Mpumelelo Mkhabela

Condemning those who fly the invisible apartheid flag

2017-11-03 09:50

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All South Africans loyal to our constitutional democracy were offended by the hoisting of the apartheid flag during the anti-farm murder protest marches.

The apartheid nostalgists were widely condemned for their public display of loyalty to an evil political system. 

We have deleted apartheid. There is no "undo" option. But some of its non-statutory elements are alive in different guises. The hoisting of the apartheid flag is one of them.

The most dangerous representatives of the apartheid mentality are, however, not the ones who come out and hoist apartheid flags in full view of the public. Those have been, and will continue to be, condemned for what they really are: lunatic extremists.

Those who pose the real danger are those who hoist the invisible apartheid flag.

Unlike those racists who openly hoist the visible apartheid flag, the bearers of the invisible one cannot be dismissed as the lunatic fringe. They hold political and economic power.

To get the picture of the invisible apartheid flag, we must recall what apartheid was about.

The architects of apartheid, building on the legacy of colonialists, believed that Africans were subhuman. They believed in the superiority of the whites. 

To give effect to this belief system, they constructed a race-based state that passed laws to control nearly all aspects of the lives of black people, limiting their potential so that their main duty was to serve whites.

By the very nature of human life, it's impossible for one human being or race to have infinite and complete control over another race. Domination can never be perfectly complete. Apartheid, like its predecessor colonialism and its uncles Nazism and Fascism in Europe, was destined to collapse. 

But apartheid outcomes are still visible in the form of poor education for black children, exploitative working environments for black workers, an inferior health care system for black patients, a governance system run by people whose preoccupation is to steal money that should be used to uplift poor black people, spatial human settlement that consign black residents into match boxes, black people who share drinking water with animals in rural areas... the list is long.

While some of these could be blamed on the actual legacy of apartheid, some are the result of failures of those at the helm of the current democratic state and private sector bosses who fail to do their part in building an inclusive economy.

The scandalous use of state power is furthering the objectives of apartheid.

The consequence of billions of rands in irregular and wasteful expenditure exposed by the Auditor General annually means resources that could help poor black people are illegally channelled to cronies and cannot be accounted for.

Those responsible for this are, in my view, carrying the invisible apartheid flag. Forget their slogans and rhetoric. Look instead at the consequences of their actions. They speak the language of transformation, of erasing the legacy of apartheid, while their actions reproduce apartheid outcomes.

Such people, who work against the upliftment of black people, are no different to racists who, in social gatherings, say all kinds of things about black people while their children listen and consequently become well-polished practitioners of racism.

The people who make it possible for black people to live as per the old regime are the modern-day advocates of a system which, even though it doesn't carry the name, produces results that would fit well with apartheid's designs.

One of the key aspects of apartheid was lack of government accountability.

To perfect the system, apartheid leaders abolished the little there was that could hold them to account.

They gave themselves absolute power. The president and ministers could issue decrees which no one was allowed to question.

In contrast, today our constitutional democratic system makes provision for stringent checks and balances. Our courts are entitled to review and set aside executive conduct and legislation that are inconsistent with the Constitution, the supreme law of the land.

But, we can see that some leaders are working hard to break the system of checks and balances. "What kind of democracy is this?" one former freedom fighter, now in government, once asked out of frustration that the courts are insisting on rationality of his decisions.

One gets a sense that people like him regret that the apartheid system was abolished in its entirety. It would appear that they would have been happy to be freed from prison, enjoy political freedoms but occupy the same powerful positions of the apartheid era leaders which enabled them to operate without being held to account.

To a very large extent, this is what happened in most parts of the African continent after independence. African leaders assumed positions of authority left behind by the colonialists, adopted the colonial symbols of power, military uniforms and all. Most disturbingly, they acted with impunity against the interests of the people they rhetorically claimed to be serving.

This was an insult to the whole struggle for liberation. So, many African countries literally had to fight for the second liberation after independence delivered misery through brutal dictatorships, some of them with the backing of erstwhile colonial powers. 

The Africans who oppressed their own people were, in my view, carrying a colonial flag by another name under conditions of so-called freedom and independence. It was a cruel irony.

After a lot of hard work and sacrifices post-1994, aimed at getting out of the apartheid debt, we are once again faced with the prospect of returning to the apartheid-level debt abyss. In the last eight and a half years the economy and the country's governance systems were steered to guarantee bankruptcy.

The victims of this cruel governance failures are black people. And the victims of the forthcoming structural adjustment programme will be black people.

In short, we must condemn the apartheid nostalgists who have come out carrying their ugly flags that represent an ugly past. In addition, let's also condemn those who hoist the invisible flag of apartheid by acting in a manner that continues to produce apartheid-type outcomes. 

- Mkhabela is a fellow at the Centre for the Study of Governance Innovation (GovInn) at the University of Pretoria. 

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Read more on:    state capture  |  governance  |  apartheid

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