The Normalization of problematic language used to address Afrika

21st October 2017

Often when studying the history of Afrika, colonization is a major [if not all] discourse. While colonization is, indeed, an important part of the past and present of Afrika, the language used to describe it paints a horrific picture of the Afrikan continent. It is important to ask each other questions such as what colonization “truly” is and when it “truly” starts. Challenging historical narratives allows us, particularly Afrikans, to reflect on the ways in which they are produced and find solutions to address the underlying prejudice.

Colonization is defined by the Oxford dictionary as the complete take over of one culture, economically, politically and socially by a more dominant culture. Textbooks and other studies of Afrikan colonization indicate that it started in the late 19th century (1885) and lasted until the mid 20th century (1960s) even though South Africa gained its “independence” in 1994. However, using the above definition of colonization, what would we call the relationship between Afrikans and general white settlers that happened before the officiation of the scramble for Afrika? What do we call the genocide of indigenous Black South Africans by Afrikaners? Afrikaners; descendants of white Dutch, German and French settlers in South Afrika.  The history of Afrikaners trying to take over South Africa dates long before the 19th Century. Afrikaners had forced labour policies just like the British did and the wars between Afrikaners and Black South Africans left many Afrikans dead just like the colonization by the British. They dehumanized Black South Africans and many believed in white supremacy. Until today in South Africa, Blacks still own the smallest portion of land and are the majority of the unemployed and homeless.

Cecile Rhodes statue at South Africa’s “Univeristy of Cape Town” taken down in 2015

Continuously, even though Cecil Rhodes is discussed in colonization; vaguely and rarely concentrated on, he is only introduced as part of the British system. Describing [lightly] the condition of the mines that he owned usually softens his work in dehumanizing Black South Africans. Additionally, the policies that governed Black South Afrikans that worked for him are rarely discussed. His extremist beliefs of white racial supremacy learned from Oxford and the influence of his professors in encouraging him to make the entire Afrika a British extension is rarely discussed. Cecil Rhodes comes into South Africa around 1870 and all his work discussed starts around the late 19th century and early 20th century. Additionally, 12 million Black and coloured people died at the hands of Cecil Rhodes. This is approximately twice more than Adolf Hitler murdered during the Holocaust. Personally, the narrative of Rhodes in textbooks is a portrayal of white supremacy. The fact that Hitler’s murders, which are white, are considered to be more valuable and given more weight than the murders of Rhodes, which are Black is problematic. Moreover, the existence of the description Rhodes scholarship and Cecil’s contribution in South Africa are always positive, ignoring his dehumanization of Blacks.

Afrikan nationalism is seen to have sprouted from Afrikans acquiring education from their oppressors. I argue that this narrative simplifies the effects of colonization and undermines the important works of older generations’ nationalism. There is a common belief and narrative that colonization was a wrong act but there were positive outcomes that we should know. The benefits include the economic platform to trade and the change in politics. In my opinion, pre-colonial Afrikan communities had their own political environments and trading system. The named political and economic benefits were simply westernizing Afrikan communities. Therefore, there is the problematic language used to describe the outcomes of colonization.

Likewise, Afrikan nationalism is not a result of the western education. So often we ignore the words that famous Afrikan nationalists say to highlight their heroes. Afrikan nationalists in pre-colonial Afrika and those that fought during colonization inspired nationalists like Kwame Nkrumah, Nelson Mandela,

African Nationalists include: Nkwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba and Julius Nyerere

Patrice Lumumba and many others. Therefore, to say that the education of the Afrikan by the western powers was the foundation of nationalism is unjust and untrue. I think it is an incomplete narrative used to, again, portray the saviour figure of the white man. Nationalism has always existed in Afrikan nations. Yes, western education was an important factor in helping nationalists develop plans that will effectively end colonization because they learned to use the white man’s tools against them. However, Western education was not the foundation of Afrikan pride or even the attempt to unionize and fight for Afrika.


Arguably the language used when describing colonization or Afrika continues to dehumanize its people, cultures and their resistance. The language still paints Afrika as needy and uncivilized and calls the “white man”; the saviour. We often try to make sense of Afrikan history and its people through the eyes of the West. The problematic language used to degrade Afrikans and their contribution to history may be unintentional. However, due to the normalization of the negative image of Afrika, the Western authors of textbooks and novels will always unconsciously produce bias. This may also be a result of the environments in which we learn this Afrikan history. It is important to create an environment free of prejudice, especially because most of it is taught by and through a European and global Western perspective. This bias needs to be addressed and challenged in order for it to be eliminated when narrating the history and consequently teach Afrika for what it is rather than what the European has made it.

Written by Giramata Icyeza

You May Also Like…


  1. Leif

    I found your internet site from Google and I have to say it was a great locate.
    Many thanks!

  2. Rocco

    Hi there! Such a nice article, thanks!