So, I came across this interesting fact today while surfing the interwebs and couldn’t resist the urge to write something about it as it is quite pertinent to, what seems to be THE hot topic at the moment, the debate about the statues being vandalised and defaced.
Most mornings, I like to check out Today In History SA to educate myself on South Africa’s history. Both of my parents were teachers and they worked so freakin’ hard to make sure that me and my 3 siblings would get the best possible education, so I have a real soft spot for education initiatives, causes or facts on education in SA’s history, so imagine my excitement when I see that today, 17 April, in history was when the “first formal school opens at the Cape”. I had to click the link and read more. This is what it read:
“Date: 17 April, 1658 – Jan van Riebeeck, commander at the Cape, wrote in his diary that a school for slaves has been started. Sick-comforter Pieter van der Stael was the first teacher. To reward pupils (mainly adults) for their presence, they each daily received a glass of brandy and two inches of tobacco. The aim of the school was to increase the usefulness of the slaves to their owners. This school was founded by Commander Jan van Riebeeck for the slave children brought to the Cape in the Dutch ship, the Amersfoort, which had captured them off a Portuguese slaver. A second school, attended by 12 White children, four slaves and one Khoi-Khoi, was opened in 1661.”
As you can imagine, I went from excited to flabbergasted very quickly. I was so stoked that today (hundreds of years back) was the first school started in the Cape but then taken aback when I found out that the first school was to educate slaves on how to be more “useful” to their owners. To top it all off, the were “rewarded” (only the adults) with alcohol and tobacco. This fact alone should make anyone who wants to defend Jan Van Riebeeck’s legacy, think twice about how they acknowledge someone’s contribution to history.
Yes, he made a settlement at the Cape of Good Hope but he also initiated structures of gross discrimination that set into motion a mentality that still plagues us today. I don’t want to get into all of the gory details about slavery and how a basis of slavery can lead to things like the American Civil War and even Apartheid. What I really want to address is how dangerous the right kind of education is to the wrong kind of person.
Jan Van Riebeeck was smart enough, knowledgeable enough or educated enough to know that if you are going to take over a new territory (and you are outnumbered by the locals) you first need to find out a way to divide the locals (unless they are already divided, in which case it’s easier), then they need to break the spirits of the indigenous people, then build them back up in a way that makes them subservient, build institutions with the guise of progress for the indigenous people (but in actual fact are a facade for masking more sinister and selfish intentions) and then the cherry on top is to create a structure of law that supposedly protects the rights of all inhabitants but in actual fact restructures any system that existed before into a white label of the colonizer’s country of origin and purely in their favour.
The system of colonization had been so fined tuned over the years that the structures that were put in place, in the Cape of Good Hope, were so successful that, even, 357 years later, so many people who live in this country are fighting with each other about things that were implemented so long ago by individuals who were not even born of this land. Jan Van Riebeeck did not “become” South African. He was Dutch. He setup the Cape of Good Hope to make it easier for the Dutch to get to the East. His reason for living was to help his own ambitions within Dutch society and to be fair to him, anyone who loves the country they come from will do whatever they can to make things better for their people or makes things better for themselves within their country.
Colonization is very sneaky in this regard because colonizers make the colonies pledge allegiance and loyalty to them and not to themselves, so even if the stronghold of the colonizers is loosened, the residue of the colonizer’s footprint will mean that it will take a very long time for the colonies to take back their own country, while the colonizer’s still make profit from said colony.
I think a much more interesting and worthwhile discussion should be centered around a more patriotic outlook on the whole scenario. We should not quarrel internally about Jan Van Riebeeck’s statue (unless, of course, you are a direct blood line of Jan Van Riebeeck, in which case, you are probably rich enough from the blood and sweat of slaves that the debate wouldn’t even phase you in the least) we should rather be asking questions about how we get reparations from Holland for what their countrymen were responsible for.
Realistically that would not go down very well and would be a shift from civil war to war with another country. It would be unfair to try to hold the current Dutch government responsible for what a previous government did to South Africa but if actuarial scientists can come up with metrics and algorithms that can accurately predict a countries future GDP, they can definitely work out a value of how much resources and money a former colonizing country owes it’s previous colony or colonies.
Would the juice be worth the squeeze? I don’t know. It will bring up all kinds of unnecessary debates about current laws versus previous laws of both countries, it would cause a rift between Holland and South Africa (and realistically, there are so many South Africans who are connected to the Dutch and vice verse that this would cause more harm than good), it would be a jurisdictional nightmare (considering that, ironically, The International Criminal Court, ICC, which is the court of last resort for prosecution of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, is located in The Hague, Holland) and it would just take too damn long before anything was concluded or any attempt to find a solution took place.
So what can we do? I personally think that we all have to accept that what happened in the past, happened and that life is too precious to be wasted on beef. It’s good to have these discussions but it must not be the sole reason for living. I still have so many countries to visit, cultures to explore, children to raise, meals to enjoy, new things to try out, companies to start (of which some will fail and others will be successful), friends to make, arguments to have and people to forgive, that I do not have time to pick a fight over the past. I would rather spend my time taking advantage of the opportunities available to me and making the best out of them.
The world is moving very quickly into a class-ist way of thinking. I think class is a combination of manners, etiquette, consideration for others and a successful state of mind. There are many people in the world who have pulled up their socks, built an empire from scratch and have elevated themselves and the social status of their families to a place where they are offered and afforded even more opportunities. I would rather be judged by my manners, etiquette and personality rather then the colour of my skin, the country I was born in and the tribe of my forefathers. I cannot change my birthplace, skin colour (let’s leave Michael Jackson out of this one) or my forefathers but I can very easily change my personailty, my manners and my etiquette. Have the serenity to accept the things you can’t change and the courage to change the things you can and stay classy.