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Settler colonialism and the ties that bind: The case of South Africa and the Chagos Islands

Settler colonialism and the ties that bind: The case of South Africa and the Chagos Islands

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“South Africa”, courtesy of the Institute for Pan African Thought and Conversation, is going to hold an international conference on the Chagos Islands on October 4 and 5.

This is in light of the Chagos Islands’ matter entailing the expulsion of the people of the Chagos Islands by the UK and the US. This expulsion was embarked upon to establish a military base for the US.

The International Court of Justice has ruled that the people of the Chagos Islands must return to their homeland from which they were expelled in the 1960s by the UK. The people of the Chagos Islands are protesting to register their national desire to return to their homeland which is currently colonised by the UK and US.

To fully comprehend the national desire to return to their homeland we will enlist the settler colonial studies paradigm. “South Africa” just like the Chagos Islands is a settler colony since 1652 when the Dutch settlers and later the UK conquered the land of the indigenous people. For the purposes of this piece the name South Africa is placed in inverted commas to reflect that it is an ethically and politically contested name.

The Pan Africanist Congress and the Black Consciousness movement regard the geographical area called “South Africa” by the European conqueror to be Azania. In “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native”, Patrick Wolfe argues that central to settler colonialism is access to territory.

Wolfe further argues that settler colonialism is characterised by the logic of elimination. What is fundamental to both “South Africa” and the Chagos Island is the land question. This is because, as Wolfe argues, “settlers come to stay”.

In the spirit of pan-Africanism and decolonisation it makes sense for the indigenous people in “South Africa” to hold an international conference on the Chagos Islands. The ties that bind the indigenous people in “South Africa” and the people of Chagos Islands is that land has been dispossessed from them and that they suffer racism at the hands of Europeans who regard them as inferior because they are not of European descent. Upon their expulsion from the Islands, the UK settled civilians and military staff on the land of the people of the Chagos Islands without their consent.

This resulted in the people of the Chagos Islands losing their sovereignty to the Islands which the UK has usurped from them. It is interesting that the UK embarked on settler colonialism by getting dispossessed land from the Dutch settlers based on the Treaty of Amiens in 1803. The same UK got dispossessed land from the French in terms of the Act of Capitulation of 1814. As per the logic of elimination which is fundamental to settler colonialism, the people of the Chagos Islands were physically “eliminated” from their homeland to make way for Europeans.

Settler colonialism is not only characterised by the land question but is also based on the “organising grammar of race”. Since the people of the Chagos Islands are not part of the European race, they were regarded as not civilised enough to use the land productively.

The UK and US as European imperialists thought that as nations of the superior white race, they could make better use of the Chagos Islands. This led to them reaching an agreement to establish a military base to further the US imperialist agenda of global white supremacy.

Thus, racism and white power are the ties that bind the UK and US in their expulsion of the people of the Chagos Islands. The indigenous people in “South Africa” must participate in the upcoming international conference on the basis that they, just like the people of the Chagos Islands, are current victims of settler colonialism.

For as Wolfe, argues “settler colonialism is a structure and not an event”, and thus persists over time. While the logic of elimination took different forms in the case of “South Africa” and the Chagos Islands, the land question is still the fundamental issue of incomplete liberation from settler colonialism.

The indigenous people in “South Africa” were not expelled from their land but their land was conquered to make way for settlers who needed their cheap labour. The people of the Chagos Islands were expelled from their land to make way for a military base comprised of civilians and military staff. The logic of elimination in the case of “South Africa” took the form of the attempted destruction of Indigenous culture and society through a process of assimilation à la the civilising mission of the settlers. In the case of the people of the Chagos Islands the logic of elimination took the crude form of physical “elimination” from the homeland.

It is also interesting to note that in the 1960s when the people of the Chagos Islands were violently expelled from their homeland, the indigenous people in “South Africa” were being eliminated through violence which reached its apex in the Sharpeville Massacre.

The latter were also “expelled” from “South Africa” as the Whiteman’s country declared itself a Republic and were confined to their so-called “homelands”. Ironically the people of the Chagos Islands were “expelled from” their homeland while the indigenous people in “South Africa” were “expelled to” their so-called “homelands” which were recruiting and dumping sites for a white “South Africa”.

In the spirit of pan-Africanism and decolonisation, the indigenous people in “South Africa”, in solidarity with the people of the Chagos Islands, must fight to return to their homelands namely, Azania and the Islands.

* Masilo Lepuru is from the Institute from Pan African Thought and Conversation at the University of Johannesburg

Original Article

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