The Empire Writes Back: African Challenges to the Brutish (South African) Empire in the Early 20th Century
This paper examines African critical views on empires in the early 20th century. Historians regard modern African challenges to empire and the settler state in South(ern) Africa as a post-Second World War phenomenon; before then, entrenched empire loyalism among black elites held sway. I argue that while loyalism remained influential, black intellectuals and political leaders, from the earliest articulation of African nationalism, began to critique European and South African empires qua empire just as they first began to synchronise their forces across the terrain of a South African state aggressively developing imperial ambitions. In this counter-discourse, Africans adapted, inverted and subverted polite imperial discourse in their press, speeches and praise poetry that eulogised past African empires and criticised, even condemned, Boer and British imperialism. British Empire, South African empire, African empire; all this requires a re-figuring of how historians conceive African response to empire.