Facts and the rest is history

"Embracing an African identity does not necessarily mean, and should not be about, revising history."

"Embracing an African identity does not necessarily mean, and should not be about, revising history."

Liepollo Lebohang Pheko, I refer to your article, “Twist memory and you distort identity”.

There are several problems with your article. First, your basic premise is that conceptions of heritage, memory and history in Africa (or, as you spell it, Afrika) have been distorted by colonial, Western conceptions of what went on in Africa, suggesting that an egregious distortion of facts has been, and still is, at work.

However, you then go on to quote a percentage of deaths caused by the slave trade in the Congo of 70%. The range of percentages of deaths accepted by almost all historians is between 15% at its lowest and 50% at its highest.

The reason for such a large range is the lack of very detailed documentation of the killings that went on in the Congo Free State. Quoting with such assurance such a large percentage, which is way above the highest figure in the range, is itself a distortion of facts. Would it not also be fair to say that this is not part of our national discourse simply because we are not the Congo?

Second, you mention people such as Shaka as having been erased from Heritage Day, as if only African figures have been erased. Would it not be fair to say that Jan van Riebeeck and Vasco da Gama have also been erased then? In fact, Heritage Day celebrations rarely make reference to historical figures except for some of those in the anti-apartheid struggle.

Third, you talk about civilisations the world over, particularly “American and European empires”, as ignoring the huge debts they owe the millions of African geniuses, artist, intellectuals and inventors for what they claim as their achievements, yet you do not provide any examples of this “erasure” and appropriation of uniquely African achievements. Is this because you don’t have any?

Embracing an African identity does not necessarily mean, and should not be about, revising history (compare your alternative spelling of Africa), something your article appears to be in favour of. It is one thing to think critically about history, by examining the available information and using it to create a picture of what happened; it is quite another to invent a history, discarding uncomfortable facts when it suits one. – Andrew, Johannesburg

 

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