Israelis and South Africans should shun victimhood and go to work

2016-06-27 13:24

By Rabelani Dagada

Generations of Black South Africans and Jews have endured all kinds of indignity, genocide and suffering. At the beginning of the Roman Empire in 27 BC, there were about 2 million Jewish people in Israel. In fact, Jews comprised the biggest nation in the Middle East followed by Egyptians who then numbered approximately 1.8-million. Today there are about 83.06-million Egyptians and about 15-million Jews. The question is what happened to the population growth of the Jews? Long before the ruthless massacres of the Holocaust, many Jews in several generations were killed during wars with the Roman conquerors, Ottoman Empire conquerors, and crusaders. The renowned Israeli archaeologist Professor Dan Bahat becomes highly agitated when he talks about the Jewish people who have been massacred. He explains that there has never been any period wherein Jews were not being massacred. Professor Bahat challenged me for even mentioning the Crusades and the Holocaust as the main causes of the reduction of the Jewish population, and asked, “What about the Knishinev, Tattars, Khmelitski? What about the Farhud in Iraq?” He concludes by asserting that “Expulsions from England, France, and Spain led to loss of people and fewer children”. It is important to state that in Israel, it is not only the Jews who have suffered; there are some Israeli-Arabs who claim that they lost large tracts of land when Israel was declared a state in 1948 and they still feel as if they are second-class citizens.

Before we go further, I have to explain that in South Africa, Africans, coloureds (mixed race) and Indians are referred to as black people. Most black Africans were captured or sold by their fellow black masters as slaves to their new overseas masters. This is how Peter Bruce described their transportation ordeal: “The facts of what Europeans did to the slaves they transported across the Atlantic were quite another. Conservative estimates suggest that between 1451 and 1870, at least 12 million African slaves were marched, in chains, onto English, Dutch, French and Portuguese ships, stuffed into lower decks like sardines to provide ballast for voyages up to three months long, lying chained in their excreta and among their dead. Almost a million died on the way. It was, in every way imaginable, a genocide” (Financial Mail, January 25th 2016). One of the reasons that Africans migrated to South Africa was because they were fleeing slave raids. Black Africans in South Africa also endured several tribal and colonial wars. They also suffered 350 years of colonisation and apartheid, and have lived in freedom only during the past 22 years.

Indians first came to South Africa as slaves around 1654. They too, just like the coloured people, suffered from colonisation and apartheid. White people first came to South Africa fleeing despotic rulers, wars, and poverty wherever they lived. Of course some of them came to advance their socio-economic status. Most of them have single citizenship and no longer have anywhere else in the world to call their home other than South Africa. They too have suffered from several South African wars, colonisation, and apartheid. If white South Africa didn’t suffer from the apartheid system, segregation would still be alive in the midst of deadly racial violence. The notion that the African National Congress (ANC) solely ended apartheid in South Africa is a misleading claim which needs to be corrected (but that’s a topic of another essay).

The above paragraphs make it very clear that both Israelis and South Africans have suffered a lot. The danger of having gone through these gruesome experiences is that one may become a victim of victimhood and this may become counter-productive. My assertion is supported by the South African novelist, poet, playwright, painter, composer and film-maker, Professor Zakes Mda.  During the speech he delivered at the University of Cape Town after receiving an Honorary Doctorate in Literature (DLitt) on May 23rd 2012, Mda said:

“Once we were victims.  Alas, we internalised victimhood and made it part of our psyche.  Somehow we survived.  But, even as survivors, we continue to worship at the altar of perpetual victimhood.  Self-pity is not pretty at all.  Victimhood makes us look so unattractive”.

I am not in any way suggesting that we should forget our history and suffering but my point is that we need to move forward. More than 200 years after the abolition of slavery, the South Americans still talk about slavery in hushed tones, but they have nonetheless moved on in terms of reconstructing their society. Inasmuch as the effects of subjugation and genocide are still tormenting and haunting both Israel and South Africa, we should pay more attention to the present and to the future. We should not continue to behave as if we are still under the foreign (Roman and Ottoman) empires, colonial and apartheid regimes, and therefore still victims.  In South Korea and Vietnam, for example, one is unlikely to hear people complaining about past foreign subjugation, military dictatorships, and wars.

As part of carving out the future and prosperity of our countries, our economies should create more jobs so that most of our people can be self-sustainable. The current situation in which many people in both Israel and South Africa depend on government social welfare grants and stipends is not sustainable in the medium to long term. Government welfare grants and stipends should serve as temporary rather than permanent measures. While the aforesaid grants and stipends are important, some of the recipients and citizens may no longer even bother to improve their skills and/or seek employment opportunities. The more we allow this situation to persist, the more it will become almost impossible to eradicate the culture of entitlement and unreasonable dependency on the state. The bitter truth is that government administrations and lawmakers who attempt to deal with this matter will lose elections.

The then second largest political party in Israel, Yesh Atid, lost several seats in the Knesset (Parliament) after its leader Mr Yair Lapid instituted cutbacks in the amount families receive for “child benefits” and stipends of the Jewish ultra-Orthodox (Haredi / Yeshivas / Torah academics) while serving as a Finance Minister. The rationale for the cutbacks was to people from government social welfare to seek employment. The cutbacks have since been reversed after huge public outcry.

Most Haredi men have large families; they neither work nor participate in mandatory military service. They are fulltime Judaism scholars, but receive stipends from government.  This prompted The Economist (June 27th 2015) to declare: “Eat, pray, don’t work – Israel cannot afford to keep paying ultra-Orthodox men to shun employment”.  According to The Economist, the Haredi constituted about 10% of the Israeli population in 2009 and this number will increase to around 27% by the year 2059.  Mr Lapid has ambitions to be the next Prime Minister of Israel, but unfortunately it will not happen; some voters are still angry with him after he reduced the government stipends. According to data from Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics and the Social Affairs Ministry, one in three Israeli families receives government aid.

In order to continue to cling to power, the South African governing party, the ANC, spreads untruths and propaganda that if the official opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, wins elections it will stop paying social grants to the current recipients who constitute 25% of the population. The percentage of these recipients continues to increase.

Israel and South Africa have a huge task to strengthen their economies to create jobs and their people to shun government social welfare aid in favour of becoming employed. If the current extravagant and blatant social welfare systems continue, both the Israeli and South African states will collapse during the next 20 years. These countries should begin to wean themselves of populist and socialist-oriented policies which have increased their sovereign debt and budget deficits.

Against all the odds, South Korea and Vietnam have become newly industrialised countries and are powerful symbols of nations shunning victimhood by pursuing excellence.  If Israel and South Africa implement the proposals contained in this essay, our yearning to attain fulfilling statehood will be realised sooner. My next essay will answer the question: How can Israelis and South Africans live better?

Dagada is a South African academic, analyst, and consultant. He is on Twitter: @Rabelani_Dagada

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