Radical redistribution deracialised

2017-07-17 18:37

Black First Land First (BLF) recently targeted South African billionaire Johann Rupert. They want to take his land, and the land of other whites, without compensation. This puts liberal and reasonable whites like me in the position of having to defend Johann Rupert. The Ruperts made their money by selling South Africans cigarettes. The Ruperts’ cigarettes killed way more people than apartheid. In fact the tobacco industry, of which they enjoyed a monopoly, was cosseted by the apartheid regime. It was the ANC who eventually tightened up our cigarette laws in line with first world norms. And why should I care anyway about some immoral billionaire’s land?

My opinion is that white South African billionaire dynasties who accumulated their cash in the dark days of white rule – families like the Ruperts, the Oppenheimers, and the Enthovens – should give all their money away. Or at least they should give away the money that was accumulated under apartheid. And they should make a big show of it too. Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are giving all theirs away, why can’t our billionaires do the same?

But that’s another story. What got me irritated was the naiveté of the BLF’s comments. As if taking the Ruperts’ land is going to really help black Africans undo generations of humiliation at being bottom dog. The harm to investor confidence will do a 100 times the damage to the aspirations of poor Africans, as compared to any gains to individual Africans who are given the land free. The iron-clad laws of economics dictate that it never pays to anger your creditors. Scare the creditors now and you’re unable to borrow later, or at least it will cost more to do so. Until such time as South Africa can raise its own capital it will have to play ball with international capital, who are skittish about confiscation without compensation.

Another concern I have with the BLF comments is the racial generalisation. I have nothing in common with Johann Rupert other than a white skin. I think it’s immoral to be as rich as him and not be giving it all away. I think the way he made his money is obscenely callous. He thinks it’s cool. But the BLF has no room for this nuance. They talk of taking land from whites. Not taking land from rich whites, or whites who are racist, or whites who do not consider South Africa home. Should their approach become government policy it would put whites like me in the same position as the ANC founders: impeccable liberals in suits, writing pleading letters to Britain to stop South Africa’s rulers from selling them down the river. No matter how much they made themselves respectable to the dominant whites, they could not win. They were black and laws were made to cover all blacks, regardless if in most essentials – aspiration, interest, mind-set – they fit perfectly into the white world. Their very skin colour was a threat to what ruling whites deemed sacred.

Such is the ugly world of politics. A million acts of cross-racial kindness are swept away by an ugly slogan, a stupid generalisation, an unsubstantiated claim.

Our current crop of South African politicos did not invent this politics of victimhood and exclusion. They’re only the latest in a long line. They present the notion that whites dispossessed blacks as if it is some sort of revelation. It’s not. Before 1910 the founding father of the old South Africa, Jan Smuts, acknowledged, “…the policy of dispossession that we have forced on them.” It was indeed dispossession and the time has come to say fair’s fair. I have no problem with radical redistribution. But there is no need to turn redistribution into an ugly race issue. For radical redistribution to help its intended recipients it must be legal, ordered and deracialised.

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