Tuesday, 10 December 2013

On South Africa

Yesterday I attended a brief meeting with two chaps who, unbeknownst to me beforehand, were South African - one an Afrikaner and the other an ethnic Asian holding South African citizenship. After the purpose of the meeting was drawn to a conclusion, we talked about Nelson Mandela and South Africa for twenty minutes or so.

I began by giving my own impression*: to the extent that South Africa's current condition can be attributed to Mandela's actions, this connection can at best be described as "tragic"; the alleged corruption of the police and criminal justice system; the apparent "normalization" of violent crime, especially rape; the ongoing theft of farms, and the corresponding murder of Afrikans farmers; and the more or less open corruption and backwardness of the ANC's major figures including the current President. To my mind, these things do not support the impression of South Africa as a lawful, racially "reconciled" modern country, but rather evince the impression that the place is rapidly descending into chaos.

Against that impression, I was offered two assertions by the Afrikaner: (1) that there is a great "unity" among black and white South Africans and (2) that many black South Africans are "giants" in terms of their personalities. Not only do neither of these two claims refute my impression, but they are only loosely related to the point I was making about the seeming institutional deterioration of South Africa; yes there may be some sense of "unity" expressed between some members of different ethnic groups and yes there will of course be decent people in South Africa too, but South Africa still has a very high ratio of violent crime to population compared to other countries and it seems likely that there is an ethnic majoritarian bent, not only to the ANC, but to the country's governing institutions more generally.

One way to understand why the Afrikaner asserted his two claims of "unity" among black and white South Africans and the "giant" personality of many black South Africans is that he was using them as a kind of self-defense mechanism, i.e. a means of asserting his own non-racist views. This would in turn presuppose that he is habituated to regarding outside criticism of post-apartheid South Africa either as an accusation of ongoing racism, or as racist itself and is not used to listening to and considering negative views of his own country in anything other than racial terms.

Surely, this is one of the major obstacles for South Africans: to stop thinking in racial terms and start thinking of themselves as a proper country where everyone ought to be accorded the same rights not only in theory but in practice too - and that in turn requires the realization that the ANC and the institutions of government that Mandela left behind are more likely an obstacle to that progress than a facilitator of it. Is it not unreasonable to ask, for instance, whether De Klerk's proposal of a rotating Presidency among ethnic groups would have been better than the strict majoritarian rule insisted upon by Mandela?

As for Nelson Mandela himself, whilst his end of bringing down the apartheid system was unquestionably a just end to aim for, his means of achieving that end (bombing churches, restaurants and public infrastructure) does not warrant comparison to the peaceful civil disobedience campaigns of Martin Luther King. Nor was I impressed with Nelson Mandela's refusal to speak out against the monstrous crimes of his "comrades" Robert Mugabe and Fidel Castro. Overall, whilst I am not particularly antagonistic toward Mandela, I am not exactly a media fan-boy of his either.

*An impression, I should stress, formed largely from reading Africa Check, which appears to be a non-partisan, objective concern to research factual claims.


  1. Wow, great piece. Very well put. And I thought I was going to go to the grave without ever agreeing with anything you wrote again.

    Anecdotally, your Afrikaner friend may have been an outlier. Most Afrikaners I've met (outside of SA, where I've never been, because I don't want to die violently) think that the country is a horrible mess and fear for their future. Some of them are themselves blatantly racist. The only time I've heard an opinion like your friend's from an Afrikaner was from a former cop turned Charismatic Christian, who was really into praying with black South Africans, and even then he acknowledged the horrible ongoing violence against rural whites.

  2. Nor did he criticize his extremely corrupt successors (particularly Zuma, but also Mbeki) for their publicized stances on AIDS. Not to mention on their corruption. Why would someone "so close to sainthood" remain quiet on his own parties lack of sensibility on the misery they let flourish, and even engendered.
    Contrast this to Pope Francis, who has been extremely critical of his own Church's failings!


Comment moderation is now in place, as of April 2012. Rules:

1) Be aware that your right to say what you want is circumscribed by my right of ownership here.

2) Make your comments relevant to the post to which they are attached.

3) Be careful what you presume: always be prepared to evince your point with logic and/or facts.

4) Do not transgress Blogger's rules regarding content, i.e. do not express hatred for other people on account of their ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation or nationality.

5) Remember that only the best are prepared to concede, and only the worst are prepared to smear.