Baskets of bitterness

2016-09-18 06:10

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In South Africa, there are two groups of increasingly bitter people: those who expected things to get better immediately when apartheid ended and those who wish they could have all the privileges they gave up when apartheid ended.

Neither is a realistic position, but what makes it worse is that the government since 1994 has only seriously benefited a small elite.

Yes, instant change for the better was never going to happen.

But 22 years on, what was at first an unrealistic expectation is now pretty reasonable – at least some change for the better.

And to those who hanker after apartheid-style white privilege, give it up. It’s not going to happen.

So, why do so many white South Africans still persist with racist attitudes?

It is not in their interest as a minority to keep stirring up anger against themselves, particularly now that an increasing share of the blame lies with the ANC government for its post-1994 failures.

Those disappointed in the lack of change are naturally upset by any white-supremacist talk, no matter how impotent.

It suits the wealthy elite to keep these two groups at each other’s throats because that way, no one notices the small group that is cashing in.

It is not that much different in the US.

Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” is stuck on the belief that black people are enemies, when the people who really are preventing them from living the life they want are the people who promote the economics of inequality.

That includes most of the political mainstream here and in the US.

What is wrong with the “basket of deplorables” statement is not that it falsely labels Donald Trump as appealing to racists and xenophobes, because he does.

What is wrong with it is it presumes some people are racist by nature and therefore unchangeable.

The only US presidential candidate who seriously challenged the myth that racism is inbred was Bernie Sanders.

His view was that people with these attitudes should be offered alternatives that solve the real problems, rather than leaving them to lash out powerlessly at others who are even bigger victims of societal unfairness.

Where Sanders differed from Trump was in trying to unify those who felt left out, and that is a great cause, one that would seriously trouble the cashed-up elites.

In South Africa the dynamics are a little different, since we no longer have a government favouring white privilege. Instead, we have an increasingly corrupt elite that has deracialised privilege and maintains race as a political tool to give itself cover.

Recently, we had the absurdity of an ANC Youth League leader arguing that political elites should drive BMWs because that creates jobs for the poor.

straight from Ronald Reagan’s bogus theory of trickle-down economics.

Reagonomics and its ugly offspring, neoliberal economics, argue that privileging the already privileged somehow benefits the poor. What these policies really do is increase inequality, one commodity we have in oversupply in this country.

If we want to be serious about eliminating white privilege, we need to get serious about eliminating inequality.

And that is something that takes real political will.

The terrible state of public education in most fee-free schools, for example, is something that could be turned around fast if the government were committed to that.

At tertiary level, we need to do something about the drive to encourage everyone to go to university.

We are not a society that is short of lawyers. It was a mistake to abolish technikons and training colleges for teaching and nursing.

No one can say that these steps improved outcomes: public hospitals are notorious for poor standards of care.

We also need a major rethink of black economic empowerment, which has disproportionately benefited a small elite, despite policies meant to favour small business.

Ironically, given the ANC’s socialist heritage – particularly its alliance with the SA Communist Party – it is behaving like a typical neoliberal crony capitalist party in which government is an engine for patronage and not for building society.

Racism remains a huge problem, as does the legacy of colonialism and apartheid.

But let us not use these things as excuses not to hold the current government to account.

Machanick is associate professor of computer science at Rhodes University.


How should inequality be eradicated?

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Read more on:    sacp  |  anc  |  racism  |  apartheid

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