Gulatino skillfully navigates complex historical events
One of the most common problems with the currently available chronicles of the history of black people in South Africa is that very few, if any, are written by black South Africans. This has resulted in biased narratives that evidence the colonisers’ prejudices towards the colonised. The true history of South African Blacks has remained untold until now. Galachani Gulatino’s book, ‘The Tail-end of the Tale: The History of Bantu South Africans from Prehistory to Date (2014)’, tells it.
As the subtitle suggests, the book traces the history of black people from the origin of mankind right up to the nation’s post-apartheid period. Drawing on the works of scholars such as Cheikh Anta Diop and Chancellor Williams, Gulatino illustrates that modern man originated in present-day South Africa, and eventually migrated north from there. Upon reaching the foot of the Nile in present day Uganda, he encountered a ‘race of dwarf people’ known as the Pygmies, overpowered them, and trekked the river. His hostile encounters with the river then led to the development of geometry and architecture – believed to be the basis of the rest of scientific knowledge. With these developments, the successive Ethiopian, Nubian (Sudan), Egyptian and Middle Eastern civilisations came into being.
Gulatino then cautiously addresses how Eurasian Whites may have come into being from this exploratory north-bound migration.
He draws the reader’s attention to an aspect of history which is usually glossed over; the fact that it was the African who had, through Greece, gradually introduced civilisation to what had become nomadic white European races. The Whites then used whatever knowledge the Africans had shared with them in good faith, to challenge and subsequently overpower them. This led to the eventual collapse of the greatest civilisation in history: Egypt. After the attack, Blacks migrated to the west and south of Africa where they founded civilisations such as Ghana and Great Zimbabwe.
Gulatino also does a good job of comparing and contrasting events from different eras to show historical patterns. He covers those aspects of European history that affected or were influenced by African history. For example, he deftly illustrates the influence of Africans in the European Renaissance. Gulatino then notes that just like before, this civilisation of Europe preceded the destruction of African civilization again.This time around, the Great Zimbabwe and Mapungubwe civilisations were destroyed by the Portuguese, leading to another round of forced migrations. It was as a result of this destruction that some groups migrated deeper into the South between the 16th and 17th centuries AD. They later became a people known as Black South Africans.
But then, no sooner had they settled in the far South than the Dutch and then the English arrived, attacking and displacing them along with the San. European-sponsored wars broke out between various Black groups, leading to further splintering and more migrations. These wars came to be known as Mfecane. This series of attacks, Gulatino notes, were reminiscent of those that took place after Eurasia had gained knowledge from Egypt.
Gulatino skilfully navigates the complex historical events that culminated in the formation of the Republic of South Africa in 1910. He articulates well the subsequent period of further dispossession and oppression of black people.
When Nelson Mandela became the first president of democratic South Africa in 1994, it marked the end of a long and bitter struggle against Apartheid. After Mandela’s rule, the real complexity of the agreement between the African National Congress (ANC) and the Whites became clear. The country was plunged into political, social and economic problems, many of which stemmed from the grossly unequal distribution of resources. The details read like fresh news in ‘Tail-end Of The Tail’.
Beyond the realm of politics and economics, the writer adds a unique flavour to the story by exploring in detail the social and cultural existence of Blacks. He makes his own voice on the subject heard in the shortest and most thought-provoking chapter titled ‘In My Own Words’., There Gulatino, with an air of sadness, waxes lyrical about what he believes is going wrong with Black people South Africans today.
Outlining such a vast period of history in less than 400 pages could not have been an easy task. However, Gulatino’s simple style, his ability to stir up one’s emotions now and then, and his relaxed delivery, make this book an enjoyable, easy read.
Although by Gulatino’s own admission the work is not scholarly, it challenges scholars of South African/African history to reconsider their approach, serving as a useful counterpoint to studies such as Leonard Thompson’s A History of South Africa (fourth edition, 2014) and Nigel Worden’s The Making of Modern South Africa (third edition, 2000). If the time had not already come for Blacks to reflect on their history and identity, Gulatino’s work, published in 2017, would undoubtedly have brought it forward. Galachani Gulatino is the writer’s pen name.