This paper was read at a Workshop held by the Law, Race, and Gender Research Unit in the Faculty of Law at the University of Cape Town on 27 January 2010. Apart from a change to the concluding paragraph the original format has been retained. The paper argues that to understand the historical dynamics of colonialism and its aftermath in southern Africa it is necessary to understand the productive processes of its pre-conquest farming societies, hitherto obscured by the ideological pre-conceptions imposed by capitalist modernity. Unlike merchant or capitalist economic systems concerned with the production and exchange of objects, these societies were founded on productive processes which created value in animate objects, that is living things. The implications of this were and are hugely significant. It determined inter alia the nature of the transformation of pre-colonial to post-colonial society, systems of taxation, access to land, administration, and the initiation and the evolution of customary law, the survival and intensification of patriarchal authority, and the very real difficulties germane to the arguments around the nature of traditional leadership and customary law and their implementation as recognized by the Constitution.