This week’s elections in South Africa mark the tenth anniversary of the end of apartheid, but racism still governs the republic. Andrew Kenny on the dream that faded.
Spectator, Apr. 17
Ten years ago, on 27 April 1994, South Africa voted in her first fully democratic election. It removed from power the white National party, which had instituted apartheid, and replaced it with the ANC. Nelson Mandela became the new president of South Africa. This week South Africa is voting in the third election of the new era. I myself was born in 1948, the year the National party defeated Jan Smuts and instituted apartheid, so I have lived through the changes. How should we judge the first ten years of ‘liberation’?
In 1968, a young white Rhodesian, a fellow student at the University of Cape Town, made a prediction that stuck in my mind. ‘Andrew,’ he said, ‘if they ever sort out the political problems, you’ll see Rhodesia boom as you’ve never seen any country boom before.’ For him, the overwhelming problem was political strife over white minority rule. If that could be resolved and democracy brought about, Rhodesia was certain to blossom into prosperity. The gifts and energy of her people, released at last, were bound to bring about a happy age.
I had the same feelings about South Africa in apartheid times. Like Rhodesia, South Africa had a treasure trove of natural resources, a well-developed infrastructure and the kernel of a modern economy. Like Rhodesia, her people had shown great invention and industry under the restrictive conditions of minority rule. And, like my Rhodesian friend, I saw the overwhelming problem as white resistance to black rule.
Well, in both Rhodesia and South Africa, a ‘miracle’ occurred. White rule ended, a free election took place, black rule began and the whites accepted it with barely a murmur of dissent. The difficult problem was overcome. But the golden times did not follow.
Since 1994, South Africa has had political stability, with no threats whatsoever to the ruling party in government, but has suffered rampant crime, with a quarter of a million murders. Unemployment has increased from 31 per cent then to 41 per cent now. Economic growth, which the ANC promised would be 6 per cent (a reasonable hope), has been 2.8 per cent, far less than in equivalent emerging countries. The ANC’s great achievement has been in the national finances: debt has been reduced to European levels or lower, and inflation is under tight control. Tourism and motor-car manufacturing have done well, but industry in general has not. South Africa has seen the world’s most vigorous programme of bringing electricity to poor households. The rand has dropped from 3.6 to the dollar then to 6.5 now, and even at this rate it is much too strong for the economy to bear. There has been the greatest sustained period of skilled emigration in South African history. Foreign fixed investment in South Africa has been pitifully low. South Africa’s largest companies, such as Anglo-American, Old Mutual and Sasol, have listed abroad and are shipping their assets out of the country. The Johannesburg Stock Exchange has dropped from the 14th to the 17th largest stock exchange in the world. Aids, unemployment and violent crime are crushing millions of desperately poor people.
A tourist to South Africa now would get much the same impression as a tourist to Zimbabwe in 1990, ten years after Mugabe came to power: lovely weather, magnificent scenery, well-functioning amenities and friendly people. On the way from Cape Town airport to the city, though, he would glimpse huddled shantytowns and squatter camps on the side of the freeway. In Johannesburg, he would notice security fences around nearly every house. If he began to talk to local businessmen, he would find that most of them were looking for ways of getting their money out of the country. He would hear professional middle-aged people expecting their children to leave the country after their education. After a few beers, the mood of the locals in the pub might well turn into the sour resignation that characterises so much of South Africa today.
Looking back over the two eras, I see a horrible continuity between apartheid and ANC rule. Both the National party and the ANC had strong socialist instincts before coming to power, and a desire to nationalise the economy. Neither did so in government, both choosing instead a corporatist or fascist approach, in which the big corporations and trade unions were co-opted into arrangements with the state on the running of the economy. Both believe in an all-powerful state that must control every aspect of life. And of course both are obsessed with race, their all-consuming ideology.
This has been a bitter pill for liberals like me to swallow. The hopes in the dying days of apartheid that soon at last we would judge a man on his worth and not his race have been dashed completely. We are now forced by law, under pain of huge penalties, to judge men by their skin colour. It is now compulsory for employers to classify their employees by race, to state whether they are white, ‘African’, ‘coloured’ or ‘Indian’, and to submit a plan showing how they will change their racial proportions to match the ANC’s racial masterplan. These ANC laws are very similar to the 1933 German laws to bring about a correct balance between ‘Aryans’ and ‘non-Aryans’. At the universities, heads of departments must fill in lists giving even more racial details about their students. (Chinese students might or might not be classified as ‘Asian’, depending on whether they come from Hong Kong, Taiwan or mainland China.) Sports teams are disqualified if they do not have the correct racial quotas.
The centrepiece of the ANC’s racial ideology is ‘Black Economic Empowerment’ (BEE). This gives jobs, promotion and contracts on the basis of black skin colour. Businesses must have BEE managers and must make their procurements with BEE companies, or else they will not get government contracts. White businessmen promote black men to high positions because of their political connections. This has produced an elite of black rentiers, who drive Mercedes and live in mansions, who become very rich not by producing wealth but by bestowing political patronage. At the same time, the economy is held in a strangling grip by the government, a few large corporations and the big trade unions. In true fascist style, the three have come together to draw up highly restrictive labour laws, which cripple small businesses and shut the poor out of the economy. The result is massive unemployment, grinding poverty for the masses and sumptuous wealth for the lucky few.
Dominating the political scene is the small, neat, enigmatic figure of President Thabo Mbeki, who succeeded the altogether different Nelson Mandela. Mbeki has been the power behind South Africa’s admirable fiscal discipline and has firmly resisted the calls of the communists and trade unionists in his ranks for nationalisation and big government spending. He has stated emphatically that HIV cannot cause Aids on its own and so has helped to make much worse the growing catastrophe of Aids in South Africa. (The exact scale of the catastrophe is unknown but the fact of the catastrophe is certain.) He is obsessed by race and cannot make a speech without sneering references to the racial enemies responsible for all that is wrong in South Africa. And, of course, he adores President Mugabe of Zimbabwe.
No omen for our future has more potency than the tyranny and collapse in our northern neighbour. The South African government strongly supports Robert Mugabe. The ANC is quick and loud in condemning the actions of foreign governments, such as Israel, and so its utter silence in the face of Mugabe’s reign of terror, torture, rape and murder against millions of black Zimbabweans implies complete approval. Our foreign minister, Dlamini-Zuma, has stated that she would never criticise Mugabe and has given her approval for the recent Zimbabwean laws to shut down free newspapers. In his latest comradely visit to Mugabe, Mbeki expressed his warm support and said, ‘President Mugabe can assist us to confront the problems we have in South Africa.’ Whenever Mugabe or any of his Zanu-PF henchmen appear on ANC platforms in South Africa, they always get thunderous applause.
The outcome of the election in South Africa this week is certain. The ANC will win, probably with more than 65 per cent of the votes. The official opposition, the spirited Democratic Alliance (DA), a classic liberal party, will get 10 to 15 per cent; the Inkatha Freedom party (IFP) of Chief Buthelezi about 9 per cent; and the New National party (NNP), a shrivelled but reformed rump of the National party of apartheid, about 4 per cent. The DA and IFP have joined together in a ‘Coalition for Change’. The ANC and the NNP have also formed a coalition, purely because the ANC needs extra votes to win the Western Cape, whose biggest population, the coloured people, regards the Africanist ANC with fear and suspicion.
Voting will be almost entirely racial. Almost all of the ANC’s votes will be from blacks, with a sprinkling from privileged whites and some rural coloured. The IFP’s votes will be mainly Zulu, the NNP’s entirely white and coloured. The DA will come closest to a multiracial vote, with a fair proportion of black and coloured votes and most of the votes of the whites and Indians.
The election campaign has been very boring. Commentators in the press, which slavishly supports the ANC, have said that this is a good thing, which shows political maturity. I do not think that the boring elections in the USSR were a good thing. A bit of excitement would be distinctly healthy. But the closest thing we have had is Deputy President Zuma’s announcement that ‘the ANC will rule SA until Jesus comes back’ and President Mbeki’s promise to beat his sister if she showed affection for the Reverend Kenneth Meshoe, leader of a small opposition party.
For me, as for most people in Africa who have lived through the 40 or so years since her countries gained independence, the great cry of anguish and yearning is this: ‘When is freedom coming?’ When will my Rhodesian student’s dream come true? When will Africans be free to fulfil their potential, to use their talents and to unleash their energies to make life better for themselves and their continent?
In most of Africa, oppression is worse than it was under colonialism. This is certainly not the case in South Africa, but here, while the brutal and idiotic laws of apartheid have gone, the cramping, demeaning, sterile patterns of racial thought are as strong as ever, reinforced by the acts and threats of the ANC.
Under apartheid there was laughter at racial classification. Today the racial classification remains, but the laughter has died. Debate in South Africa has nearly ended; the press that criticised apartheid so fiercely has become craven, the universities that demonstrated so loudly have become silent, and the only political aim of the business community is appeasement. White people do not argue against the ANC; they just emigrate. Businessmen do not defy the new race laws; they just move their investments abroad. Almost alone, the liberal DA opposition cries out to recognise men as men and not racial specimens — for which it is reviled by the ANC and its creatures.
The prospects for prosperity and happiness in South Africa would be greatly enhanced by a simple measure: just leave her people be. Remove the dead hand of the state from the shoulders of the workers and businessmen. Get rid of the dreadful labour laws that are enriching a few and impoverishing a multitude. Exorcise the ghosts of apartheid that haunt all the racist legislation of the ANC. Show zero tolerance for crime and complete tolerance for invention, enterprise and criticism. (The reverse is true now.) Right now these prospects look dim.