The Worldwide Phenomenon of Decolonization

Ethan Pinto

Ever since the start of the trend of nations around the world beginning the processes of declaring independence from their former overlords, decolonization has manifested itself in many ways and processes. Although the process of decolonization varies from region to region and country to country, the history of the  formerly colonized country, South Africa, and its former ruler, the United Kingdom, is instructive.

South Africa has had a particularly intimate history with the complications and horrors of colonialism. Nowhere are the effects of South Africa’s colonial history more apparent than in the massive disparity of land ownership between Black and white people. Whites own forty-nine percent of the erven (an Afrikaans term for a plot of land) in South Africa despite making up just under nine percent of the population. By contrast, Black, Indian, and Coloured (a term used in South Africa to denote somebody who is neither Black nor white) people in South Africa own “a combined forty-six percent.” However, whites own seventy-two percent of farmland, compared to fourteen percent for Coloured people and five percent for Indians. Most strikingly, despite comprising eighty percent of the population, Black South Africans only own four percent of the farmland, less than any previously mentioned demographic. The issue of land ownership in South Africa is one of the main hurdles for the country to overcome its crippling poverty rates and massive racial inequality problems, as well as significantly hindering its ability to move past apartheid and embrace a more diverse and inclusive future. Therefore, Prime Minister Cyril Ramaphosa and the ruling African National Congress, along with parties like the Economic Freedom Fighters, are moving forward with a policy of “expropriation without compensation”, in which the government would seize farmland from white farm owners on the basis that whites did the same thing in the past. Critics of this process say that, in addition to it being a racist policy (due to the fact that whites own most of the land that will be seized), it has been tried before in neighboring Zimbabwe, which, along with hyperinflation and governmental corruption and mismanagement, resulted in the collapse of the national economy. Supporters, however, believe that South Africa can learn from the mistakes Zimbabwe made, while also reducing poverty and income inequality. With the support of the South African people on its side, it will be interesting to see how the government handles this process of decolonization.

A nation similarly reckoning with its racist past is Great Britain. In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, the country began to highlight its own mistreatment of its Black citizens, as well as the negative effects their country has had on its former colonies around the world. However, before there were colonies like Canada, Botswana, and New Zealand, there was Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. These three Celtic countries were the first to be invaded, subjugated, and colonized by England, and support for independence from England in all three countries is steadily growing. Firstly, Ireland has always been boisterous with their anti-British sentiment, which culminated in the independent Republic of Ireland we know today. However, the territory known as Northern Ireland has recently become more enthusiastic about joining the Irish Republic, with fifty-one percent of the population saying they would support a referendum on whether or not to stay or leave the UK within the next five years. Of those polled, forty-seven percent of people voted to remain, forty-two percent voted to join Ireland, and eleven percent were undecided. With younger people more inclined to join Ireland than remain in the UK, it is clear that a major attitude shift is occurring in a region that has long been loyal to Britain. 

Another nation with a similar attitude is Scotland. Despite voting against independence just seven years ago, Scotland has become supportive of leaving the UK in the past few years. The catalyst for this drastic change in attitude was Brexit. At the time of the 2014 referendum, forty-five percent of Scots voted to become independent, while fifty-five percent voted to remain in the UK. Currently, fifty-two percent of Scots would vote for independence, while forty-eight would not. However, as recently as September of 2020, support for independence was as high as fifty-six percent. First Minister of Scotland and Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon has said that if her party wins a majority in May’s upcoming elections, she will hold another referendum on Scottish independence, once again giving the people of Scotland a choice for their own destiny. Finally, despite being a reliably supportive member of the United Kingdom, Welsh independence is on the rise as well. While only twenty-two percent of people in Wales would support independence should a referendum be held, Yes Cymru, a pro-independence campaigner, had their membership increase from two thousand at the beginning of 2020 to seventeen thousand currently. While Wales’ secession may not be an immediate concern for British politicians, it is possible that support for independence may change drastically depending on the choices of Scotland and Northern Ireland. Although it may be a while before these three nations make their decisions on whether or not to leave their current ruler, there is undoubtedly a movement in all of them to free themselves from their former colonizer.

The two examples described above are only a small part of the decolonization movement. Around the world, countries are grappling with ways to erase or mend the problems caused by colonization. Whether it be through economic or diplomatic independence, people all around the world are seizing the opportunity to finally heal.

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