Author Fred Khumalo refused to shake hands with Helen Zille at a literary event following her tweets about colonialism. In his novel 1795, Dan Sleigh portrays how Dutch officials at the Cape of Good Hope, used to scraping and bowing before each other, were eager to do what was a new thing: shake hands with rebellious burgers from Swellendam. The officials needed the help of the smelly, donkey-riding frontiersmen to fight the British who had just arrived in a fleet in Simon’s Bay with orders to annex the Cape. Those handshakes were as symbolic of a new era then as Zille’s ostracisation by the commentariat may be in contemporary politics. It also illustrates why greater accuracy is required when debating history. Whose colonialism is being discussed? The Dutch version, which wasn’t really a colony? The British manifestation, which regarded the Dutch, and later the Boers, as an inferior race? The colonialism of the Union of SA? The postcolonialism of apartheid? Sleigh’s masterpiece, Ei...

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