Conquest, the ANC and the ideology of Human Rights in South Africa
Prior to the hegemony of the Congress Tradition as epitomised by the African National Congress as a civil rights movement, 21 March 1960 was celebrated as the day of the Sharpeville Massacre. The Azanian Tradition as spearheaded by Robert Sobukwe is behind the activism which led to the massacre of Africans by a savage apartheid regime as the fanatic expression of white settler colonialism and white supremacy in conqueror South Africa. The founders of the ANC as “civilized natives” or amazemtiti were informed by the epistemological paradigm of the European conqueror in their activism against their exclusion from white South Africa since 1910 as a racist State.
This essay argues that the “rechristening” of 21 March 1960 as human rights day is a predictable expression of the obsession with rights discourse by the founders of the ANC who as amakholwa/christians were seduced by the idea of rights and humanism. While the ideology of human rights was triumphant after the so-called second world war, in this essay we trace the desire for rights (the libidinal economy of white settler jurisprudence) and recognition as human like whites by “civilised natives” to conquest since 1652. This is in order to account for a long history behind the embrace of the ideology of human rights by members of the ANC and their misappropriation of 21 March 1960 by misnaming it as human rights day.
The conquest of the Indigenous people of an independent Azania entailed land dispossession and epistemicide as the imposition of the epistemological paradigm of the European conqueror. While this epistemological paradigm is multifaceted this essay will confine itself to the legal dynamic of this epistemicidal process. Roman-Dutch law and the so-called common law are the alien core of the foreign jurisprudence of the European conquerors who became white settlers through land dispossession which unrelentingly undermined African law. It is important to underscore the fundamental relation between conquest and the imposition of the law of the European conqueror. This is how Robert A Williams (1992: 13) expands on European conquest and law: ‘At the dawn of Renaissance Europe’s discourse in the New World and conquest of the American Indian, Europeans already enjoyed the singular advantage of possessing a systematically elaborated legal discourse on colonialism. This discourse first successfully deployed during medieval Crusades to the Holy Land unquestioningly asserted that normatively divergent non-Christian peoples could rightfully be conquered, and their lands confiscated by Christian Europeans”. Before conquest in wars of colonisation since 1652 there was an inextricable link between indigenous law and the land. As Mazisi Kunene states it “In our land the law of the nation reigns supreme”. Conquest fundamentally entailed the imposition of the “nomos of the earth” which was formulated by the European conquerors as part of the doctrine of discovery. It is in this sense that land appropriation and land division were premised on the imposition of the strange jurisprudence of white settlers as vicious purveyors of the international law of colonialism in the form of the doctrine of discovery.
As Schmitt (2006: 49) states it: “The originally terrestrial world was altered in the Age of Discovery, when the earth first was encompassed and measured by the global consciousness of European peoples. This resulted in the first nomos of the earth. It was based on a particular relation between the spatial order of firm land and the spatial order of free sea, and for 400 years it supported a Eurocentric international law: the jus publicum Europaeum”. According to Keal (2003:24) “This process entailed the subjugation and domination of the encountered peoples”. This is how we can trace the genealogy of the rights discourse which was embraced by amarespectables as anti-black “civilized natives”. Cecil Rhodes as the absurdly criminal embodiment of white settler barbarism once posited that there should be “equal rights for all civilized men”. This delusion of the civilizing mission was in line with the emergence of white settler constitutionalism which was inaugurated with the 1853 constitution in the Cape colony. This constitution was premised on a nonracial franchise which implied that certain culturally alienated members of the conquered Indigenous people could be allowed to vote. Property ownership including land was one of the criteria for this liberal suffragist sentiment of the “friends of the natives”.
This is how the idea of rights of the Europeans was accompanied by land dispossession. The so-called civilized natives who embraced this liberal rights discourse like other confused black lawyers remonstrated about not being treated equally by white settlers. Due to their dangerous western miseducation they failed to understand that because of the racism of white settlers they were not regarded as human. This is because fundamentally racism entails the doubting of the humanity of the Indigenous people. Central to this doubt is the exclusion of the conquered Indigenous people from Aristotle’s definition of man as a rational man. This is how we can trace the activism of amazemtiti as the exempted natives who embraced the law of the European conqueror but were excluded from the category of white humanity. It is in this sense, that we can account for the inextricable relation between racism and the ideology of human rights. This is how Mutua (2001) states it “The fifth flaw concerns the role of race in the development of the human rights narrative. The SVS metaphor of human rights carries racial connotations in which the international hierarchy of race and colour is reintrenched and revitalized. The metaphor is in fact necessary for the continuation of the global racial hierarchy. In the human rights narrative, savages and victims are generally non-white and non-Western, while the saviours are white”. This is predictable since as Wilderson argues in terms of Afro-pessimism, white and human are synonymous while black is an ontological equivalent of the non-human, the slave. The so-called civilized natives as the founders of the ANC and members of the New African Movement which embraced European modernity resented being excluded from the Western categories of the human, civil society, and modern State such as white South Africa as founded by the racist Smuts, ironically a human rights proponent.
The desire to be regarded as human and deserving of rights among the “civilised natives” was informed by the fiction of universal brotherhood central to christian indoctrination as spearheaded by white missionaries. This is how we can account for the libidinal economy of the “civilised natives” in the context of white settler jurisprudence. This civilised native affect for the law of the European conqueror and its white supremacist anthropology (white humanity as the model of being human) attained its apex with the clumsy exercise of white power by the apartheid regime by the Dutch settlers who with delusions of nativity called themselves the so-called Afrikaners. The embracing of the liberal movement and activism as embodied by the Congress of the people and Charterism which eventuated in the declaration of apartheid as a crime against humanity was in line with the democratisation paradigm led by the ANC, a civil rights movement masquerading as a liberation movement.
The naïve obsession with liberal democracy since the emergence of Cape liberalism by the members of the ANC accounts for the birth of the democratisation paradigm. In terms of this paradigm, the fundamental problem in white South Africa is exclusion from democratic rights thus the activism to attain them by the ANC in the form of the one man one vote slogan of Mandela and company. This rights discourse-based activism was encapsulated by A P Mda through the idea of broad nationalism. This non-racial nationalism was informed by christian humanism of white settlers. It is this Eurocentric humanism which overrepresented Western man as the human and seduced “civilised natives” of the ANC such as John Dube and Sol Plaatje into believing that they are not like the “raw kaffirs”. It was these same “raw kaffirs” who died on 21 March 1960 while attempting to reclaim “izwe lethu” which means restoring their land from white settlers. By manifesting its amakholwa heritage, the ANC rechristened 21 March as human rights day thus “silencing the history” of the decolonisation paradigm of the Azanian Tradition of Sobukwe, which pursued land restoration as opposed to the attainment of rights and recognition as human like white settlers in a conquered Azania.
In conclusion this essay has discussed in terms of long-durée analysis the genealogy of the civilised natives’ desire for European rights and recognition as human by the founders and members of the ANC. In doing so, we endeavoured to account for the ANC’s absurd misappropriation of history of the activism of the Azanian Tradition’s struggle to restore the land of the Indigenous people which attained its painful and inspiring apex during 21 March 1960.By linking conquest with the imposition of the law of the European conqueror, we traced the origin of the ideology of human rights before its triumphant dissemination and hegemony after the so-called second world war.