Guest Column

Zille, please shut up

2017-04-02 07:49
Helen Zille

Helen Zille

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Tebogo Khaas

I have neither been to Singapore nor have I read that country’s former dictator Lee Kuan Yew’s international bestseller, From Third World to First – The Singapore Story. The DA’s uthixo wase Western Cape, Helen Zille has done both – and more!

This Far East sovereign city-state, with a population almost the size of the Western Cape, deserves its “poster child of economic development” crown. South Africa should draw lessons from Singapore if it is to realise its ideals of economic prosperity.

However, upon her return from Singapore, Zille was apparently tormented by bad service and inefficiencies at the VIP lounge at OR Tambo airport, which included her temporary loss of entitlements such as a TV remote control, hot coffee and fresh milk.

Enraged by this apparent lack of first-class service delivery, it seems that jet lag and colonial hangover took control of not only Zille’s faculties, but her Syrian-refugee-invented iPhone too!

Zille unleashed a torrent of bigoted tweets in which she lamented black people’s lack of gratitude to her forebears who brought “us” the judiciary, transport infrastructure, piped water and technology.

Zille is either incurably disingenuous or oblivious to the facts.

Let me explain.

Africa is not only the cradle of humankind but has, over centuries, been at the forefront of developing knowledge systems and progress long before white people colonised us.

In his seminal treatise, I Write What I Like, Steve Biko writes about the intellectual arrogance of white people who seek to arrogate “civilisation” exclusively to themselves.

At the outset, let me state that some of the oldest legal systems in the world began in Africa. Tradition, social equality and impartiality were the key doctrines of millenniums-old African jurisprudence and this remains embedded in our customary law.

Maybe Zille needs reminding that it was only after the demise of apartheid that a democratic order and fully independent judiciary were established in this country.

As for the development of engineering and technology, this can also be traced back to Africa during the ancient era.

According to Wikipedia, a key development in that era was the advent of the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus developed by Egyptians at around 1 550 BC as an instruction manual for students in arithmetic and geometry. This development was to become the bedrock of scientific and engineering disciplines upon which modern technological advancements are premised.

Also, although the earliest civil engineer known was the Egyptian Imhotep, who lived around 2 600 BC, it was not until the Middle Ages that Ismail al-Jazari developed machines for pumping water for the kings of the Turkish Artuqid dynasty.

Ours is not a level playing field

Before I succumb to the temptation to embellish Africa’s contribution to civilisation, let me acknowledge that individuals of different hues and origins have contributed in different measures to the development of knowledge systems and progress.

Whereas South Africa and Singapore were indeed, albeit at different epochs, once British colonies, the similarities between the two nations start and end there.

For starters, South Africa has abundant mineral wealth while Singapore doesn’t. Zille’s forebears not only plundered South Africa’s mineral resources, but also implemented skewed economic systems that sought to ensure South Africa’s perpetual subservience to Europeans interests.

I am not surprised, although no less perturbed, that Zille would invoke Singapore’s meritocracy given her well-known drivel on affirmative action and employment equity.

Lest we forget, ours is not a level playing field. The apartheid system, from which Zille unashamedly benefited, placed restrictions on the type and level of education black people could attain.

Also, it is a well-known practice in local academia that considerable university research output is purveyed or hived off to overseas jurisdictions by white academics for private commercialisation in spite of such research being funded from South Africa’s tax coffers. Little wonder South Africa ranks so poorly in terms of new intellectual property registrations measured against comparable investments and economies.

In an opinion piece redolent with condescension Zille wrote: “Unable to sleep, I recalled a passage from Lee Kuan Yew’s book where he describes how he lay awake at night, contemplating the challenges of the dirt-poor country he was required to lead: its mass unemployment, lack of education, almost nonexistent sanitation, a dearth of natural resources (not even sufficient water), squalid shack settlements prone to major fires, opium addiction…”

For a while, I thought Zille was relating challenges encountered in the province she leads, except that those challenges almost exclusively afflict poor black people.

Zille, the nouveau poster child of liberal arrogance, missed an opportunity to edify and inspire South Africans with an unsullied account of Singapore’s economic prosperity and what South Africa could learn from it.

In more prosaic terms, Zille must halt her attempts to expunge Africa’s chronicled pre-eminence in the development of knowledge systems and progress from history books.

I surmise, in her world, the only way to respond to black peoples’ acquiescence and goodwill is by sporadically spouting her incurable colonial hangover and arrogance.

For peace’s sake, Zille, please shut up! Thixo!

Khaas is executive chairperson of Corporate SA, a strategic advisory consultancy

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