Picture: The most common depiction of the beginning of South African history. (Photo: thesouthafricanhistorypodcas).

France and Britain were the two largest colonial rulers in Africa, these two “super powers” controlled over 70% of Africa after World War one. The mid 1800s to the early 1900s marked the pinnacle of imperial rule in Africa. The establishment of colonial control over Africa was accomplished at the Berlin Conference of 1884–1885, fourteen European countries held a conference and discussed how they would take land from the African people and divided it among themselves. Only Ethiopia and Liberia remained free from colonial rule.

Colonialism started by undermining traditional African authority by means of introducing the corrupt chieftaincy structures in African societies with the sole aim of alienating Africans from their culture and from one another. The system had aimed to destroy African cultures and values by means of “the imposition of alien religions and the relentless attack on African values mounted by mission schools contributed to a mentality of ennui and dependency and to the loss of confidence in themselves, their institutions, and their heritage.”

We have for a long time consumed inaccurate lessons of history all over Africa as a result of imperialism. Orthodox accounts of the African history, particularly South African history before the colonial period, are staged around the “Wars of Shaka” – as they are frequently referred to. Shaka has been and unfortunately continues to be portrayed as “the archetype of despotic African kings who ruled a highly militarised kingdom.” The battles that took place in the 1820s have been portrayed as a precursor to the formation of tribal territories in South Africa which unfortunately continues to manifest in South African societies at present.  However since the 1980s new lines of thinking have slowly challenged much of this depiction.

It is important that we remember a factual argument that Leonard Thompson makes in the book titled The History of South Africa when we want to quote or refer to our history; that during colonialism, particularly during the British rule in South Africa, many “historians” followed an imperialist mode of reference in all aspects of our history.  The British produced works that only consisted of their interpretations and perspectives and subsequently the Afrikaners laid the foundation of an “exclusive, nationalist historiography.”

In the mist of transformation or the correct recalling of our history, we should always think within the broader context of imperialism. The history not to be misrepresented is that:

World war one saw the “the scramble for Africa”. This vexatious impudence for Africa is defined as “The process of the invasion, occupation, and domination of African territory by European powers” particularly between 1880 and 1914. In 1884-85 an event that obstructed and changed natural life in Africa took place in Berlin. Fourteen European countries held a conference and discussed how they would take land from the African people and divided it among themselves. Only Ethiopia and Liberia remained free from colonial rule. It is the discoveries of diamonds in 1867 and gold in 1886 in South Africa that amplified the potential that Africa has and that, in it itself, lured the colonialists to the continent.

The Department of Higher Education’s catalytic project has previously announced to release dynamisms in research on the pre-colonial history of South Africa as a project of going “beyond conventional modes of thinking rooted in colonialism and apartheid.” This project was meant to produce literature which is largely edited by a group of historians and archeologists at the University of the Witwatersrand and supported by an inclusive advisory group of scholars from the University of Cape Town. The project was set to include teachers, lectures and students as the core readership. While this is move is undoubtedly somewhat ground-breaking, how far or often have actions such as these from the Department of Higher education been successful?