Slavery prejudice, colonialism and development
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Slavery prejudice, colonialism and development

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August 25, 2007

Survival International has released a report comparing the arguments used to justify the dispossession of the Kalahari Bushmen from their land, with the arguments used to defend the transatlantic slave trade. This comparison may come as a shock to some, but the rhetoric in both cases is profoundly similar.

Incidentally, it is also the same logic and reasoning used to justify rape, genocide, assimilation and apartheid as well as industrial development and the ongoing, appropriately-termed “criminalization of self-defense”.

There is just no difference, if only because it’s the same ‘enlightened few’ carrying on as if they’re “Heroes so strong and tall” who both “love” and exploit the poor pathetic masses for their own interests. Otherwise, they take them by hand to “elevate them” so that one day they can live almost as good, almost as healthy, almost as equal as the civilized and so-called rich and powerful.

That last point is pretty much what Botswana’s Foreign Minister told Survival International in 2001. In an interview he stated that, “Our treatment of the Basarwa [Bushmen] dictates that they should be elevated from a status where they find themselves. We all came from there. We became civilized and drive expensive vehicles. They should be empowered to join the mainstream.”

The comparing quote in Survival’s report comes from a letter written by the Acting Committee of West India Planters and Merchants in 1883, which states, “[Slavery] is not only of vital importance to the interests of the Mother Country, but indispensably necessary to the desired object of raising the Negro in the scale of society.”

There are numerous other parallels. The report explains,

Like the advocates of slavery, Botswana’s leaders completely dismiss the societies they refer to, and assume they are static and ‘stuck’ in an anachronistic state.

Defenders of the slave trade in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries claimed that the Africans whom the trade exploited were fundamentally inferior to white people, or even of a different species; that they were backward and incapable of ‘progress’; and that slavery was beneficial to them and would help to ‘civilise’ them. White people, it was argued, were bound by duty to ‘elevate’ the status of Africans by enslaving them.

‘In general they [Africans] are void of genius, and seem almost incapable of making any progress in civility or science,’ wrote pro-slaver Edward Long in 1774.1

Another pro-slaver, Michael Renwick Sergent, wrote in 1788 that Africans were, ‘indolent and little inclined to labour or industry and almost in want of every convenience of life, but what indulgent nature of her own accord supplies them with, and at the same time being subject to such an increase of population, that it is impossible for the uncultivated soil to maintain them.’2

Similarly, Botswana’s minister for local government, lands and housing, Margaret Nasha, said at the time of the evictions, ‘Who amongst us is living a life that he led over 100 years ago? We have all lived like hunter-gatherers in Europe and Africa a hundred years ago but we are no longer doing that.’3

Eric Molale, permanent secretary in the same ministry, told the BBC that the Bushmen’s ‘attempt to perpetuate a nomadic prehistoric way of living’ was ‘outrageous’.4

Even the president of Botswana himself said, ‘How can you have a Stone Age creature continue to exist in the age of computers? If the Bushmen want to survive, they must change or otherwise, like the dodo, they will perish.’5

To Read th full report, visit

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