The African Crisis of Mass Broken Individuals: The Trauma of Colonialism and Apartheid on the Individual Self Has Been Given Little Attention or Simply Ignored. Yet Apartheid and Colonialism Have Left Broken Individuals. This Notwithstanding, Almost All of Africa's Post-Independence Reconstruction Attempts-And outside Attempts at Help-Have Avoided Fighting the African "Crisis" of Mass Broken Individuals, Writes William Gumede

By Gumede, William | New African, March 2013 | Go to article overview

The African Crisis of Mass Broken Individuals: The Trauma of Colonialism and Apartheid on the Individual Self Has Been Given Little Attention or Simply Ignored. Yet Apartheid and Colonialism Have Left Broken Individuals. This Notwithstanding, Almost All of Africa's Post-Independence Reconstruction Attempts-And outside Attempts at Help-Have Avoided Fighting the African "Crisis" of Mass Broken Individuals, Writes William Gumede


Gumede, William, New African


MUCH FOCUS HAS BEEN PUT ON how the trauma of colonialism and apartheid has set back the individual and national material development of African countries. In fact, the focus has often been mostly on the material trauma caused by colonialism and apartheid. As a result, the focus of most African reconstruction attempts and help from outsiders has been on how to reverse colonialism and apartheid's robbing of resources--land, property, mineral wealth--and how the countries and their people were deliberately deprived of access to knowledge and knowhow, which put them in a permanent disadvantage in this knowledge and technology-intensive era.

Yet, apartheid and colonialism have left broken societies: damaged indigenous cultures, the sense of community, collective identities, self-esteem, self-worth and the sense of self, familyhood, and disfigured the nature of interpersonal relationships.

More importantly, the trauma of colonialism and apartheid on the individual self have often been receiving less focus, been underestimated or simply ignored. Of course, the material deprivation subjected on the African people by colonialism and apartheid--which entrenches poverty (in a context where to be poor in the world is often a badge of being worthless), coupled with the daily indignities and humiliations, on its own, breaks the sense of self of the individual. Nevertheless, colonialism and apartheid left Africans with massive "existential insecurity", which roughly means, paraphrasing the term from Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart in their 2004 book, Sacred and Secular--Religion and Politics Worldwide, "a persistent, generalised sense of threat and unease" because their survival is systematically threatened on every level--personal, family, community, culturally and nationally. Importantly, the continuing legacy of broken individuals or damaged sense of self is a key obstacle to lifting Africa's development and democracy building.

Martha Cabrera, a Nicaraguan psychologist, rightly argues that "populations that are multiply wounded as a product of permanent stress lose their capacity to make decisions and plan for the future due to the excess suffering they have lived through and not processed".

Regrettably, almost all of Africa's post-independence reconstruction attempts--and outside attempts at help, whether through donors, aid or ideological--have ignored focusing on overcoming the African crisis of mass broken individuals. Some of Africa's immediate post-independence generation thinkers such as Frantz Fanon, the Martinique-born Algerian activist, warned that colonialism and apartheid have scarred the psyche of victims--their individual personalities, and that unless there is a concentrated effort to reverse this, little will come off development efforts.

South Africa's Steve Biko and the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) of the 19705 emphasised the need to deal with the consequences of the broken individual as a prerequisite for successful development. However, the heirs of the BCM have not elaborated beyond the "black is beautiful" theme to provide a counter-message to black individual alienation caused by colonialism and apartheid.

Broken individuals and a damage of a sense of self--as part of the legacy of colonialism and apartheid--has been at the heart of the fractured social fabrics of African societies. It has been very difficult in most African states to find effective ways to restore the social fabric of societies given the mass crisis of broken individuals.

And African leaders have so far spectacularly failed to provide leadership in the context of both broken societies and broken individuals. In fact, most African leaders have been ill-qualified to provide leadership to broken individuals and societies.

Before African leaders can offer such leadership, Reuel Khoza, the South African businessman, rightly argues "they must have emotional intelligence, self-knowledge, and the ability to self-reflect. …

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The African Crisis of Mass Broken Individuals: The Trauma of Colonialism and Apartheid on the Individual Self Has Been Given Little Attention or Simply Ignored. Yet Apartheid and Colonialism Have Left Broken Individuals. This Notwithstanding, Almost All of Africa's Post-Independence Reconstruction Attempts-And outside Attempts at Help-Have Avoided Fighting the African "Crisis" of Mass Broken Individuals, Writes William Gumede
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