The name ‘South Africa’ is not reflective of the identity of
the indigenous people conquered in the unjust wars of colonisation. It is a
name given and reaffirmed to a colonial territory - by colonialists - in the 19th
and 20th centuries. Could this point to some evidence that the knowledge
framework of the indigenous people remains in bondage, in a country supposedly
free from colonialism and apartheid?
In 2002, amidst much anticipation, the late legendary jazz composer Zim Ngqawana released Zimphonic Suites. Under this highly conceptual album, he snuck in a masterful sonic critique aimed at the gross neglect by post-94 South Africa of the knowledge framework of the indigenous, in the form of Sad Afrika (A country without a name). Bra Zim, whose works are grounded in the African philosophy of Ubuntu, would, at least in 2002, have more than likely agreed with Professor Mogobe Ramose, that “for the indigenous conquered peoples, a name is an identity card that opens up the genealogy and history of the bearer of that particular name. It is the coded history of the bearer of that name. As such, it is the affirmation of connections and relations with the extended family, the living dead (ancestors) and the community from which the name-bearer originates.” This importance of naming is applicable to a nation’s moniker down to that of a person. It stands, nonetheless, that a name in the imagination of the indigenous is one typically rich with meaning. Why is it then that our own country, even after 1994, still does not bear a name that communicates our endogenous reflections?
The history of colonisation in this country is dominated by
two ethnically disparate Europeans, namely, the Dutch – later to refashion
themselves, rather presumptuously, as Afrikaners – and the British. Over the passage
of time and unjust wars, both these nations claimed undue sovereign title to
territory over the indigenous people and shared the spoils in the shape of
land, but not without their own contestations over these lands. However, it is
only in 1852 that the name South Africa emerges, interestingly almost exactly
200 years after Jan van Riebeeck’s arrival, properly as Zuid-Afrikaansche
Republiek (Dutch for South African Republic). It represented the area north of the Vaal River, otherwise
known as the Transvaal, and was decided upon unilaterally by the Dutch.
Amidst the “discovery”
of gold in the Witwatersrand along with, British ambitions for expansion, tensions
grew between the latter and the Dutch over this land. This led to the first
Anglo-Boer war in 1880, which the Dutch won. The British were relentless,
however, in their pursuit of this land and 19 years later, the 2nd
Anglo-Boer war broke out. Three years of combat saw Britain emerge victorious
in 1902. Bearing in mind, however, the illegitimacy of the claim to the land of
the indigenous people by the Europeans, it is interesting that the Anglo-Boer
War was fought as if the indigenous did
not have any claim over this land. This occurred notwithstanding the indigenous
who participated in the war and , who were quite literally cannon fodder. The
end of the war between the two European nations led to the Treaty of Vereeniging.
The treaty served as an instrumental prelude towards the passage
of the 1909 Union of South Africa Act, in 1910. This statute saw the unification of the colonies, namely
Transvaal, Orange Free State, Natal and Cape as constituent provinces of the
Union. So here we see the name reaffirmed, this time to describe the Union, but
expressly in the English language this time. However, this Union followed the problematic
logic of the war, as the indigenous peoples again had no say about this de
facto and de jure unification of the colonies.
The historical record thus shows that from 1862 to 1909,
South Africa qua the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek was a territory across Vaal
river, which was unjustly claimed by the Dutch colonists who oppressed the
indigenous people with impunity. And from
1910 until 1961, at least juridically, the name South Africa qua the Union of
South Africa could be said to not only have represented an agreement by
formerly warring colonisers to unify their respective colonies into a single
entity , but was also a consensus on the modes of oppression of the indigenous.
So what does it mean that the indigenous leadership collective
that formed the South African Native National Congress – later African National
Congress – seemed, in their nomenclature, to have accepted this name at their
inception in 1912? And what does it mean that the Pan Africanist Congress of
Azania disregarded the moniker five decades later? Azania is a contested term
etymologically - Africa likewise - but is nevertheless asserted with the
understanding that a name symbolises ownership as well, and that to accept the
name South Africa is to accept its ownership by those who originally coined it
as such under the colonial regime.
It is also interesting to note that the currency the (Rand) of the country is still depicted under
Afrikaner grammar. This name again is not in tune with the indigenous people,
no matter what the settler Dutch community call themselves nowadays. In several
instances all over the world, a nation’s currency speaks to proper sovereignty
over country and territory. Think of the Yen, Pound, US Dollar, etc. Here in
Africa we have the Naira, Pula, etc. Hence, the question stands with regard to what justifies the fact that the neither the name
nor the currency of the country expresses the philosophical view of the
transition from the Pound to Rand anticipated the legally questionable metamorphosis
of the Union into the Republic of South Africa, in 1961. From a philosophical
point of view, this was not a transformation but a reversion back to 1852, back
to Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek. Our current adaptation of the name remains
uncomfortably close to the nomenclature of the conqueror. It is small wonder if
this goes some way in explaining the financial inequalities in the country,
which remain heavily skewed in favour of the descendants of the colonisers.
Since South Africa is essentially a product of colonisation,
and therefore, it is not unreasonable to posit that even the proclamation “I am proudly
South African”, which has outgrown its “buy local” marketing origins, promotes
an identity constructed within the remit of the existential and epistemological
model of the colonising Europeans. It thus speaks to the imperative of epistemic
justice, but ultimately historical justice. As a consequence, the continuing
struggle for decolonisation should encourage far-reaching structural changes in the country
that will engender the total emancipation of indigenous people as was the case
in Thomas Sankara’s Burkina Faso.
Perhaps Bra Zim was on to something if the title of his
meditation suggests that the country – maybe even Africa in general - is in a
sad state due to its namelessness which has been compounded by the dereliction
of indigenous knowledge. The name South Africa is indeed incongruous with the outlook
of the indigenous people. It is long past its expiry date and to stretch a
metaphor slightly by Prof Ramose, it is hardly the mirror which reflects the real
image and identity of the indigenous people’s standing in front of it.