Home | News    Wednesday 5 January 2005

Mbeki criticizes British colonial policy before Sudanese parliament


RORY CARROLL, The Guardian

JOHANNESBURG, Jan 5, 2005 — President Thabo Mbeki has made a withering attack on Winston Churchill and other historic British figures, calling them racists who ravaged Africa and blighted its post-colonial development.

South African president Thabo Mbeki adresses the national assembly in Khartoum, Sudan Saturday, Jan 1, 2005. (AP).

The South African president was addressing the Sudanese assembly, and he was criticised for not dealing with the government’s human rights violations in Darfur.

He said British imperialists in the 19th and 20th centuries had treated Africans as savages and left a "terrible legacy" of countries divided by race, colour, culture and religion.

He singled out Churchill as a progenitor of vicious prejudice who justified British atrocities by depicting the continent’s inhabitants as inferior races who needed to be subdued, and pointed out that Kitchener and Wolseley had waged ruthless campaigns in Sudan and South Africa.

"To some extent we can say that when these eminent representatives of British colonialism were not in Sudan, they were in South Africa, and vice versa, doing terrible things wherever they went, justifying what they did by defining the native peoples of Africa as savages that had to be civilised, even against their will."

The speech was made on New Year’s Day but the full text was made available in South Africa only this week.

As an exile in Britain in the 1960s Mr Mbeki was educated at Sussex University and worked in the London office of the African National Congress.

Once considered an Anglophile, his admiration for South Africa’s former colonial power seems to have been cooled by spats over the Iraq war and strife in Zimbabwe.

As a young man Churchill served in Africa as an army officer, he was colonial secretary in 1921-22, and wrote articles and books about the continent.

Mr Mbeki quoted a passage from The River War, Churchill’s account of Kitchener’s campaign in Sudan, which described shortcomings in "Mohammedanism" - Islam.

It said: "Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy.

"The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live.

"A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity."

Mr Mbeki said this attitude conditioned the behaviour of British empire-building in South Africa, including the crushing of the Zulu people and the scorched earth policy and concentration camps of the Anglo-Boer war.

He was in Sudan after attending last week’s signing in Kenya of a peace accord between the Khartoum government and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement .

He visited Darfur, where Khartoum is accused of massacres and ethnic cleansing.

Mr Mbeki said he had seen the "challenges" in the region, and he thanked the government for cooperating with the African Union and moving towards peace and reconciliation.

South Africa’s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, said the speech was a missed opportunity to press Khartoum to rein in the Janjaweed militias.

"Mollycoddling the Sudanese government is hardly appropriate in the face of its failure to put a stop to the Janjaweed terrorism," he said.

Douglas Gibson, a party spokesman, said: "It amazes me that President Mbeki feels that he should insult the memory of the greatest Briton by associating him with British colonial policy of 120 years ago.

"All this in order to create some superficial similarity between Sudan and South Africa.

"There is no similarity at all. South Africa has a liberal democratic constitution . . . Sudan is a country which is hardly governed and where the Arab north dominates the African south and west."

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