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.

Racism in South Africa: An opinion and a response

I received this email (in bold) as a forward from a member of my staff (he did not write it). He asked me what I thought of it. I share it and my response with you below.

You call me Whiteboy, Famma, Maboeroe, Lekoa, Whitey, Settler, White Trash and that’s OK.
Well, no it’s not OK. It’s racist.

But when I call you, nigger, Kaffir, piksteel, houtkop, muntu, or Gook, you call me a racist.
Not only is this racist as above, but it is made worse by the legacy and depth of meaning behind some of those words. Call me a “Settler” and I’ll probably dismiss that and mark you in my book as a racist. But when someone is called a Kaffir, I’m sorry to say, there is a whole lot more meaning behind that then calling me a Settler; there’s 300 years of white supremacy and mistreatment of blacks.

You say that whites committed a lot of violence against you, so why are the ghettos, townships and Africa the most dangerous places to live?
They are violent because of their history. Why is it that black townships exist? Historically there is a reason going back to migrant labour and keeping the ‘black workers’ away from the white suburbs. This is why we have Soweto, Alexandra outside Johannesburg; Umlazi, Kwa Mashu outside Durban and so on. If you treat people like a lesser species; ensure they are poor and downtrodden and put them all in the same place, you can be sure that place will be a violent one.

You have bursaries for previously disadvantaged.
Ok? And the problem here? They are previously disadvantaged and we need to try and redress the imbalances created by our past. This is one means of achieving that.

You have Freedom Day.
WE have Freedom Day. I am a white South African and Freedom Day means as much to me as to any other South African. Freedom Day celebrates the day we as South Africans chose a change of direction in order for all South Africans to share equally in our country.

You have Youth Day.
WE celebrate the youth and we’re not the only country to. We’ve just celebrated the 31st Anniversary of the Soweto uprising, and while we should never celebrate violence as a means to solving problems, we should be proud of the Youth of 1976 who stood firm and told the Apartheid government that they had had enough.

You have Thabo Mbeki.
We have Thabo Mbeki. He is our President. He might not be popular, nor is this unusual for a centrist, but he has been good for South Africa. We could have an extremist instead; we don’t, we have President Mbeki and I am proud of our President.

You have affirmative action.
The Apartheid government created the South Africa we inherited in 1994. This is obvious. What was that South Africa? It was a country:

  • of whites who had been brought up and educated to believe that they were superior to blacks, and;
  • of blacks who had been limited in education and training, brought up to treat whites as better than them, limited in the jobs they could do and where they could travel and the list goes on.

So, in 1994 South Africa became another African country to have white minority rule replaced with a democratically elected majority ruler. Remember the ANC is not a black-only party. It goes without saying that the mandate of the new government would be to build a new South Africa that heals the wounds created in the past.

One of those wounds was limited black advancement. Ignoring the differences between blacks, coloureds and Indians in the eyes of the previous government, whites were reserved the best jobs while, in general, non-whites were limited. This imbalance had to be addressed in the new South Africa and one method of doing this is to enact an Affirmative Action policy until such time as it is no longer needed.

I am not saying I agree with AA, but I am saying it, or something like it is a necessary evil; an evil necessitated by the actions of our previous government.

You have Black Economic Empowerment.
As an extension of what I have said above, and over-simplified, another necessary evil is our BEE policy which seeks to increase black ownership of our economy. Our economy is the largest in Africa and in 1994 was owned almost entirely by whites. I hope it goes without saying that this too needed to be fixed. Again, this does not mean that I agree with the policy or the way it has been implemented, but it is BEE and it is making blacks rich. The fact that it is making a few black very rich instead of helping many more blacks secure ownership in the economy is a matter of implementation and will be infinitely debated and debatable.

You have Employment equity.
Ok, and? Employment Equity seeks to ensure that all South Africans not only participate in the workplace, but meaningfully as well. So from a base which saw the workplace dominated by white males and then white females, EE will seek to ensure that non-whites, and in particular blacks, the disabled and women in general get to participate meaningfully in the workplace. What does this mean? This means women in management, blacks on boards of directors, the disabled given equal opportunities to secure work – I see no problem with this policy.

You have BCM, PAC and Azapo.
We have the WAWATS Movement (We are White and therefore Superior – yes I made that up), we had Verwoed and the National Party. Look where that got us. How could we, as whites, hold it against the downtrodden that they have organisation and movements fighting for their identity and for their rights as human beings. This is a moot point.

You have people singing “kill the Boer, the famma”.
There are also whites who still believe they are superior beings and who still believes blacks exist to serve them. They are few and far between (I hope), but they exist. So what? “Kill the Boer”, just like “Kaffir” is recognised hate speech in this country. You say either of those things to someone and you could go to jail.

If we had WET – (White Entertainment Television) we’d be racists.
I don’t see a Black Entertainment Television? What’s the point? Besides, we have, say MK89, which I am pretty sure has a viewership comprising mostly Afrikaners and some English-speaking whites and maybe a sprinkling of the rest. Is that racist? No. Would the creators of the channel every intend it to be white only? No.

If we had a White Pride Day you would call us racists.
I am not sure we have Black Pride Day in South Africa. May the person who wrote list load of horseshite copied this from somewhere else.

If we had white history month, we’d be racists.
Holy moly. This is getting terribly contrived as we near the end. I have a book, published in South Africa called White Africans and which focuses on the contributions whites have made to the continent and it’s development. It was not banned and I see no reason is celebrating the GOOD that has been done by whites in Africa and more particularly in South Africa, especially when discussed in the context of white supremacy and the ills of Apartheid regime.

If we had an organization for only whites to “advance” our lives, we’d be racists or white supremacists.
You’re damn right they would. Historically whites have been on top. By further advancing whites on the basis of their race alone does nothing more than take us back to the bullshit that got us here in the first place. AA, EE and BEE are all necessary to redress the imbalances created by Apartheid. Apartheid and this bullshit legacy South Africa has to get itself out of was created because whites focused on “advancing” themselves to the exclusion of others.

If we had a college fund that only gave white students scholarships, you know we’d be racists. There are 100% Black colleges and universities in SA, yet if there were “Afrikaans universities” that would be a racist college.
There are? Really? You mean there is a University in South Africa that would tell me as a white that I am barred from entry because I am white? This is news to me perhaps someone could enlighten me. In the case that someone can’t, I’d just like to say HORSESHIT!

In the Soweto March, you believed that you were marching for your race and rights. If we marched for our race and rights, you would call us racists.
In 1976 the Soweto youth marched for their (black) rights. That was totally acceptable in Apartheid South Africa. I marched for our rights on Saturday. Myself and, as it were, another 2000 people, mostly white. Nobody called us racists. If we had marched for our race on Saturday, I would have called us racists. Why? Because the South Africa we live in now affords all South Africans equal rights. (Don’t argue with me about BEE, EE and AA contradicting this).

You are proud to be black, and you’re not afraid to announce it. But when we announce our white pride, you call us racists.
I am proud to be a white South African. Who the hell could call me racist for saying that, and on what grounds?

You rob us, murder us, rape us, hi-jack us, and shoot at us. But, when a white man shoots a black man, murderer or burglar posing a threat to society, you call him a racist.
Wild generalisation, however, one can understand how in a country with a history of white on black brutality, of San being hunted for sport, of white police murdering black political foes, nobody wants to hope that when a white man shoots a black man that it was not racially motivated. Just because that happens does not mean it was a racist killing. Oh, and rapes, murders, hi-jacks and shootings happen on a black on black basis as well – just so you know. (Whoever you are)

I am proud. But, you call me a racist. Why is it that only whites can be racists?
Who said only whites can be racist? You?

There is nothing improper about this email. Let’s see which of you are proud enough to forward it !!!!
Everything is improper about this email. I most certainly will not forward it. Not at least without my comments attached.

Tomorrow: will there be anarchy?

Tomorrow the 12 day Public Service Workers’ Strike will be expanded by the addition of members of various other unions, either striking, or picketing during their free hour(s) of the day. The largest labour union in South Africa, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), will not be participating as it has not provided the requisite notice of 10 days. I have been informed, as reliably as one possibly can be, that our office cleaner will not be in tomorrow due to the participation of taxi-drivers in the strike tomorrow. This means that bus-drivers will in all probability also be off; they tend not to be a allowed to work by striking taxi-drivers. The 120000-strong South African Municipal Workers’ Union (SAMWU) has indicated that “none of the services provided by municipalities will be available”; whether this means they will be also be striking or just working to mean is to be seen.

So, tomorrow will in all likelihood be the largest strike action since the fall of Apartheid 13 years ago. I support the strikers’ constitutional right to strike but, unlike their Union leaders who “do not condone but cannot condemn” the acts of violence and the human cost of the strike, I cannot accept the violence, intimidation and indirect human cost of the strike. These strikers (of which, one is a close friend of mine) has reason to strike: they are paid a pittence! That reason, however desperate, does not constitute a license to engage in violent protest, nor does it mean that essential services should engage in the strike either. People have died in KwaZulu-Natal because of the reduced capacity of the emergency services and state hospitals; this is just not good enough.

My brother (Jason) and I drove to the state-run hospital in Kwadukuza (Stanger) on Sunday evening to drop of a cell-phone, food, water and blankets with our domestic servant who was in the maternity ward. We were met by police outside the gates of the hospital; that was good to know. The hospital, however, was next to empty. Jason and I were impressed with the hospital; it was clean, well put together and modern, but it was empty. We found Winnie in the maternity ward extremely uncomfortable and without much assistance. We felt helpless. We had checked with the local Private Alberlito hospital, but it said it was choc-full. There was one sister and one doctor on duty in the ward. They were heroes to me. The fact that they were there when everyone else had abandoned their patients, that was something special.

Tomorrow will be day 13 of the strike, and quite possibly the day which will define it and by which it will be remembered. I hope it will be remembered for the peaceful solidarity expressed by the strikers and their sympathetic supporters, but it might very well not be. Time will tell nonetheless.