What have white people done for this country?

2016-01-17 00:07

Over the past two weeks, we have all been reminded that the post-1994 South Africa still grapples with racism. That we still have a long way to go to defeat racial hatred in this country. From Penny Sparrow’s vile comments against blacks, to Justin Van Vuuran’s, and Velaphi Khumalo who called on the cleansing of white South Africans; it became clear to me that the journey towards a unified, non-racial South Africa will not be easy.

In a massage to his staff, on racism and the need for transformation, published at the Rand Daily Mail this week, Sim Tshabalala, the Chief Executive Officer of Standard Bank South Africa, said that he wrote the message “as a black South African”. That it was “an unashamedly personal message with all the history and emotion that comes with that.”

Though I did not entirely agree with it, it was a brilliant message – well-written by Mr. CEO; intelligent and honest. He correctly highlighted the major challenges South Africa faces – high unemployment, racism, poverty, and so on.

Here, unlike Mr. Tshabalala, I do not write as a black South African, and certainly, do not write with emotions. Rather, I choose to write as a public policy analyst and a concerned citizen of this beautiful land.

After Nelson Mandela’s passing in 2013, Fareed Zakaria of Cable News Network (CNN), said that one of Madiba’s greatest acts, was to encourage the white business class to participate actively in the new South Africa, as the nation transitioned from the oppressive apartheid rule, into the new democratic society in 1994.

Since that transition, this white business class has done exactly that – it’s been active – producing, paying taxes, selling, consuming, investing, and creating employment opportunities for the unemployed. And that of course has had a positive impact on the economy and our people.

You know, when I drove to the gym during the festive season, I passed by many, many people on the road waiting for public transport to get them to the nearby predominantly white town – where they work.

It was reminiscent of my days as a young star. I also used to wait on the road for a bus to the same town – where a family had hired me as a gardener. It was work, and I earned income, like most people at the time.

I think it is very important to point this out, because when racial tensions ensue in this country, left-wing zealots go around spreading the notion that part of the problem is “white monopoly capital” - that solely benefits whites at the expense of blacks – which is completely wrong. According to them, the private sector is white, racist and exploits blacks –it’s a source of racism.

Of course some people are racist, both in government and in private sector; and of course some people do exploit others. It’s the world we live in – there are good people and there are bad people. But on net-balance, the private sector has contributed immensely to the productivity of our economy.

America’s economist, Thomas Sowell, who holds an appointment at the Hoover Institution as a Rose and Milton Friedman Senior Fellow on Public Policy, once said “The only thing that will reduce poverty is wealth. And the people who create the wealth reduce the poverty”. He was absolutely correct. Suppose this medium-to-high income town I spoke about never existed, wasn’t creating wealth, what would have happened to the hundreds of people who currently work there? The fact is many would have been jobless and poorer.

My gripe with the left is that it always sees every economic activity as a zero-sum game – the result is always winners and losers. How shortsighted.

What makes me grateful is that we blacks are catching up to this white business class – transformation is in motion. Today, more than 50% of university degrees are awarded to blacks. The proportion of top management in black hands in the private sector has doubled from 16% to 32% since 2000. The black middle-class has more than doubled over the past 10 years, growing more than 250%. The annual spend of the black middle class has surpassed that of whites, and has skyrocketed to more than R400 billion a year, according to the University of Cape Town. Another interesting statistic, black South Africans account for 78% of new private businesses formed since 2002. This is a conservative estimate since it excludes informal businesses and black empowerment deals.

So we blacks are also producing, selling, consuming, paying taxes, investing and creating employment opportunities for the unemployed. Of course this transformation has been slow. When Sim Tshabalala says that we need to speed up transformation, he’s correct.

To accelerate it, we’ll have to do exactly as Thomas Sowell says – we’ll all, black and white, have to work together in creating more wealth. We’ll need a small government that believes the creation of wealth, productivity, will reduce poverty, not welfare. A government that does not regard the private sector as only white and racist. A government that will ensure every child in this country receives decent education.

My advice to South Africa’s left-wing zealots is this: When Penny Sparrow calls black people monkeys, judge her as an individual. Do not go around propagating the false notion that all whites are racist – that they do nothing for this country except to enrich themselves at the expense of blacks. That is very shortsighted and wrong. Whites, like blacks, have done great things for this country over the past 21 years, and continue to do so. We all should work together in making South Africa a prosperous nation.

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