Original Research

High Treason: The trial of the Bondelzwarts kaptein and the politics of settler self-delusion

Robert Gordon
New Contree | Vol 89 | a233 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.54146/newcontree/2022/89/04 | © 2023 Robert Gordon | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 14 March 2023 | Published: 30 December 2022

About the author(s)

Robert Gordon, The University of Vermont, United States

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Abstract

This paper concerns official “truth-seeking” about the Bondelzwarts Rebellion and its brutal suppression in 1922 by the South African administration in its newly-mandated territory of South West Africa. These events generated a number of official accounts, namely the administrator’s report, the Report of the Commission of Inquiry and subsequent debates in the South African parliament and the Permanent Mandates Commission of the League of Nations. These inquisitorial modes of truth-seeking are contrasted with the adversarial juridical mode in the treason trial resulting from the Bondelzwarts Rebellion, all of which share a common core, a particularistic, explanatory framework of describing individual motives and actions, thereby tracing a chain of events that led to collective violence. Like other commissions investigating “racial violence” in this era, they argued that while “inferior races” might be causally implicated, such violence reflected the failure of individual colonial officials to convince the “natives” of the benefits of colonialism. Remarkably, the judgement in the Treason Trial is ignored in these official debates at establishing the “truth”. It is striking how key government players denied the emerging consensus of what occurred. Tavris and Aronson’s work on essentialism and cognitive dissonance is applied to understand this situation, suggesting the importance of self-delusion for understanding the workings of colonialism.

Keywords

Bondelzwarts Rebellion; Truth-seeking; Official reports; Commissions of inquiry; Court judgement; Self-delusion

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