, Solomons, etc). The third group that constitutes the Coloured people are those of European-African origin.
Many of them did not come as colonisers, such as the Irish. Being Irish-African, for example, is not a racial category; it has nothing to do with the Nazi idea about being of ‘mixed-race,’ but is all about multiple identities (or perhaps a cosmopolitan identity) which reflect the reality that globalisation is not a recent phenomenon.
The liberal UCT graduate, Ian Goldin, has done extensive research on the Coloured identity. In the book, ‘The creation of tribalism in southern Africa’ (1989), edited by Leroy Vail, Goldin published a chapter entitled ‘Coloured Identity and Coloured Politics in the Western Cape Region of South Africa,’ which is available on the internet. Goldin writes: ‘Clearly, in the latter half (from 1853) of the nineteenth century the term Coloured chiefly referred, in the discourse of the (British) ruling class, to ‘all non-European people’. Yet, by 1904, this wide definition was no longer accepted. In the space of 15 years the notion of Coloured was reconstituted.
Increasingly the term came to denote an intermediate class of people distinct from the Bantu-speaking population... A decisive shift in colonial discourse appears to have taken place in the years surrounding the Anglo-Boer War. ... It was no accident that the period (1890-1905) which saw the evolution of a distinct Coloured identity was also one of capitalist crisis and a dramatic transformation of productive relations.’
Perhaps Diescho could tell us what were the main causes of the South African (Anglo-Boer) war? This war had a huge impact on southern Namibia. Did the discovery of diamonds in Kimberley play a role? Public intellectuals should be able to make well-researched pronouncements and provide solutions to vital issues like the national question. Humanity is greater than some tribal label. One Namibia, One Nation.