April 28, 2015

We stand on the shoulders of giants

standing on the shoulders of giants

I’m sure you know that Cecil John Rhode’s statue was recently removed from the Cape Town University because of a whole bunch of issues including being a colonialist and messing up everyone’s lives. And, it looks like the activists have their eyes on Paul Kruger’s statue too.

I don’t want to get into they why’s and wherefores of the debate because it is not germane to the point I want to make.

Maybe there’s another view. It doesn’t matter what tribe you belong to, but in one form or another, it tried to colonise and subjugate someone – British, Germans, Zulus, Afrikaners, Spanish, Viking, Hun, Americans and the like.

Understand that becoming human is an iterative process and yes, massive mistakes have been made along the way and are still going to be made along the way.

But we are all here and benefiting from all those that have come before us. We are standing on the shoulders of giants.

Let’s take Britain for example. It’s cool to bash them, isn’t it? The Afrikaner tribe for the atrocities in the Boer War and other tribes for colonising them. But, think about the British inventions that we all benefit from today (and, this is just a handful):

  1. The first telephone – Alexander Graham Bell
  2. The first steam locomotive – Richard Trevithick
  3. The first television – John Logie Baird
  4. World Wide Web – Tim Berners-Lee
  5. The first programmable computer – Charles Babbage
  6. Sports we enjoy in South Africa – football, cricket, rugby and tennis
  7. The light bulb – Joseph Swan (yup he beat Edison to it)
  8. Hypodermic syringe – Alexander Wood
  9. Synthetic dye – William Perkin
  10. Toothbrush – William Addis
  11. Safety bicycle – John Kemp Starley
  12. Cement – Joseph Aspdin
  13. Stainless Steel – Harry Brearley
  14. Photography – William Henry Fox Talbot
  15. Sewage System – Joseph Bazalgette
  16. Tin can – Peter Durand

If you go back in the annals of history, you’ll find that pretty much every tribe in this world has contributed something that we are benefiting from.


2 Comments on “We stand on the shoulders of giants

May 4, 2015 at 9:32 am

I’ve also been pondering these things. It seems we all have some morsel of wisdom to offer, if only we could only all get together and agree.

One can’t change history, but I find myself thinking: People are stupid. Colonialists were stupid. Men who wage war are stupid. If only the British, and Dutch and French had landed on these shores with the attitude of “Seek to understand, and then be understood”… I wonder: Instead of assuming that locals were “primitive”, if they’d approached our native African’s with the attitude of “Let us learn about you, what matters to you, and then let us share our own knowledge and our amazing inventions with you. Let us teach your children math and language and science, and you can teach us about the secrets of this continent and how to survive it….”
What kind of Africa would we be living in?

Ag, it’s just a dream I have, I guess.

People were stupid. And arrogant and over-ambitious and full of themselves. The colonialists may have made the first mistakes on their arrival, as did the apartheid government. But it’s no use that we keep repeating their mistakes over and over until we turn our country into a warzone once again.

Do you think tearing down statues rectifies the past any more than my dreams? That’s what I keep wondering.

May 4, 2015 at 11:25 am

Sadly the people who want to remove the statues won’t be reading this post and are unlikely to be open to a mind change.


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