The Archive Has Been Rigged – Wamuwi Mbao Reviews Patric Tariq Mellet’s “The Lie of 1652”, Uncovering the Debased Half-Truths Installed as National Narrative

By Wamuwi Mbao for The Johannesburg Review of Books

In The Lie of 1652, Patric Tariq Mellet fills in the ‘before’ that was of little interest to those invested in creating the myth of an empty landscape, writes Wamuwi Mbao.

The age of lies was ever with us. Even though the current era of institutional mendacity and professionalised venality might seem jarringly new, it’s simply because the archive has been rigged. South Africa was founded on a wilful fib, the idea that the history of the country begins with the arrival of white people. The continuation of that fibbing has enabled those who benefit from it to maintain a posture of rubber-masked innocence even as the effects of historically sanctioned land theft grow ever direr.

History is, lest we forget, a story that explains how we’ve arrived at a particular space and place in the present. For Patric Tariq Mellet, who authored the new corrective historiography The Lie of 1652, it is essential that we set aside the accepted interpretation of events that has proved so appallingly durable, and so dominant in its reach. The monograph is subtitled ‘A Decolonised History of Land’, and that precise caption signals the motivating energy impelling the text: Mellet is interested in how it happens that debased half-truth is installed as national narrative, as well as who ends up being cropped out of history as a result. The premise of his involving 368-page volume is that the established understanding of precolonial and colonial history is inadequate for reckoning with the loss of belonging that took place on our land—and which continues to bedevil those South Africans whose claim of belonging is disallowed or disputed.

The Lie of 1652 begins by identifying how the traditional, colonial story of human life in southern Africa amounted to little more than a meaning-making exercise aimed at justifying the subjugation of indigenous peoples, the dispossession of their land, and the forceful co-opting of their labour resources. Mellet begins by identifying the Foundation peoples—San, Khoe, Kalanga—tracing their movements, divergences and joinings across the space over a three-thousand-year period. By filling in the ‘before’—which was not of great interest to those invested in creating the myth of an empty landscape—the author proposes a reading that richly colours in the bleached story of the country’s first few recorded centuries.


Read more at: The Johannesburg Review of Books

Source: The Johannesburg Review of Books

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