From so many conversations on social media it is blindingly obvious that most of our people in this region simply have no or little appreciation of the UDHR. Having worked in four (4) different countries in this region I have yet to meet a person, other than a Judge, who has any meaningful appreciation of the UDHR. We are unaware of its existence. We are unaware of how and why it came into existence, especially the human cost involved. We are unaware of its contents. This is so even though the UDHR is the most important document ever drawn up by humanity, representing a paradigm shift in its thinking and culture.
So to summarize: –
a) From the time Cain killed Abel the universal culture on this planet was “invade, conquer, subjugate, even enslave”. Everybody did it. The Greeks, the Romans, Vikings, Barbarians …. etc. … etc. Genghis Khan is credited with having killed more humans in his invasion of Asia than were killed in the last two (2) world wars. You will not find any text in the Bible or the Koran that expressly condemns or prohibits slavery. In this region the likes of King Shaka Zulu, Mzilikazi and Lobengula (and Cecil John Rhodes) had exactly the same culture.
b) So, at what was known as the Berlin Conference of 1885, Europe sat down and decided how Africa should be invaded and shared and this led to what became known as “The Scramble for Africa”, that is the colonization of Africa.
c) As result of the two (2) world wars and the Holocaust, the World experienced a fundamental change in its thinking and then signed off on the UDHR, at the UN in 1948. Only South Africa, Saudi and Russia declined to sign. For the first time mankind had a human rights culture. For the first time humanity had the concept of equality. It committed to the abandonment of the culture that “might is right. Amongst other things, this guaranteed the end of colonialism.
d) So ironically we really have Adolph Hitler to thank for the change in world culture that guaranteed the earlier end of colonialism. Had Hitler not taken the culture of “might is right” too far, by trying to overrun the whole of Europe and Russia, the change in world culture would not have occurred when it did. Colonialism would not have ended when it did, whatever our people in Africa might have felt about it.
e) In simple terms the UDHR insists, in the main, that humans must be treated as equal and have the right to determine their own destinies, whatever their race, ethnicity, beliefs and culture.
f) The South African and Rhodesian governments then “repudiated” / “rejected” the sacred Articles of the UDHR and embarked on a “racial” model for managing human beings. “Racial” soon became “Racist”. This was a different culture from the colonialist culture as it was founded on racial considerations/ideology whereas colonialist culture was simply victori spolia, i.e. “to the victor the spoils”. And in terms of that culture, you never treated those that you had conquered as equals.
Unless you understand the above you will always be hamstrung in judging history. You will fail to distinguish between the “might is right” culture of the colonialists and the “racist” dogma of the SA and Rhodesian governments. The two are fundamentally different in that the colonialist culture had little to do with race. Google “Irish slaves in the USA” for clear proof of this. What is also evident is that, as a result, most people in this region, including government, do not have a “human rights” culture. This is because our education systems have never posted the UDHR as central and fundamental about resolving an issue. So we do NOT instinctively and naturally first contextualize issues in terms of human rights concepts. We hit these issues with “political considerations” that we have internalized from the political camp we are in. This is nearly always fatal, as politicians are “power mongers’, NOT human rights activists.
The result is that, as sincere as we then are about human issues, our approach is nearly always fatally flawed. The SA xenophobic pogrom was an extreme example of what happens when there is this level of ignorance of the UDHR, inducing an inability to see others simply as humans with equal rights. We also saw ignorance in the “Rhodes must fall saga” as people failed to distinguish the “might is right” era and the later “racist” apartheid era. Rhodes was not “a racist”. He was a colonialist. He was an imperialist … very much into the then world culture of invade, conquer and subjugate.
I hear you ask – “so where does the Herero genocide fit in all this”. The answer is set out as Commandment 6 of the Ten Commandments, i.e. “Thou shall not kill”. This was always interpreted as “Thou shall not murder”, i.e., gratuitous killing.