Response to the comments to Jonty Fisher’s ‘South Africa’s going the way of Zimbabwe’

This is a response to Jonty Fisher‘s ‘South Africa’s going the way of Zimbabwe’ posted on the Mail&Guardian‘s ThoughLeader blogging paltform.

I have read with interest the article and most especially the comments over the past few days.

I understand these first comments are not directly related to the topic at hand, but in the context of the debate which has ensued since the article being published, I wish to make a few points.

I, like Jonty, am one of those optimist types and am often accused of being blinkered to the rest of the goings on in this country. I still believe, however, that reading the good news, recognising the positive progress where it exists and being generally optimistic about our future will do more for the country than outright negativity masqueraded as realism or pragmatism.

I’ve spent much time, energy and frustration trying to convince South Africans abroad that South Africa is worth being positive about. I have found that by-in-large the South Africans abroad that trash the country at braais, dinner parties and the like do so because of a need to justify their decision to leave South Africa.

We live in (legally) one of the free countries in the world. If someone feels like South Africa is not for them now, or too risky, or the economic interventions affect them too much, or crime is too much to deal or any other valid reasons, they are free to leave South Africa and venture abroad. Indeed, were it not for my business here in South Africa, I am sure I would’ve spent a few years here and there already myself.

Any South African choosing to leave South Africa, either temporarily or through emigration, should not feel they need to justify their decision by convincing themselves, as well as the people around them, that South Africa is a Zimbabwe in the making and that it is indeed a matter of time. Surely you can be a South African living abroad and still be PROUD of where you come from and of the positive progress being made back home.,, and the like will all give these people the information they need to be proud of the advancement everyday in this country.

Then to the not-so-good: we have a young baby of a democracy and a whole lot of growing up lies ahead of us. Right now we’re teething, and it hurts. The sagas around Selebi, Pikoli, Hlope, Manto and the like are all extremely difficult pills for us to swallow but these scandals are not insurmountable. Our media is still free and can (within the limitations of the law) ensure truth is demanded of those in the highest echelons of government. If the Sunday Times broke the law in getting the Health Minister’s Health Records, then, unfortunately, they need to be prosecuted. Nobody should be exempt from the law and the leadership challenge during this time of teething will be for President Mbeki to show us that nobody is immune from investigation and prosecution; not the editor of a national newspaper, not the Chief Justice, not the Minister of Health, not the Commissioner of Police and so on.

As to the topic at hand, both sides of my family tree arrived in South Africa with the 1820 settlers. Both sides then moved to Rhodesia and both sides returned to South Africa by the middle of the 80’s. It was clear to them then, only a few years into democracy, that the effects of the debilitating civil war coupled with the rushed and flawed Lancaster House Agreement which led to the farce that saw Robert Mugabe take power was a recipe for yet another African National Disaster.

No doubt when our time came CODESA, the GNU and indeed our own constitution all took into account the lessons learned in the rest of Africa. CODESA started negotiations in December 1991, the GNU took over national governance in 1994 and only in February 1997 when the constitution was finalized, was power handed directly to the ANC. The process of handing control of the country from the NP to the ANC took nearly five and a half years.

By comparison, Zimbabwe saw hostilities end with the signing of Lancaster House just before Christmas in 1979 and by April 1980 Robert Mugabe and ZANU-PF had control of the country.

Compare 5 months for Zimbabwe and 5 years for South Africa. We did it properly.

South Africa will not go the way of the rest of Africa. Zimbabwe is the quoted example at present because it is in such a shocking state right now. Have no misconceptions that most Africans states have not been where they are now. By-in-large, the rest of Africa have been to the lowest low and are now rebuilding. Zambia, Mozambique, Angola are regional examples. They are building their economies, attracting investors, focusing on agriculture (thanks in no small part to ex-Zimbabwean farmers), building competence as responsible democratic leaders and generally trying to ensure their countries move only forward.

South Africa cannot and will not go the way of the rest of Africa. We have enough examples to learn from, enough education, modernity and intelligence in our leadership and enough goodwill from our neighbours and the rest of the world to ensure we never forget what we’re working toward.

We live a miracle every day in this country, but like most things these days, that miracle is dynamic and changing. In 1994 the miracle was democracy without civil war, through the nineties it was Madiba and his capacity to reconcile and in the new millennium the miracle is the rapid progress and integration we see taking place every day in this country. We’re moving forward. We sing the national anthem like we don’t remember the old one. We get angry when some idiot pulls out the old flag. We have black South Africans in France supporting the Bokke alongside white. We have roads, water, electricity, telephones, clinics, houses and schools where there were never any before – the places white generally don’t go and thus progress whites aren’t seeing.

We have a long, long way to go and a very many challenges to deal with along that road. We will succeed and of that I am absolutely certain. How can I be so certain?

“All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.” — Edmund Burke

The very fact that every single one of us, whether living in South Africa or not, is engaged in this conversation right here is testament to the sheer volume of resource, goodwill and hope behind the desire to see South Africa succeed.

I thank you all for your passion for our wonderful country.

4 thoughts on “Response to the comments to Jonty Fisher’s ‘South Africa’s going the way of Zimbabwe’”

  1. Hi there, I replied to your comment on Fisher’s piece, but it hasn’t (yet?) been approved. I’m guessing it won’t be approved so I will post my reply here too:

    “a need to justify their decision to leave South Africa.”

    Justify it to whom? We don’t need to justify our departure from the shithole that SA has become. I think the facts speak for themselves. We let SA’s notorious reputation speak for itself. I live and work in the Middle East, where people by and large do not know anything about SA, and when they ask me where I am from, they immediately bring up the sad case that SA has become. If SA’s image is so bad in the M.E of all places, then you can guess what ‘our’ (??) country’s image is like in the “first world.” I say “our” because in the past week alone, I have heard at least a dozen or so people telling me that I am not South African because SA belongs to “Africans”, i.e. blacks.

    “Surely you can be a South African living abroad and still be PROUD of where you come from and of the positive progress being made back home.”

    Are you in fact accusing us of not being proud of our country? Yes, we are proud, but not proud at what SA has become (at least economically if not politically, though this in no way means yearning for the return of apartheid). SA was an economic success story. The economy today is in shambles, and the only hope for the government / ANC is the upcoming world cup in 2010, which they consider to be their personal floatation device.

    Being proud of one’s country does not mean being proud of the anti-white racism and black supremacist trash that is not being criticized in the name of political correctness. It does not mean being proud of the steadily increasing unemployment and crime rates. It does not mean being blinded by the construction craze that is going on in preparation for 2010, which has in fact widened the class divide and made the (black) rulers richer and the poor blacks and whites, poorer, and the whites (of all economic backgrounds) fleeing for their lives!

    No, South Africans have not learned from the examples of national tragedy that others have set. Black South Africans have not learned from the mistakes of their “black brethren” all around the continent. Black SA yearn to emulate the model of Zim ethnic cleansing, and are actively pursuing it. Black SA have been blinded by hatred and racism, that they do not even see what has happened to their brethren in the neighbouring state that they hail as a model for “black empowerment.” Black SA, with all their hatred, racism, and corruption (and support thereof), make the supporters of white rule / apartheid look sane. Indeed, many pro-apartheid people had warned against the tragedy that would befall if blacks were allowed to rule. And now, sad to say, blacks have proven exactly that. This is true for Zim, and it WILL become true for SA (already is, if it weren’t for some major companies trying to save SA economy from total collapse, and if it were not for the bending-over of FIFA to reward SA ethnic cleansing!!).

    I’m proud of my country — my country was the civilized nation that once was a model that all Africans yearned to emulate but never could because of tribalism and the fact that they’d rather kill each other than co-exist and work together to build a modern, developed nation. This is ever so true for SA, you only need to look at the mounting crime rates. No, this is not part and parcel of the democratisation process. Many a country has experienced transition from even worse forms of authoritarianism than SA has ever experienced, to well-functioning democracies, and these countries today exhibit all signs of civilized behavior. Perhaps it is due to your blindness, or to the declining South African educational levels that you do not know of the example of Eastern Europe. For example, Ukraine, Poland, Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, etc.

    “The problem is that you are wrong.”

    Then prove that I am wrong. How about backing up your optimism by numbers for a change? Is this what you are basing your optimism on — seeing “more” blacks in top positions? That my friend is no proof that SA is advancing, or that SA economy is alive and well. It is precisely this kind of hippy blindness (it’s not even optimism, it’s pure and simple blindness) that will result in the total downfall of SA.

  2. Hi Ed – Tackling your post in detail will engage the two of us in drawn out and tiresome debate. Our opinions are as they are. I believe things are coming right and you believe they are not. I am here and have been for the past 25 years, you are now in the Middle East (Dubai?).

    I am not accusing you of not being proud; my asserting was one of ‘surely a person CAN still be proud even though they have left SA’.

    If I start pulling out stats to prove my belief of progress to you, you can, as so many people did commenting on Jonty’s original article, tell me that stats mean nothing and can be twisted and abused to tell whatever story I want.

    I am merely telling you, that as a person on the ground, I can see a massive difference between black involvement in the economy 10 years ago and now. 10 years ago people were being placed ‘purely’ on the basis of colour. Nowadays it is significantly less about that and more about who is going to get the job done, with a preference for getting blacks in jobs – and there are a very many capable and hardworking blacks out there.

    Last thing is I would like to mention a thing or two about our economy. I find it hard to understand how you think SA’s economy is in a shambles. We are currently experiencing growth as part of the longest continuous period of growth in the country’s history.

    Foreign Capital is flowing into the country at record pace and volume, the currency has remained firm, manufacturing is growing steadily, agriculture remains a solid foundation, the financial services sector is booming and of course mining is booming in the face of the continued and massive commodities boom being experienced in the world economy.

    The happy state of the economy has seen consumer demand so heated that it has placed massive strain on our trade balance and forced the Reserve Bank to increase interest rates in an attempt to cool things down a little.

    I see no signs here of an economy in shambles.

    I am white. I run an white owned and largely white male staffed business. We are growing. We have work. How could this be possible if what you say is true?

    The really important thing is this, though. I don’t want my business to be pale male dominated. I want a black equity partner who will engage in my business and I want black staff. Not because I want to have the credentials to get work from Government and Big Business, but because I believe in BEE. I believe that BEE is an important intervention.

    So, when I find the right partner, I will give him a foot up that he night not have had were he white and make him a part owner of this business. That is the spirit of progress in South Africa and us here on the ground are the people who need to make it happen.

  3. Hi Warwick,

    I have grown up in SA and have only recently left the country. So in that respect, I don’t think your impressions are any more valid than mine.

    Let me start off by saying that I don’t think stats mean nothing. I think they mean a lot, but only if properly analysed, something that has been lacking in SA. Luckily, there have been some studies on SA economy by interested economic experts in the UK, USA, etc., and they have been nearly unanimous in their conclusions: that our labour market has been a resounding failure and not a success, that AA and BEE policies MIGHT work if properly applied (but aren’t), and that SA’s economy has been experiencing unique features that should be cause for concern. Some people interpret the “uniqueness” as a good sign. They are like fanatics who will salute their leader even when being pushed off a cliff by him. These fanatics, to make reality fit into their wonder-land, even mount attacks against the academic credentials of the economics who issue these warnings. Accusations of racism, white supremacism, etc., are not rare. Meanwhile, the economy IS in shambles. Those with merely primary or no education at all, have lower unemployment rate than those with secondary and higher education. The educated folk are being driven away, and the illiterate and incompetent are beign awarded positions — some of them very key positions. The government continues show increasing signs of intolerance of criticism and dissent, while launching propaganda campaigns that seek to reassure the world (and South Africans) that all is well (again, hints of ‘Zimification’). All is not well. The country is being drained of its brains (if you don’t think that’s serious enough, think again). The intelligent, educated, hardworking people are leaving in pursuit of better careers and safer lives, while the corrupt take their place and turn SA into yet another African national tragedy. Propping up blacks for the jobs that whites used to hold is not the solution (in other words, more black involvement is NOT by default a sign of success), unless you are saying that education, training, skills, etc., don’t matter. In that case, let us all go by jungle law. Well, with every passing day, SA is looking more like a jungle. In fact, I’d be inclined to say that people are acting worse than animals. SA today lives in a moral/ethical vacuum. A typical case of Hobbesian ‘war of all against all.’ I don’t even want to assume why this is the case. I want to ask, what is being done to fix this? The answer is, unless you believe in the ANC propaganda (something that ANC has always been good at), nothing. Nothing is being done. People are getting robbed and killed in broad daylight in the middle of crowded streets and yet somehow justice cannot reach them. Again, I don’t want to make assumptions as to why that is the case (though I bet you can guess what I think about that). I just don’t see how anyone can deny that this IS the case. Denying that the problem exists means that you will never even look for the solution. And that is what ANC propaganda is doing. That is what SA is being brainwashed into believing. And save for a few pockets of resistance, people are endorsing these blatant lies and becoming the tools with which dissent is discredited and eventually crushed.

    Yes, being proud of one’s country and being an expat are not mutually exclusive per se. But I don’t see how I can be proud of SA given what it has become. There can be no pride when there is abject failure. One can still harbour feelings of and patriotism/loyalty, but there can be no pride where there is nothing but abject failure. Most of all, I am nostalgic for what SA used to be. I am not talking about white minority rule here, lest you misunderstand me. I am talking about being disappointed with all the promises, and worst of all, being disappointed that I am being lumped — ‘thanks to’ the colour of my skin — in the category of “advantaged” and “rich” even though my entire family has been, at the very best of times, part of the lower middle class. I am disappointed with the fact that we are once again judged by skin colour, the only different being, ‘we’ (i.e. whites) are now on the losing end. What I wished to see was absolute equality. There can be no ‘relative’ equality. Either there is equality, or there is a leck thereof. By ‘relative’ equality I mean the claim that the reason some racial groups are given privileges is the fact that they had suffered injustices in the past. So in the name of past injustices, they are creating more injustices, and in the process alienating people like me. I had never thought, never even imagined I would be alienated because of the colour of my skin. When I was a child, I was taught, at home, to respect all, whatever the colour of their skin. This, during apartheid. My entire family believed that apartheid was appalling and thought that its dismantlement would bring about a new SA, the SA that was promised to us. Now, almost all members of my extended family have experienced robbery, terror, and varying degrees of physical harm. A loaded gun pointed to your head in broad daylight, with impunity, can make all the difference in your outlook. I only wish that the hateful men who pointed the gun have realized that not all whites are ‘walking banks’. This is what happens when you have a government that hesitates to consider ‘kill the boer’ hate speech, and deems it as an expression of free speech, though an ‘unnecessary’ one. This is what happens when some people are above the law — based on the colour of their skin. I guess those who rebelled against apartheid did not learn a thing or two from the entire experience. Pity the nation that does not learn from its mistakes and is determined to repeat them.

    I love my country. But you see, I can’t afford living in a fenced community, or to install dozens of locks and alarms. I could not find work, or start my own business, even though I have a Masters degree and was in the top 5% of my class throughout my studies. And I could not cope with the constant fear and paranoia, the feeling of living each day as if it were my last. I did not leave by choice. I was forced to leave. So I need no justification. I consider myself and my entire family the victim of the trojan horse that we never realized the promise of a ‘new’ SA was. I would like to return provided I can find work, even if it won’t pay half as much as I get paid here, but I just don’t see how that can happen, and the crime situation could not have improved drastically. I wish to see a non-segregated, non-racialist SA. But when I am classified based on the colour of my skin, then I can’t help but define myself as a function of it.

    And who said living abroad was easy? It isn’t. It’s a whole different environment, a whole different way of thinking, and in my case, language barriers which have been very frustrating (yes, the company I work with is based in Dubai, though at the moment I am in Lebanon). But, unlike black South Africans, I never expected success to be offered to me on a silver plate. I knew I had to work hard for it. I did, and it paid off. I now enjoy a decent salary. But most important of all, I am treated with respect and dignity.

    But the thing is, I have no place that I can call home, except for SA. And I watch with concern and despair how my country is being torn apart and dragged into the dirt, how it’s becoming more segregated than ever, and how I am increasingly being viewed as a ‘guest’ who has overstayed his welcome rather than a citizen whose loyalties should not be put in doubt merely based on the colour of his skin. I have concluded that it is only a matter of time for the white South Africans to have the same fate as white Zims, when the blacks are sufficiently ’empowered.’ Unfortunately you don’t see it coming. I do. I have seen the hatred in their eyes, while a loaded gun was pointed in my face and my pockets were emptied of whatever little money I had. If this were a war between the haves and have-nots, then we would have been on the same side. But we are not.

    Maybe all this sounds like rubbish to you. But coming face to face with the realization that even the smallest sound or a wrong answer can put a bullet in your head, is a real eye-opener. And I’m not so sure if — knowing that experiencing such a thing might change attitudes — I would wish that you and others would get a taste of it, however noble the cause of saving SA is.

  4. “SA was an economic success story.” When exactly was that? If you’re trying to imply that things were economically better during the Apartheid years, I think you’re mistaken. One of (possibly THE) the major issues that brought down the Apartheid regime, was the fact that it wasn’t in economically viable.

    If you try to argue that it was an econimic success back then, for whom exactly was it successful?

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