South Africa’s obsession with race will impede its progress

2015-12-20 11:00

After President Jacob Zuma’s flip-flops with the finance ministry last week – sacking Nhlanhla Nene as head of the ministry – and appointing the African National Congress’ backbencher, Desmond van Rooyen – and then replacing him with Pravin Gordhan – all this in less than a week - thousands of South Africans had had enough. They took to the streets to protest against Zuma’s leadership.

The marches were huge, all races came out in large numbers to call for the end of Zuma’s presidency. But the huge turnout of whites raised questions from many South Africans. They branded the whites’ turnout racist – a protest against black government. Some said that they should have also protested in the apartheid era, against the then racist and oppressive government, and, in the march against the increase in university fees last October.

I was disappointed to see people speaking this way. At a time when we face a problem that affects us all as South Africans – a crippled president ruining our country; couldn’t we at least, for now, unite as citizens of the Rainbow Nation on an issue this critical? This was an opportunity to show unity and speak with one voice.

I just cannot fathom the narrative that if a significant number of whites, who are productive citizens of the country and pay taxes, is visible in a march against an incontrovertibly corrupt and incompetent state, it is racist. President Jacob Zuma has inflicted serious harm to this country. The Economist wrote a very intelligent and insightful article this week, on how Jacob Zuma has ran South Africa into the ground, since he took the presidential office in 2009; and we all feel the pain.

So I do not think it was necessary to invoke race in this march. The nation is clearly on the wrong path under Zuma – and when the implosion ensues, we will all suffer, blacks and whites.

Most of the people who discredit the march along racial lines are the same people who today, call Nelson Mandela a sell-out. Why? Because, in my assessment, by the time Madiba negotiated with the apartheid government to form a new democratic South Africa, and then became the president of the country, he had renounced Marxism. He chose reconciliation, democracy, and improved relations with the West. He had recognized that socialist policies do not work. And that to move forward in a way that benefits us all, we have to, at least to an extent, embrace free markets economics.

Now, according to these left-wing hardliners, whites’ assets should have been confiscated, they should have been taxed at a rate of almost 100%, key sectors of the economy should have been nationalized so that government can address the racial imbalances that existed at the time. In other words a Marxist revolution should have taken place.

Do they realize how catastrophic that would have been? We would be worse off, all of us, blacks and whites. The racist Marxist policies would have impoverished the country.

Even though the apartheid government claimed to be pro-market and capitalist, the fact is it wasn’t. It pursued racist, statist policies in order to suppress people’s freedoms. It wasn’t working. The net outcome was negative.

Another example is Zimbabwe. It’s racist, statist rule over the past fifteen years inflicted sever pain to the people of that country. Poverty and political violence forced many Zimbabweans to migrate to Europe and other countries, more than two million crossed the border into South Africa, most illegally.

Julius Malema and his party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) have started to violently seize people’s properties. The party wants a socialist revolution – which would produce the very chaos and human rights abuses that Mandela tried to evade.

No-one denies that racism exists. It exists here, in Europe, and everywhere around the world. But we should be careful how we deal with it. Let’s not point to racism even where it is unnecessary. Where we are all affected by the incompetent and the ever-expanding state, we should speak with one voice. By that I do not mean the protests against Zuma were people’s discontent over the expanding state and the suppression of liberties. Many of the protesters were just sickened by President Zuma the man. They have no issues with the idea of an interventionist government. But, it’s good that they reacted to Zuma’s recklessness.

Trying by all means to look beyond race and recognizing that racist policies won’t work, while addressing our challenges on unemployment, the incompetent government, poverty, and education; is the only way we can become a better country. The obsession with race, will impede our progress.

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