From Innocent Paradise to Helpless Devastation: the Bahamian Struggle in the Wake of Hurricane Dorian

The Bahamas is currently mired in a rather hapless state of desolation following the ravages of Hurricane Dorian. As is often the case in these situations, international attention has quickly passed on to other issues and the Caribbean nation is left fighting a forlorn battle of reconstruction.

The images of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Dorian speak for themselves

Having only achieved independence from Britain in 1973 after centuries of colonial rule and slavery, this is a setback one of a poor region’s more prosperous states could ill afford.

It can be very easy to draw a clear line between the pre-contact and post-contact histories of ‘New World’ states – in the main it is unavoidable – and suggest that this is where the good times ended and the bad began.

The Bahamas has the dubious honour of being the first ‘discovery’ that Christopher Columbus set foot on, when he triumphantly strode ashore one of its islands (the exact one is debated) on the 12th October 1492. His description of the initial encounter with the native peoples is typically naive:

They go as naked as when their mothers bore them…They are very well made with very handsome bodies, and very good countenances. Their hair is short and coarse, almost like the hairs of a horsetail. They wear the hairs brought down to the eyebrows except a few locks behind, which they wear long and never cut. They paint themselves black, and they are the color of the Canarians, neither black nor white…They neither care nor know anything of arms, for I showed them swords, and they took them by the blade and cut themselves through ignorance.

The infamous first landing of Christopher Columbus

Of course the people who are suffering in the wake of Dorian bear no resemblance to this ‘hairless’ race. 95% of Bahamian people are of African origin, descended from the slaves brought to the islands by the British in the 17th century.

The people Columbus encountered were Lucayans, a Taino sub-group. An estimated 40,000 of them inhabited The Bahamas at the time of the European arrival. A mixture of introduced disease and enslavement to work for pitiful quantities of gold on Hispaniola saw to their extinction.

The Lucayans greeted the Spaniards with a friendliness they’d soon regret – within a couple of generations they were wiped out

Columbus’ portrayal of an Age of Innocence did not stop with the people. He described the landscape thus:

Rather large and very flat, with bright green trees, much water, and a very large lake in the centre, without any mountain, and the whole land so green that it is a pleasure to look on it.

Such a tranquil and pleasant land is the last thing most Bahamians would recognise at the moment, but it has certainly been long sought after by colonists and holidaymakers alike, the pristine beaches and brackish lagoons helping to reinforce a notion of paradisaical calm.

For many, The Bahamas epitomises the idea of an earthly paradise

Another thing that has persisted from Columbus’ descriptions is the name; “baja mar” translating as shallow sea in Spanish.

With as many as 2,500 people still unaccounted for after Hurricane Dorian, the Bahamian government could be excused for not giving much thought to history. The international community, and the USA in particular, on the other hand, should be more mindful of the significance of this land.

Modern American history as we know it dates to Columbus’ first landing in October 1492, and a great play is often made about the ‘origins’ of  modern American people. Naturally this overlooks the first people to actually inhabit these shores and the mark they have left on humanity.

But if the Columbian adventure means so much to people then it should be reflected in the present, in the land where it all began, and that necessitates providing as much material support to The Bahamas in its time of need as is possible. No conditions, no bureaucratic red tape. Just unfettered aid.

To return Columbus’ mirage of an innocent and idyllic paradise and, more importantly, ensure a future for the Bahamian people, will require far more than the generous donations of individuals and the tireless efforts of NGOs. Just ask Puerto Rico.

The amount of money America directs The Bahamas’ way could be dictated by geopolitical strategy. There are fears China will send billions of dollars Nassau’s way in exchange for greater influence in the region

The Sad Irony of South Africa’s Xenophobic Attacks: darkness descends 25 years after democracy

The irony of the xenophobic attacks currently plaguing South Africa will not be lost on most people. Black South Africans, notoriously repressed by the white-minority Apartheid regime for the majority of the 20th century, are now turning their disillusionment on migrants from across the continent.

The attacks have been accompanied by fearsome riots

Starting as a semi-formal practice after the Boer War, and becoming government policy shortly after the Second World War, Apartheid under the National Party (NP) became a byword for racism and colonial degradation. Black South Africans were forced into ‘homelands’ and shanty towns away from white accommodation and business, their everyday lives segregated from their masters and any dissent ruthlessly crushed.

Resistance was quelled through political imprisonments and exile, with the now-ruling African National Congress (ANC) forced underground. Those of its leaders that were not put in jail sought solace in neighbouring African countries, particularly those that had already freed themselves from European colonial rule. Without this shelter and support it is unlikely that the ANC would have been able to maintain a coherent movement and enable the global public relations campaign that eventually secured the release of Nelson Mandela and democracy.

The Apartheid government attempted to herd blacks into homelands or ‘Bantustans’

Memories are seemingly short, for it is natives of some of these countries (such as Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania and Nigeria) that are bearing the brunt of the xenophobic assaults taking place in South African cities today.

Where once there was solidarity and common cause, now there is only bitterness and divisiveness. The ANC’s South Africa – beautified by Mandela’s declaration of a ‘rainbow nation’ – has become the racist pariah on the continent, its allies shifting uneasily as their subjects suffer undiluted discrimination. The situation has become so desperate that Nigeria is repatriating hundreds of its citizens.

Nelson Mandela popularised the idea of a rainbow nation in South Africa that would inspire other countries

Unfortunately, the origin of this tragic scenario all boils down to the incompetency and colossal misgovernance of the ANC, whose inability to manage immigration, corruption, the economy and crime are leading South Africa to become the continent’s latest basket case.

Its easy to say that the Mozambicans are ‘stealing jobs’ or that the Nigerians are turning once desirable suburbs such as Hillbrow into ‘drug slums’ but that is to deny the reality of contemporary South Africa.

Huge numbers of South Africans live in crowded and unhygienic shanty towns

On the ascension of the ANC to power in 1994, there were strong hopes amongst the previously disenfranchised majority that they would receive reparations for their years of submission. Over the last 25 years ANC politicians have done little to temper the hopes of their impoverished people who are now looking for a scapegoat for their troubles.

The government itself is becoming an increasing target – not helped by embarrassing broadcasts such as that aired of President Cyril Ramaphosa speaking on the xenophobia issue – but there is still a degree of gratitude shown towards the ANC for delivering democracy, whereby their inadequacies are overlooked. As with many countries across the globe, day-to-day problems and poverty are being blamed on the ‘other’.

A sad reality is that for many black South Africans, they are now worse off materially than they were during Apartheid. Of course you will find very few who would openly yearn for those terrifying times but political disenfranchisement and social repression can seem trivial compared to an empty stomach.

It is important to remember that South Africa was a fabrication rendered by the early Dutch and English settlers. It was not a nation before, nor did it ever contain any ‘great’ civilizations. But it had, and still has, a myriad of tribal groups, each with their own distinct belief systems and customs. Traditional enemies such as the Zulus and Xhosa were often willing to forego their differences to fight a common enemy during the Apartheid era. Now, ethnic divisions are ripping the country apart.

The Dutch planting in South Africa in the 17th century was arguably the start of the region’s problems

Where it stops is anyone’s guess. Shortly after the death of Robert Mugabe – who delivered independence to Zimbabwe but then destroyed the country from within – the ANC stands at a precipice. If its politicians cannot find a way to re-unite their people in a manner befitting of Mandela, and putting in place altruistic policies that do more than grease the palms of family and friends, civil war is a distinct possibility.

The extremists of Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters wait slavering in the wings. A dark era now looks set to envelop South Africa, a mere quarter-century after that famous rainbow light.