A helpful perspective on Helen Zille’s tweet
by Matthew Wilhelm-Solomon, March 24, 2017 [Matthew Wilhelm-Solomon is a researcher at the African Centre for Migration & Society based at Wits University.]
“Zille’s perspective, and those like hers, is … pernicious. It casually erases centuries of mass death by focusing on developments that took place in the final decades of colonialism, which drew directly from the brutal extraction of colonised peoples’ land and labour, and experimentation on their bodies, but which rarely benefitted them.”
I have in mind a picture of steamboats on the River Congo at the time of Belgian colonial rule. The boats ferry rubber, labourers, colonial officers, missionaries. The boats ply up and down the river while the atrocities are taking place: an unimaginable brutality, the severing of workers’ hands, the death – estimates differ – of some 10 million africans.
Zille’s tweet is like saying how appreciative we should be that these same steamboats ensured a regular delivery of post from isolated mission stations and rubber plantations to Brussels. Or that they carried the occasional physician with his vials of quinine. I have used an obscure analogy to emphasise how shameful and irresponsible her now infamous tweet is.
Hochschild, A., 2012. King Leopold’s Ghost: A story of greed, terror and heroism, Pan.