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"When Natives become Colonisers"

Dr Kwame Nkrumah

Discerning Zimbabweans are fast realising that the same political conditions that forced some Zimbabweans in the 1970s to go to the bush and pick up arms against Rhodesian settlers are now fully in place. It is becoming clear that a country can be independent of settler colonialists and remain dominated by native colonialists. The political independence of Zimbabwe in 1980 did not in any way lead the country to liberation but to another form of political domination that will have to be toppled. The open rigging of elections, assassination of political opponents through poisoning and other choreographed accidents and covert operations is a reminder that some kinds of colonialists are in power. The open looting of public resources by known persons, families and cartels linked to the President is a sign that it is not yet Uhuru. The reliance on the army, the police and secret security services to crush political opposition mirrors the tactics of settler-colonial regimes in Africa. Force, fraud and toxic propaganda are combined to put up a pretence that there is a credible and working government when a mafia family is in power in the country. The political demise and physical death of Robert Mugabe, who was a grand orator and a sophisticated intellectual pretender have exposed the idiocy, mediocrity and evil of a native colonialist regime. The recent dismissal of the clownish ‘spin-doctor’ in the shape of Energy Mutodi is too little too late. Mutodi was not the problem but a symptom and also a metaphor of the mediocrity, lunacy and emptiness of a nativist regime. The use of economic wizards like the Oxford Professor Mthuli Ncube to cover up the bankruptcy of the ruling elite has not been enough to hide that there is trouble in paradise; Zimbabwe is in its Idi Amin moment. The Africa Day moment for the political opposition and civil society in Zimbabwe, 2020, is a moment of reflection and pondering of a liberation struggle ahead. The present use of the courts and the law to liquidate the political opposition is only one part of the way a nativist colonial regime will seek to elongate its colonial rule.

An African Colonial Problem

In Africa settler, colonialism did not only conquer people and overcome their territories. No. It went further and deeper to create new political identities and cultures that remained long after administrative colonialism was dethroned at the independence of every African country. A good forty years after the end of Rhodesian settler colonialism formerly ended Zimbabwe remains a domain of native colonialism where a political and economic elite of black tycoons monopolise the mainstream life of the country. In Zimbabwe black market networks linked to the President and his family own and run the economy as the political opposition watches helplessly. While Robert Mugabe covered his native colonialism of Zimbabwe with a veneer of grandiose nationalist and Pan-Africanist rhetoric and performances, the Emmerson Mnangagwa outfit has all but exposed native colonialism for its vulgarity and tragicomedies. It is for that reason of its ability to remain effective in its absence that Jean-Paul Sartre much famously wrote that “colonialism is a system,” not an event or a process. Post-colonial theorists have done much work in exposing how colonialism left behind neocolonialism as a system of continued economic and political control of African countries by their former colonisers. True, the black marketeers and racketeers, linked to the President that are pillaging Zimbabwe have links to international tycoons and fugitives some of which were parts of the Rhodesian sanctions-busting network. There is a marriage of neocolonialists with native colonialists in the present domination of Zimbabwe.

Decolonial philosophers insist that what remained after settler colonialism was Coloniality, a complete system of domination with an effective Colonial Power Matrix that works more efficiently than the best colonial administration in keeping countries of the Global South subject to Empire. Forget about the propaganda about sanctions that are punishing the country. The nativist regime and its neocolonialist international networks are sanctioning the people of Zimbabwe, economically and politically. The President, his family and allies are smart captives of Empire that are managing the angry and hungry population as the massive looting takes place.

As is happening in Zimbabwe, the political identities that colonialism created, produced and used are still haunting African presents and troubling African futures today. Settlers did not only call us natives but they also made sure that nativism became an ideology that was to be so stubborn and durable to the extent of becoming another form of colonialism. In this short article, I think with some leading African intellectuals in explaining how natives eventually became colonisers in Africa, and how nativism is a colonial ideology that some anti-colonialists mistakenly and sometimes naively take for an ideology of decolonisation. As I have explained before, benefiting from the theorisation of Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni, not all forms of anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism are Decoloniality. Some nativist forms of anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism are colonialism itself that walks around pretending to be liberation and progress. Far better than Mnangagwa, Mugabe convincingly pretended that he was a gallant nationalist and Pan-Africanist. Mnangagwa does not have the mental resources to put up such a performance. He can only be Mugabe’s bodyguard and enforcer of dark acts that he always has been. The reason why in most parts of the Global South independence from colonialism did not lead to liberation is that the nativist regimes that took power from the colonialists were nothing more than colonialists in their own right. How nativists became colonisers is the philosophical paradox that troubles me in this account. While Mugabe was a knowing offender that understood what he was doing, Mnangagwa does not. He believes that making big money and crashing the political opposition is the real business of leading a country. His is power without a pretence to glory and virtue, hence the vulgarity and primitive looting of public resources.

Colonial Political Identities

Wherever there is a settler there is a native. Colonial conquest of Africa produced the conquerors into settlers and the conquered into natives. Mahmood Mamdani explains this well in his book of 2002 When Victims become Killers, a book from which I have adapted the title of my present article. Colonialism produced two social and political classes, settlers and their natives. The settlers were militarily and politically powerful, and economically prosperous as a result. The natives were underdeveloped, displaced, dispossessed and impoverished. The political ideology of the settlers was colonialism and that of the natives became nativism, the ideology of those who claimed nativity of their countries. These two strong ideologies, colonialism and nativism, eventually became political systems and political cultures. The natives were not one clan. Or were they one ethnicity. No. They were multiple cultural and political identities of their own. And here is where all the trouble began. As soon as the conqueror, the settler, made himself the superior and powerful identity, native clans and ethnicities scrambled for the position of the nativity. They fought amongst themselves on which nation; ethnicity or clan was more native than the other. Some natives were called settlers because they enjoyed favours and privileges from the white conquerors. Other natives were called foreigners and aliens because they allegedly arrived later than others in the territories that the colonisers now called countries, after the Berlin Conference. So African countries remained with some settlers and some natives after the white settlers had given up political power. Colonialism left us a legacy of Settlers and Natives that appeared amongst black people even after white settlers had departed. Every African country has black people, especially those ethnicities that are a majority and enjoy power, that calls themselves and conduct themselves as true natives and label and treat others as settlers, aliens and arrivants. When the infamous Energy Mutodi called the Zimbabwean Ndebele people arrivants from South Africa he spoke the true language of native colonialism. The reason why Mnangagwa did not fire him for that grave insult is that it is a shared truth in the nativist regime. In the case of Rwanda, Mamdani forcefully demonstrated how the Tutsi of Rwanda suffered the genocide of 1994 because the Hutu considered them as, not natives, but settlers, aliens and foreigners. So, for Mamdani, the Rwandan Genocide became a nativist genocide that had its roots in colonialism. Nativism, in that way, is a child of colonialism and it is a model of colonialism. The Gukurahundi Genocide was such Genocide. Mugabe and Mnangagwa, chiefly, believed that they were gallant natives and patriots that were cleaning the country of the “chaff” of foreigners and settlers from South Africa.

In Rwanda, The Hutu, even as they spoke the same language with the Tutsi, grew a sense of entitlement to the country, its resources and political power. The Tutsi population irritated and annoyed them until it infuriated them into genocidal impulses and passions that culminated in the many massacres. Mamdani, thus, successfully demonstrates how colonialists created nativists. We can only observe how nativists are also actually colonialists. They can pretend to be practising indigeneity and endogeneity and to be celebrating cultural authenticity and political power, but in their effect, they are colonialists that are racist, tribalist and xenophobic. Not only that but they are also patriarchal male chauvinists. Horace Campbell and Rudo Gaidzanwa are two scholars that have reflected on Zimbabwe’s patriarchal model of politics that is contemptuous of women. When Joice Mujuru as a liberation warfighter that had a right to aspire for leadership in Zimbabwe was spectacularly reduced to a “witch” and a “prostitute” many Zimbabweans looked aside. Her liberation war credentials and name of “Teurai Ropa,” the one who spilt the blood of settlers in the war were publicly withdrawn. She was told that her job in the struggle had simply been to satisfy the lust of senior guerilla commanders that included her assassinated husband, General Solomon Mujuru. As I write, female opposition politicians that recently led a demonstration were abducted from a police station by secret state agents and taken to a bush where they were tortured and sexually assaulted. In Bulawayo, two sisters that braved the COVID-19 pandemic to scrounge for food in the market were assaulted by police and treated to ethnic slurs.

Enter the Two Publics

Another political philosopher and sociological theorist that forcefully articulated how colonialism produced nativism in Africa is a Nigerian intellectual, Peter Ekeh. Ekeh made his canonical observations in two telling Journal Papers that are free online: Colonialism and the Two Publics of 1975, and Colonialism and Social Structure which was his Inaugural Professorial Lecture in 1982. Ekeh observed that a certain class of Europeans, a section of the bourgeois left their countries in the West to lead the colonisation of Africa. Through education, religion and training the colonising white class of Europeans created in Africa educated and trained blacks that were mainly priests, teachers, clerks, messengers, police constables and soldiers. Other black people remained labourers, peasants and other wretched of the earth. While Mugabe’s claim to political leadership was education, Mnangagwa’s is militarism and securocracy. While Mugabe could impressively pontificate nationalist, Marxist and Pan-Africanist ideology Mnangagwa can only wag the stick and unleash torture. There has not been a single sign that the man was nor is a lawyer as publicly alleged.

Rhodesian colonialism produced for Zimbabwe politicians that were teachers like Mugabe and torturers like Mnangagwa. That perhaps is where the trouble began. The black priests, teachers, clerks and messengers that the white colonialists produced in Africa began to challenge the whites. They became anti-colonialist that were not exactly opposed to colonialism. They aspired for the power and prosperity that white colonialists enjoyed. They led trade unions and political parties that challenged the colonialists for control of the state. The communists from Eastern Europe came and gave the guerillas military training, ideological education and arms of war. In that way, both Western Europe and Eastern Europe met in Africa and mothered a black educated and trained class of black anti-colonialists. These educated and trained securocrats and technocrats saw themselves, eventually as superiors to the mass of their black people, the peasants and other wretched of the earth. These clever and also dangerous blacks were nativists that wanted settlers to urgently give them the power to rule their countries and their people. These black nativists knew no other system of rule and leadership besides colonial rule. That is why Gatsheni has argued that colonialism and the struggle against it became a “school of politics” that was neither democratic nor liberatory. Colonialism and the war against it shaped the black technocratic and securocrats elites of Africa into tyranny and authoritarianism. Ngwabi Bhebhe and Terence Ranger observed that these elite black upcoming leaders of post-colonial Africa were taught to hate. They were a bunch of angry and ambitious nativists that claimed entitlement to rule Africa, tyrants and despots of a kind that had big shiny egos. Mnangagwa is a typical militarily trained securocrat that knows no other language of power and rule besides the colonial mode. He cannot even pretend to be a technocrat, the way Mugabe did.

The Ambition of the Nativist Anti-colonialist

I now climb on the broad shoulders of Frantz Fanon. In the observation and description of Fanon, the black African technocrats and securocrats that replaced colonial administrators of the state had the ambition to be new colonialists. They were power-hungry nativists that were racist like the settler colonialists and were also tribalists and xenophobes that were disconnected in ideology and aspiration from the mass of black Africans. They were colonialists of a kind that hated other African nationals and ethnicities because they were possessed with the identity politics of colonialists that used identity to divide between themselves and black natives. Left alone, ordinary Zimbabweans were never going to cultivate tribalism to a monstrosity that it has grown to. Political elites in the nationalist movement promoted tribalism and used it as a political ideology. The nativist teachers and torturers were opportunists. The East Europeans taught them to war and communist ideology. Warlikeness combined with nativism became a kind of fascism and extreme authoritarianism. In short, that is how colonialism produced nativist dictators and autochthonous despots in Africa and Latin America. Mugabe, the nativist that he was isolated the Ndebele for the Gukurahundi Genocide, and opportunistically elevated the Shona, and his Zezuru tribe in particular as the true natives. Under Mugabe, the Shona in general and the Zezurus specifically dominated the Zimbabwean polity and economy and monopolised the security sector that ensured his coercive rule. After Mugabe, Mnangagwa has seen an opportunity for his Karanga tribe to also eat. In a much vulgar and primitive scramble, they have now enveloped the country and are eating massively as the rest of the nation watches. The monopolisation of the country by one favoured group perfectly mirrors the way Rhodesian whites monopolised Rhodesia at the expense of the black majority.

Mahmood Mamdani, Peter Ekeh, Frantz Fanon and Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni in their different theorisations provide an explanation of how colonialism ignited in Africa and Latin America anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism that were not decolonial and liberatory but were colonial. Nativism carries all the habits, tendencies, political systems and structures of settler colonialism except that it is embodied and practised by black natives of Africa in African countries. Otherwise, the white settler colonialist reproduced himself systematically and structurally in the African nativist. The way Mnangagwa carries himself withdraws large amounts of forex from the central bank to award deals to his friends, sons and clansmen in fuel and public transport deals picture the looting of the Rhodies. In broad daylight, powerful securocrats and ethnic elite are pillaging the country while poverty and disease are set off to feed on the majority of Zimbabweans that live the pathetic lives of the colonised. Any protests and demonstrations are met with severe punishment and discipline. Two members of the ZANU-PF youth league were, not so long ago, severely disciplined for calling out looters that are linked to the President and his family.

The Neo-colony and the Post-colony

Kwame Nkrumah was not only the first black president of an African country after formal colonialism. He was also the first of the colonially educated and trained natives to challenge African nativism openly. He preached African unity and believed that Ghana would not be truly free until every African country was free from colonialism. Pan-Africanism was a serious negation of nativism. It is Nkrumah who named and described neocolonialism as the continuation of the colonial system after white colonial regimes had collapsed in Africa. Africa had become politically independent but African countries remained neo-colonies where the black leaders were only managers of their states and countries under the control of the modern, colonial and imperialist world-system. In that way, Nkrumah had a decolonial and liberatory sensibility. Mugabe performed the rhetoric of Pan-Africanism while on the ground in Zimbabwe he practised, not even nationalism, but nativism.

My friend and colleague, Cameroonian philosopher and historian, Achille Mbembe in 2001 nailed it. In the powerful essay and Journal Paper: Provisional Notes on the Postcolony, which is freely available online Mbembe described how colonialism and anti-colonialism met in African countries and created “obscene and grotesque” forms of political rule where those who ruled and those that were ruled became zombified. Humour and mourning met as political violence, protests and mega-theft of public resources combined and made the countries insane and extreme places. Mbembe mobilised his philosophical resources of semiotics to describe what he called “the banality of power” in the African post-colony where political cunning and stupidity combined to make the continent a disorderly and chaotic place of political extremes and mass suffering. The massive wealth of the political elite exists alongside the misery and abject poverty of the wretched of the earth, the masses, in the African post-colony. Africans are caught in between neocolonialists of the world and native colonialists of Africa.

The Neo-colony of Africa that Nkrumah described was the ghost of settler colonialism in the continent. The settlers and their Euro-American Empire continued economically and politically punishing Africa after colonial administrations had collapsed. The post-colony that Professor Mbembe described is the ghost of nativism where black post-colonial African nativists continued colonial rule in Africa after white colonial regimes had retreated. My observation, argument and conclusion in this article are that a nativism is a form of colonialism that is a direct derivative from settler colonialism. In veracity and justice, I observe and argue that settler colonialism turned nativists into black colonialists in Africa. The civil society and specifically the political opposition in Zimbabwe believe that they are struggling against a tyrannical regime. They believe that legal and political reforms will democratise Zimbabwe. In other words, they are engaged in the wrong struggle. The struggle in Zimbabwe is not a struggle against a tyrannical regime but a native colonialist regime that can only be toppled by liberation war-fighters not opposition politicians, pressure groups and other political activists. Protests, demonstrations and regular elections have never in the world toppled a colonial regime.

Dinizulu Mbikokayise Macaphulana writes from Gezina, Pretoria and can be contacted on

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