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The new face of South Africa

Glenn Reynolds links to an interesting-sounding book about South Africa’s poor whites, a group completely obscured – globally, by the international perception of the apartheid society and locally, by post-apartheid positive discrimination efforts to raise the country’s recently oppressed blacks out of poverty. It made me recall a piece I saw some time ago on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s international current affairs programme, Foreign Correspondent, that also examined the lot of disadvantaged white South Africans. It contained a very interesting interview of the ANC government minister Essop Pahad. I have reproduced the business end of the discussion below (the emphasis in bold is my own):

ESSOP PAHAD: What do you understand by socio-economic conditions?

ZOE DANIEL (INTERVIEWER): Well I’m talking about people living in poverty clearly.

ESSOP PAHAD: Yes and where’s the overwhelming majority of people?

DANIEL: Look I’m well aware that…

ESSOP PAHAD: No I’m asking!

DANIEL: No I’m well aware most …

ESSOP PAHAD: You see because your questions…

DANIEL: … poor people in South Africa are black.

ESSOP PAHAD: No… look…

DANIEL: What I’m asking is …

ESSOP PAHAD: I don’t want to fight with you but your questions are wrong.

DANIEL: … economic..

ESSOP PAHAD: Because all you’re doing…

DANIEL: They’re questions. They can’t be wrong!

ESSOP PAHAD: No but all you’re sitting here…

DANIEL: They’re questions.

ESSOP PAHAD: … and you’re sitting here and worried about whites. I mean no, man sorry. Sorry. Our real fundamental concerns must be the millions of our people who are living under conditions of poverty and under development and they are Africans.

DANIEL: Some of whom are white.

ESSOP PAHAD: Yes but the overwhelming majority – 80/90% are Africans living in rural areas, living in the townships here. You’re sitting here and all your questions is about the whites. Sorry, I, you know I mean you may use it. You don’t want to use it it’s up to you. I don’t find it acceptable.

Text alone does not fully convey how remarkably revealing the above exchange was. At the heated part of the interview, Pahad’s face radiated profound and complete incredulity that someone would consider that he and his government should be responsible for helping dirt-poor whites, considering that they have taken on the mantle of helping equally dirt-poor blacks (ignoring, for the moment, what we think about such “help”). Is that uncomprehending face really shared by the government of South Africa? Interesting, considering it asserts moral superiority over its predecessor’s system with claims of governing for all South Africans. Semantically, I suppose Pahad stayed true to such claims by refusing to describe white South Africans as “Africans”. It does not take a genius to realise who Pahad’s talking about when he mentions “our people”. His choice of words surely demolished whatever morally noble vestiges the ANC retained since the release of Nelson Mandela. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss – only the new guy is into majoritarianism.

I am not saying that the modern regime in South Africa is anywhere near its predecessor in terms of evil, however it appears to be some way down that path. The current programme of discrimination and redistribution known as BEE (Black Economic Empowerment) is not going to achieve the levelling of South African society that is demanded by a population egged on by their government. BEE will only generate a small, super-privileged black elite, a widespread culture of incompetence and mediocrity due to underskilled or underqualified people getting jobs that others could do better, and wealth destruction on a massive scale. When this scenario unfolds and the poor majority of blacks realise they are not better off economically under the new system, the government is highly unlikely to discard BEE as a failure and let the market redress the imbalance over time; conversely, it will claim that BEE does not go far enough. And I suspect, at that time, most people in South Africa will agree, eager for a slice of someone else’s wealth that they will ultimately never receive. As a substitute, the bitter cake that the politics of envy will inevitably serve poor South Africans is already being eaten by most in present-day Zimbabwe. People like Essop Pahad make me wonder how far South Africa is behind its northern neighbour.

24 comments to The new face of South Africa

  • James

    The continent is lost. Modern SA proves that some groups are just not capable of self-governance. Yet they will get a pass on things, you know, because of the late troubles…

    My current pet project is engaging folks in conversation about how much better things usually (but not always) were during the colonial days of a given country.


  • Nick M

    It’s just democracy in action. The ANC knows it’s target demographic and they’re enough to win an election.

  • Nick M – sure, but it’s time for the rest of the world to stop buying all that “we’re governing for ALL South Africans” nonsense and comprehend the actual direction South Africa’s headed in.

  • Lee Kelly

    They need more democracy, obviously. That is the answer to every problem, more democracy. In fact, every problem in South Africa, and anywhere else, can be attributed to not having enough democracy. If only they really believed in democracy more, then there would be no problems. Amen.

  • I am not saying that the modern regime in South Africa is anywhere near its predecessor in terms of evil, however it appears to be some way down that path.

    I think it’s pretty near its predecessor in terms of evil. The government knows better than to kill the goose that lays the golden egg is all. A reintroduction of Apartheid with mere swapping of neighborhoods is out of the question because that would be blatant enough that even the UN would notice. Not to mention, you can’t take undereducated masses and have them start producing overnight. Zimbabwe went along reasonably well for a decade or so too, after all. It’s only relatively recently that Mugabe has started wholesale snatching land and fixing prices. The ANC is already there, just with less dictatorial trappings about it is all.

  • martin

    My personal prediction: A few more years and we will see a move to “redistribute wealth” from white to black, forcibly of course. The whites of some means will be able to leave the country while the world will leave the poor ones to fend for themselves. All this will be tacitly tolerated if not encouraged by a PC-controlled segment of the Western world, just like it happened when Mugabe expropriated the whites of Zimbabwe.
    How about some people in the West getting together and establishing the necessary network to help their own.
    Please do not tell me I’m a racist for looking out for someone for whom I feel empathy. We did it for the oppressed blacks, now let’s do it for the oppressed whites. Yes, they are my own, if the black-led SA government sees it in black and white, I feel my hand is forced.

  • WalterBoswell

    I wonder if SA’s large supply of uranium and it’s moves to restart it’s nuclear program (it is hinting at such a move isn’t it?) will make it more of a priority to other nations should it start to resemble Zimbabwe?

  • veryretired

    Just as in a formulaic suspense thriller, where the heroine inevitably ends up alone, walking down a dark corridor, approaching the door behind which the killer lurks, and we fight the urge to jump up in the theater and scream out “No, no, don’t go in there!”, so we see the foolish in SA going down the same dark path so many have followed in the past.

    It is one of those iron laws recently discussed on another thread.

    A group of people are labelled, and oppressed, for some incidental feature—race, religious affiliation, sex, orientation, tribe, clan— the list is as endless as there are stars in the sky. In a response so human it is almost as natural as breathing air, the members of the group adopt that very characteristic as their badge of honor.

    Compounding the original error, in a form of homeopathy of the spirit, the oppressed claim virtue, not from their inherent dignity and rights as an individual, but from their possession of the same characteristic that was so lately their curse.

    And, if it happens that they acquire the power to liberate themselves from their oppressors, they turn around and imitate their recent masters’ mistake by becoming the oppressor of those who do not possess the magic element that now defines them.

    This dark hallway has been walked so many times, by so many players, and always to the same painful and disastrous doorway, that there are times I almost despair that the plot will ever change. Almost.

    Whether in SA, or our own cities and cultures, there is no more urgently needed message than this: human dignity and rights belong to each individual as the birthright of a discrete entity, the possessor of all that it means to be a human being, not for being a member of this group, or that tribe, or professing a belief in the faith du jour.

    I just saw a petition from a group headed by former Polish President Walesa, championing the release of prisoners of conscience in Cuba. Not because they were white or black, christian or jew or some other faith, not because they were part of our family or clan or tribe, but because they were human beings, whose rights to an independent mind and conscience had been violated.

    On the darkest nights, such shining stars of humanity chase away some of the gloom, and remind us all that there is only one tribe, one family, made up of individuals whose rights and dignities are written into their very genes and chromosomes.

    Gully Foyle is my name,
    and Terra is my nation,
    deep space my final resting place,
    the stars my destination.

  • I was last in South Africa just under a year ago, and the existence of white poverty is certainly apparent. I encountered white beggars as well as black. Johannesburg’s northern suburbs contain a rich and largely but not entirely white middle class, but get away from that area and things are more mixed.

    As for the South African government, I don’t think that in terms of economic management it is dramatically worse than the white apartheid governments of the past. I mean this in the sense that although the present government is pretty dreadful, so were those of the past. Different groups are perhaps favoured, but the present government is venal, interventionist, protectionist, extremely regulatory, and taxes anything heavily that might generate wealth. Apartheid was exactly like this too, only with policies added that were deliberately designed to prevent three quarters of the population from gaining any skills that might actually be economically useful. A small number of sectors such as resources were to a certain extent allowed to operate in a fairly international manner in the global market, but that was all. It also knew not to kill those relatively few geese that laid golden eggs either. The post-apartheid government has largely allowed those sectors to continue operating in the same way. Those parts of the economy have also been helped by the end of international sanctions, and by the global resources boom.

    However, the rhetoric that comes from the South African government is dreadful. You listen to government ministers talking, and they spout dreadful quasi-Marxist stuff containing all sorts of zero-sum we must redistribute the finite amounts of wealth crap. They sound exactly like Robert Mugabe in his more virulent moments. I have both friends and relatives who are members of that northern Johannesburg middle class, and they are utterly terrified that the rhetoric will turn into action and the country will go from extremely disfunctional to completely ruined.

    The other question really is how strong and resilient are South Africa’s institutions and how much power do those institutions have compared to the government. Over relatively short period institutions can be strong, but in the longer term governments tend to prevail, I fear. Zimbabwe had a strong and brave judiciary that it took a very long time for Robert Mugabe to destroy. Eventually he did, alas.

  • Nate

    Brain drain will kill SA. In the past few years, I’ve known an SA (Afrikaans) engineer that moved to the USA and welcomed a new SA cousin (by marriage) into the family.
    As the ANC implement their redistributionist policies, those that can will decide they can somewhere else.

    While that’s not a great position for SA, I (and I’m sure many from Britain, Australia, and Canada) welcome any competent, talented, skilled immigrants from SA.

  • CountingCats

    In Zimbabwe many, if not most, of the British descended retained their passport or otherwise were close enough to have some other entry method to the UK. Hell, even having had a grandparent born British entitles you to get in on an unlimited basis.

    In other words, they had somewhere else they could go, and went.

    South Africa? Nah. Not the same. Many Anglos and all Africaans have no automatic right to go elsewhere, they can’t bolt when/if things start going down hill. In SA things will play out differently, Zimbabwe cannot be used as a guide.

    Besides, too many alternative power centres. Constitutionally power is more decentralised than in Zim, and practically, who believes the Zulus will support the central Government if things start falling apart? There will be a lot more resistance to Mugabe style policies from the very beginning if there is any attempt to implement them.

  • joel

    Why any non-Negro would stay in S.A. is beyond me. The handwriting is on the wall. Look at Zimbabwe and Kenya, for recent examples. There are many others in that sorry continent. Just a matter of time. I would think the non-Negroes would move out just for the sake of their children.

  • otpu

    counting cats said:

    Besides, too many alternative power centres. Constitutionally power is more decentralised than in Zim, and practically, who believes the Zulus will support the central Government if things start falling apart? There will be a lot more resistance to Mugabe style policies from the very beginning if there is any attempt to implement them.

    So, you’re predicting a Rwandan style tribal warfare escalating into genocidal meltdown rather than a Robert Mugabe style socialist take-over and economic collapse.

    Not a lot to choose from there.


  • CountingCats

    So, you’re predicting a Rwandan style tribal warfare escalating into genocidal meltdown rather than a Robert Mugabe style socialist take-over and economic collapse.

    What a lunatic conclusion to draw from what I wrote.

  • who believes the Zulus will support the central Government if things start falling apart?

    I think they’ll support anyone who promises them enough treasure.

  • Elizabeth

    The sheer number of well-educated white South Africans in Dubai is staggering. They seem mostly to squeak out a living as mid-level managers bossing about Indians. In an odd twist of fate, they are not considered by the Gulf citizens on par with white European or North American nationals and receive more than their share of discrimination in an already discriminatory “legal” system.

    Why the Dutch have allowed this unfortunate situation to befall their cousins is beyond me. Especially considering their open-door policy for dirt farmers from the Atlas Mountains and Anatolian shepherds.

  • Ben

    Yeh this is a beat up in my opinion. James have you been to SA recently? It’s like you’re banging on about drownings in a drought stricken land. Seriously pick your fights of you just look like a white supremacist idiot.

  • CountingCats

    Why any non-Negro would stay in S.A. is beyond me … I would think the non-Negroes would move out just for the sake of their children.

    So you think the San should go? Those who were once labeled bushmen? They are non-Negro. What about the Khoisan? You think they should get out as well? Instead of working to create something worth passing onto their children?

    And other Africans? The ones you label not non-Negro? You think they are not entitled to all the chances and opportunities that the non-Negros might be able to get?

    By non-Negro do you actually mean white and of European ancestory, lumping San, Khoisan and Bantu into a single, therefore meaningless, category of Negro? Tell me, the Africaans, where are they going to go? Home maybe? Home where? They have ancestry in Africa stretching back 350 years. These guys ARE home. They are as African as anyone else on the continent. There ain’t nowhere for these particular non-Negros to go. Hell, for some of their ancestors, some of the countries they came from don’t even exist any more. Or are you suggesting that white refugees be given priority elsewhere on the basis of their colour?


    Where do the Indians fit into all this? What about the mixed race? Are they non-Negro or not non-Negro? Where do they fit into the special treatment for selected refugees? Want to explain in more detail?

  • CountingCats: Quite. It’s an interesting fact that white people (ie European mariners and some settlers) actually reached the Cape before black people (ie certain African population expansions) did. Which doesn’t mean that either group can either be clearly defined or has an automatic right to anything. Ultimately it has to be about individuals, not groups, particularly somewhere as ethnically complicated as South Africa. The failure of apartheid is a demonstration as to why this is so. The population ended up being divided into bizarrely and tenuously defined groups, none of which in the end made a great deal of sense.

  • CountingCats

    It’s an interesting fact that white people (ie European mariners and some settlers) actually reached the Cape before black people (ie certain African population expansions) did.

    Well, The san and khoisan were present when europeans started arriving, and had been for thousands of years, but the bantu still hadn’t crossed the great fish river.

    Of course, once the europeans got there the san/khoisan were killed, marginalised and had their land expropriated, just as the bantu had been doing in eastern Africa in the centuries of their southwards migrations.

  • Nick M

    In the 80s I nailed a left-wing school-chum of mine who thought the forcibible deportation of the “whites” from SA was the answer. He didn’t know the history. I did. Perhaps I should have told them my parents had worked in Zambia and had told me a lot of the history of Southern Africa before the debate. It all comes down to this leftist myth that “black” Africa had no real history before white settlement and all lived in an Edenic paradise and were essentially passive actors (yeah like Shaka’s lads were D’oh!) or the shock so frequently expressed about the role of Africans in the tran-atlantic slave trade. It’s utterly patronising and almost a mirror image of the designs of the likes of the BNP.

  • Well, The san and khoisan were present when europeans started arriving

    Oh yes, certainly. There were people there, and they had their land stolen and generally did very badly when the Europeans arrived. However, they were probably not the sorts of people that Essop Pahad would refer to as “our people” either. “Indigenous African” does not necessarily mean “black”. Africa is rather blacker today than it was 1500 years ago, as far as we can guess. Even if you exclude African whites and Indians and Malays who may have been there for a number of centuries, Africa still contains lots of minorities who are not served well by black identity politics. This is yet another reason why such politics are misguided.

  • Steven Groenveld

    Recent events in South Africa seem to bear out the dire predictions of the chaos the inherent racism in the AA & BEE. (I call it AA/BEE/Cede because, as in Zimbabwe the next step is ceding private ownership to the state) The electricity supply has hit a crisis and now any new energy intensive investment is in jeopardy. Rio Tinto’s Coega Aluminium Smelter is all but certainly off.

    The current electricity supply problem is a perfect example of the inevitable collapse of central planning and state owned utilities. It has been exacerbated by the racist policies of the ANC of expunging as many whites as it could from the organisation, denuding it of all the skills and people it so critically needs now. It was an economic mystery that in the apartheid era it actually worked well and the planners had the requirements pretty accurately planned and catered for, but now the wheels have come off and the entire economic future of South Africa is now in doubt because economic growth necessarily requires a growth in energy supply. South AFricas economy is critically dependant on the mines (gold, coal and platinum etc) and many of them had to stop operations because of the electricity crisis. Knock on effects that are accelerating South Africas economic demise.

    Fortunately for myself I saw all of it coming a long way off (post colonial african history is predictable in the way it repeats itself) and emigrated from there 10 years ago.

  • Paddo

    I say that any white South African with any sense should get out quick smart and perhaps make their way here or to England or Canada or the US, somewhere safe. Somewhere where the electricity stays on. Somewhere, where the TV stations work. There was a touching video on youtube about a bloke and his two little girls and their mother living in poverty, and I’m thinking, can’t we airlift them out of there or something. I realise there are many times more black people but two wrongs do not make a right.