Why de Waal’s anti-Zille rhetoric is wrong

I watched with interest last week as Mandy de Waal waged a strange crusade against Democratic Alliance (DA) leader, Helen Zille.

The reason for de Waal’s crusade, to my surprise, was because Zille had written a comprehensive condemnation of white-on-black racism and a call to action for us all to clamp down on it.

In doing so, Zille listed in detail the numerous incidents of heinous behaviour around the country that have been reported with alarming frequency in the media. She made the case that South Africans have a responsibility to shut down the social space white racists thrive in. She cited as “nauseating” those whites who think it is ok to make racist comments by assuming their company all share the same views.

Zille also held no punches in taking on the new “self-appointed” leaders of the far right – Steve Hofmeyr and Dan Roodt – comparing them to the “khaki-clad, gun-toting, horse-riding para-militaries of old”.

Importantly, she drew a line in the sand by bluntly telling the “incorrigible” racists in our society to rather go and find a home with Roodt’s microscopic Front Nasionaal party, because the DA is “disgusted by them”.

So I was surprised then that de Waal chose not to attack the loony bin that is the far-right, and the social misfit aggressors among them, but instead elected to use cherry-picked visuals and flawed data analysis to support her strange and pious crusade against Zille.

What has compelled me to pen an intervention in this matter, is de Waal’s ham-fisted use of statistical demographic data produced by my colleague Adrian Frith prior to his accepting a position in my directorate.

Using census data, he developed maps of the entire country showing the geographical spread of residents by income, language and race.

The maps he produced are actually very useful for assessing current levels of racial integration in our cities, and how this compares to our apartheid past where races were strictly segregated.

Desperate to attack Zille using the approach of the old chestnut of Cape Town being more racist or segregated than anywhere else, de Waal selectively used these maps to make a self-serving point, that is patently incorrect.

Frith was never asked – as the author of the maps – for an interpretation that could have spared de Waal this embarrassment.

Only de Waal alone will know why she chose to manipulate the data to serve her own pious argument.

Her grand conclusion was: “A look at the Johannesburg map and the Cape Town map speaks volumes about integration in the two different cities. The Jozi map shows that previously white neighbourhoods are becoming integrated. The Cape Town map shows that the city is far from integrated.”

But to set the record straight on racial integration in our cities I would like to offer a statistically based overview, as a service to anyone genuinely interested in the truth about this important South African question.

In July 2013, Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) produced a report entitled “Measuring racial segregation at different geographic scales in Cape Town and Johannesburg 1991 – 2011”.

The report found that in both Johannesburg and Cape Town, “residential segregation has decreased between 1991 and 2011” but that, “despite this, segregation remains high in both cities”.

At some geographic scales Johannesburg is more segregated than Cape Town, and at other scales Cape Town is more segregated.

In the end the report found that levels of racial integration are similar in both cities, with neither being particularly more segregated than the other.

Stats SA applied the same method of calculation used by the United States Census Bureau to determine an “entropy score” or “diversity index” for these two South African metros.

To see the bigger picture, my colleagues and I have since calculated the diversity index of all of South Africa’s metros. I am happy to make the working data and codes we used available for the sake of transparency, but will offer a brief explanation of the methodology here (note that the results for Cape Town and Johannesburg we obtained differ slightly from those obtained by Stats SA, because the exact data and calculation approach used by Stats SA are not known).

We calculated a diversity index (or “entropy score”) for the whole municipal area in each metro. If a metro contained 25% Black Africans, 25% Coloureds, 25% Asians and 25% Whites, it would have the maximum possible diversity index. (we ignored those who indicated “other” on the census because we don’t know what that really means.)

If a municipality had a population that was 100% of one race, it would have the minimum possible diversity index.

We divided the municipal area into a regular grid of 4km x 4km squares. This size was chosen because it was the middle of the range of sizes used by Stats SA (Note that the Stats SA paper describes the grid sizes as ranging from one square kilometre to eight square kilometres).

We calculated the diversity index for the population of each square. Then we calculated, for each square, the difference between the whole municipality’s diversity index and that square’s diversity index – so a square more diverse than the municipality as a whole would have a negative difference, and a square less diverse than the municipality as a whole would have a positive difference.

Finally, we multiplied each square’s difference by its total population and summed them up. This sum, when divided by the population of the whole municipality, divided by the municipality’s diversity score, yielded a result between zero and one, with zero being complete integration and one being complete segregation.

We have represented the results of these calculations in a graphic showing the diversity index of South Africa’s cities.

segindex

The actual data is interrogated rather than a biased glance at selected maps as Ms de Waal chose to do, Cape Town and Johannesburg are on pretty much an even keel as far as integration is concerned.

This is supported by the Stats SA report which indicates that in some cases Cape Town is more segregated, and in others Johannesburg is more segregated, but broadly speaking they have very similar figures.

The index places Cape Town second (best) in the country for integration, followed very closely by Johannesburg, and then the rest of the metros with Tshwane and Manguang (worst) showing up about twice as segregated as eThekwini.

It is clear that the challenge of tackling apartheid’s legacy is one that faces all of South Africa’s towns and cities.

The bottom line is that all governments have a duty to drive economic growth and inclusion so that people have more opportunities to improve their lives, and to choose where they live.

I take issue with de Waal abusing mapped data of Cape Town and Johannesburg that was put into the public domain as a service to help people understand the statistical truth of integration in our cities.

All de Waal simply did was deliberately select a part of Cape Town’s map that was less integrated than the part of the map she selected for Johannesburg.

In any case, trying to judge the degree of segregation by just “looking at the maps” is unscientific and highly subject to bias in the viewer – if you expect to see more segregation in one city, you’ll probably see it. This is an abuse of the data and irresponsible journalism. There is no need to use this visual approach when there are actual statistical measures of segregation available.

I have not written this piece to favourably represent one city’s integration over another regardless of the facts. Nor do I seek to trivialise the very serious challenge of integrating our cities, to make any self-serving political arguments; as I believe de Waal has unfortunately done.

However, I do want to make a point about a sector of middle-class hypocrites who use serious issues such as racism, privilege and segregation as cover to serve their own narcissistic agendas.

Only they, it seems, can be the true “anti-racists”, ironically using the privilege of their amplified voices in the media, not in service of the greater good, or of the facts, but for their own self-interest.

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