by Dave Steward

Racial politics

The end of non-racialism in South Africa?

Dave Steward is the executive director of the FW de Klerk Foundation
Dave Steward.jpg

In his recent address to the Cape Town Press Club, Hlumelo Biko pointed to the increasing tendency within the ANC to "objectivise" to "other" and to "border" non-black communities – and particularly whites. He warned that this process was not good news for those who are being objectivised. What did he mean? 

A speech by Jeff Radebe last month in Parliament provides some pointers regarding the manner in which the government is ramping up its rhetoric. In a relatively short address, he referred no fewer than seven times to the depredations of the past:

·         to "apartheid colonialism"; 

·         to "the struggle against colonialism and apartheid"; 

·         to "the forces of colonialism and later of apartheid, on the one side, arrayed … against the forces of freedom and democracy on the other side"; 

·         to “the heroic stance by the United Nations when it declared apartheid a crime against humanity and a threat to world peace;" 

·         to "the untold suffering, strife and racial hatred sowed by apartheid";  and 

·         to "the poverty trap and vicious cycle of inequality perpetrated by the legacy of apartheid and colonialism". 


Such references pepper most policy statements made by the ANC. Whatever their historic merit – or lack thereof – it would be surprising if they do not stir up some degree of racial animosity or, at the very least, reinforce perceptions of white moral inferiority and black entitlement. Inevitably they fuel demands for restitution, particularly of land, which most black South Africans firmly believe was stolen from their ancestors.  

The message characterises whites as "the other" and places them beyond the border of "us" because they are presented as being either directly responsible for "apartheid colonialism", or as being its present-day heirs and beneficiaries. Whites are indelibly tarnished by the past, while blacks are identified with the forces of freedom and democracy. The "legacy of apartheid and colonialism" is routinely identified as the root cause of most of South Africa’s problems, and particularly of the triple crisis of poverty, unemployment and inequality.   

Increasing use is made of the term "apartheid colonialism", implying that whites are transient alien interlopers. For example, the Green Paper on Land Reform proclaims that "all anti-colonial struggles are at the core about two things, repossession of lost land and restoring the centrality of indigenous culture" (i.e. placing blacks at the centre and ‘bordering’ and ‘othering’ minorities at the periphery).  

The message continues that, in the second phase of national transition, the time has now arrived to take action against these vestiges of apartheid and colonialism.  

All this raises questions about the degree to which non-racialism is still a core value of our new society, of our government and of the ruling alliance.  

It is a question that was recently addressed by the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation in a study of racial perceptions in a number of ANC branches in Gauteng. The findings revealed "a growing sense of isolation and fracture among non-African constituencies", which could have "profound implications for the party’s (the ANC’s) 'identity' as a non-racial party."  

Although participants in the survey noted that the ANC "theoretically supports the ideal of non-racialism", they felt that there were "significant problems with race relations within the ANC, at all levels" – particularly in branches with strong minority membership, such as Eldorado Park, Sandton and Lenasia. Among the problems were perceptions of racism and the sense that non-Africans were excluded from leadership positions. 

The authors of the study go on to discuss the ANC doctrine that the institutional racism of "colonialism of a special type" can be overcome only through the "empowerment of blacks in general and Africans in particular". This will require "the radical restructuring of key aspects of the economy so as to destroy the material basis of the white racist power structure." 

This process, which lies at the core of the ANC’s National Democratic Revolution, is described by Firoz Cachalia as "anti-racist racism". 

According to Pallo Jordan, "The movement adopted, as policy, the conscious and deliberate re-racialisation of South Africa by undertaking a host of measures, among which are affirmative action, to ensure that the results of decades of systematic discrimination and denial of job opportunities are reversed. In other words, the purpose of affirmative action is to create circumstances in which affirmative action will no longer be necessary."

The ANC’s updated 2012 Strategy and Tactics document states that "the need for such affirmative action will decline in the same measure as all centres of power and influence and other critical spheres of social endeavour become broadly representative of the country’s demographics. In the process, all inequalities that may persist or arise need to be addressed."

The ‘re-racialisation’ of South Africa is gathering pace. The government rigidly allocates posts in the public service according to demographics – down to the first decimal point – regardless of merit, objective circumstances or the manifest injustice inflicted on the individuals involved. Coloured employees of the department of correctional services in the Western Cape have been informed that they will not be promoted because the department has exceeded its national racial quota of 8.8%. A total of 1 500 white members of the SA Police Service have been refused promotion to vacant officers posts because SAPS has exceeded its 9% quota.

Late last year, trade and industry minister Rob Davies said that demographic representivity should be applied to the private sector as well: "We need to make sure that in the country’s economy, control, ownership and leadership are reflective of the demographics of the society in the same way the political space does."

What we are experiencing is racial social engineering on a Verwoerdian scale where, once again, the course of South Africans’ lives is being determined by their race and not by individual merit. Because it will take generations to achieve "broad demographic representivity in all centres of power and influence", minority communities can expect to be subjected to ‘anti-racist racism’ for the indefinite future. For all intents and purposes, South Africa is no longer a non-racial society.

The ‘re-racialistion’ of South Africa is the antithesis of the constitutional values of human dignity, equality and non-racialism on which our new society has been based. It contravenes South Africa’s international treaty obligations, and it will certainly destroy any hope of national unity. Without national unity, we will have little chance of successfully implementing the National Development Plan or of addressing the many challenges that confront us – including the pressing need for a rational, workable and non-racist transformation process.

Dave Steward is the executive director of the FW de Klerk Foundation


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