Not surprisingly, the passing of Queen Elizabeth 2 has evoked criticism and condemnation of the history of British royalty and imperialism (The Mercury, September 20).
Historically, plunder – the spoils of conquest – has always been associated with imperialism. In that context, calls for the return of artefacts that were appropriated – “stolen,” as some claim – by rulers of bygone eras, are rather trite and ignore not only the bigger picture of history but the similarity of what is occurring now.
In 1907 the Cullinan diamond was given to King Edward VII by General Louis Botha, then Prime Minister of the Transvaal, as a token of goodwill. It was not “stolen.” Besides, if the assortment of the Cullinan stones was returned, given the kleptocratic nature of what passes for the government under the ANC, the likelihood of those stones being looted in short order is not difficult to discount.
Renowned historian of our times, Niall Ferguson, made the following observation concerning colonialism in his book Empire: How Britain made the modern world, published in 2008: “The British Empire acted as an agency for imposing free markets, the rule of law and relatively incorrupt government on roughly a quarter of the world…therefore, there seems a plausible case that empire enhanced global welfare,” p. xxi.
Although Ferguson is unstinting in exposing the exploitation of British imperialism –“the Empire was never altruistic” – he contends that “no organisation in history has done more to promote the free movement of goods, capital and labour than the British Empire in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. No organisation has done more to impose Western norms of law, order and governance around the world,” p. xxii.
As such, “Anglobalisation,” – Ferguson’s term – is a reality from which even the detractors of British history cannot disentangle themselves.
Instead of trying to retrieve the past, those now concerned about plunder should consider the effect of globalisation – the new imperialism – on South Africa. Some examples:
Pioneer Foods, maker of a range of traditional South African products, is now owned by globalist Pepsico. Israeli Central Bottling owns 60% of Clover. Illovo Sugar was bought by a British company in 2016. Distell, the liquor giant, is being sold to Heineken. SAB is now a subsidiary of Anheuser-Busch of the US. Foreign investors have significant stakes in over 100 Cape wine farms. Standard Bank is 49% foreign-owned. South Africa is now a destination of choice for property buyers from China.
Globalisation has succeeded British imperialism. What will its legacy be?