I wrote an academic essay – which is available online – earlier this year for my legal philosophy course. While it touched mostly on the leftism of the contemporary intelligentsia, it did touch on ‘Transformation’. In the essay I argue in passing that ‘Transformation’ has essentially become the state ideology of South Africa. The Free Dictionary defines ‘state ideology’ as follows:

“A set of doctrines or beliefs that are shared by the members of a social group or that form the basis of a political, economic, or other system.”

If one follows Karl Klare’s interpretation of the South African constitution as a tool for social change, it is clear that ‘Transformation’ (as explicitly contemplated in the text) does form the basis of our legal-political system. The contention in civil society is that it does not yet form part of our economic system, since there is apparently an imperative in equitable land ownership and demographical representation in business management.

‘Transformation’ has seen a massive resurgence in South African civil society over the last couple of months, especially within the realms of higher education, and more recently, in sport. The Rhodes Must Fall movement at the University of Cape Town is at the forefront of this ‘student revolution’, and has succeeded at least in part in achieving their objectives. Indeed, the University of Cape Town has removed the statue of Cecil John Rhodes. On the campus of Stellenbosch University a movement known as Open Stellenbosch is also making a lot of headway, manifested in the fact that the university management has recently stated its intention to abandon the preference for Afrikaans as medium of instruction.

It is important to investigate what is meant when we talk about ‘Transformation’. Pierre de Vos, a social justice activist-lawyer from Cape Town, is not entirely sure. In an article on his blog, de Vos writes that the term ‘Transformation’ has no meaning and is used as a political tool by elites to appear ‘progressive’. He does not in so many words say what he believes is meant by ‘Transformation’, however the following extract appears apt:

“[‘Transformation’] envisages a complete transformation of the legal system as well as a dismantling of the structures which still help to perpetuate the disgraceful racial and gender inequality in our society and continues to subjugate the majority of South Africans – both economically and socially.”

Blade Nzimande, South Africa’s communist Minister of Higher Education, says that for him, ‘Transformation’ means:

“[‘Transformation’s’ means] far-reaching changes to the socio-economic structure of society in the direction of greater social equity and democratic participation.”

After some more searching, I couldn’t find any substantive divergence from these definitions. Neither the Rhodes Must Fall nor the Open Stellenbosch movements have any clear manifestoes or a concrete explanation of what exactly they mean by ‘Transformation’ or what exactly they want. It has in fact become the norm of groups which seek ‘radical social change’ to not set out exactly from what, and (especially) to what, they want ‘Transformation’. I would have preferred to use the premise of their arguments for this article, but obviously cannot do so. ‘Transformation’ thus appears to seek a radical social change in South African society founded on substantive equality and participatory democracy.

Going by my previous works here and elsewhere, it should be clear that ‘Transformation’ is a South African offshoot of European Critical Theory (ala cultural Marxism). Its ranks are mostly filled with Bikoist racialists and ‘Critical Feminists’. Obviously, there is near unanimity in the economic outlook of proponents of ‘Transformation’: a statocentric approach where the private sector must yield to the State’s noble goal of ensuring equal outcomes, equitable ownership of land, demographical representation in (all) facets of existence, and group-based ‘protection’ of ‘dignity’.

This article is not intended to expose all the flaws and fallacies of ‘Transformation’. I intend to write such a comprehensive piece in the not too distant future. Here, I merely want to explain why ‘Transformation’ is actually no transformation at all.

You should by now have noticed that I capitalize ‘Transformation’. This is not because I regard it as a term of such import that it is deserving of capitalization. I do it because ‘Transformation’ is a proper noun, like ‘Apartheid’. It is a unique, specific, system of social engineering and indeed, an unofficial state ideology. This makes it easier for me to distinguish it from the ordinary noun transformation.

Real transformation, from the Apartheid context to a post-Apartheid context founded on freedom, looks radically different from what we have. What we have is a continuation of the underlying internal logic of Apartheid. While the state ideology has changed cosmetically, the inherent logic remains the same. This ‘logic’ is founded, as Apartheid and colonialism was, on three interrelated principles:

  • Collectivism: a rejection of the inherent dignity and worth of the individual human being. Collectivism shouldn’t be confused with kindness or compassion (which are both individual emotions and traits), or communocentricism (which is voluntary). Collectivism is the idea which regards the views or values of a given group as inherently more important than that of its individual components, without considering the objective logic of those views or values, or whether there exists legitimate compellability.
    • Under Apartheid: the Population Registration Act (30 of 1950) divided South Africans into narrow racial categories which informed the roles they were allowed to play in society. Expropriation of property, for all races, was a common occurrence. There was no regard for individual economic or social interests; everything the government did was in pursuit of its own ideological ends.
    • Under ‘Transformation’: the Employment Equity Act (55 of 1998) divides South Africans into two broad racial categories, ‘black’ and ‘white’. Various other pieces of legislation, such as the Competition Act, reject individuality and commits private persons and businesses to advancing ‘the public interest’, usually with a direct reference to Transformation. The Constitution (1996) itself does this, mostly by compelling the State to ensure ‘substantive’ equality among individuals. While the Constitution is superficially all about ‘dignity’, it approaches the matter collectivistically and ignores the fact that dignity is inherently a component of an individual’s being.
  • Statism: a central and overridingly important role is reserved for the State to see society toe the ideological line. Statism is essentially a religion: the (unfounded) idea that a bureaucracy (the government) is ‘higher up’ in the chain of worthiness, importance, or regard, than ordinary people. The legitimate force that characterizes the State is the key ingredient in this principle.
    • Under Apartheid: South Africa during Apartheid was described as one of the most governmentally centralized states in the world. The freedom of the individual was openly and unashamedly restricted in favor of ‘state security’. There was no laissez faire approach to the economy; indeed, the apparently ‘anti-communist‘ government even controlled prices!
    • Under ‘Transformation’: The Constitution clearly intends a statist society. The government is constitutionally committed to providing citizens with everything from education to housing to water. The Constitution explicitly creates one police force and one criminal prosecuting agency (down from four). It pays lip service to ‘cooperative federalism’, however South Africa remains heavily centralized. It can however be said that South Africa is much less statist today than it was under Apartheid, although this is likely due to a change in statist strategy than an abandonment of statism itself.
  • Totalitarianism: it is all-encompassing and allows no dissent in any context. It is willing to use the force of the State to enforce compliance.
    • Under Apartheid: Apartheid was the defining feature of South African civil society. All individual citizens and business enterprises had to comply with the strict separation of the races and the other authoritarian policies of government. White South Africans had to occasionally escape the totalitarian reach of the South African government by going to Bophuthatswana to gamble. White and black individuals were even precluded from marrying one another – the most intimate and personal affair next to sexual intercourse, which was also regulated by the government’s anti-homosexual policy.
    • Under ‘Transformation’: lip-service is paid to the fact that compliance with Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) is ‘voluntary’, but there are obvious flaws in this argument. No policy of government can ever be voluntary given its manner of funding. Besides, it is likely that any notion of voluntary compliance will be legislated away in the not too distant future, due to popular demand. ‘Transformation’ is demanded in education (including private schools and universities), sport (including private clubs), residential spaces (obviously including private developments), music festivals, broadcasting, the press, the judiciary, employment, and all other manners of private relationships and affairs. To top it all off, even wills and trusts (and their permitted beneficiaries) are now influenced by ‘Transformation’.

The ‘Transformation’ envisaged by the contemporary South African social justice activist and the Constitution, is not actual transformation. Substantive transformation would look like this:

  • Individualism: after centuries of grouping people racially and treating them in differentiated manners according to their race, South Africa should have embraced individuality and individualism. Substantive transformation would have entailed a complete break from legislating racial divisions.
  • Private autonomy: coming out of the most statocentric Western society of the post-colonial age, one would expect the private domain to have been afforded its due respect. The people had little to no choice in matters intricately related to their own affairs in the past. For real transformation, we would have seen the government step out of the way of education, employment, the media and other private relationships. The Group Areas Act was a hallmark of Apartheid and made the government a key player in regulating residential spaces. While the Act was repealed, the government kept course. The idea that the government has any role to play in regulating where we live and who we associate with, is dangerous and counter-transformative.
  • Tolerance: they claim that ‘Transformation’ is the ideology of inclusiveness, tolerance and respect. But this is patently false given its totalitarian nature. Real tolerance would mean that South African individuals would be allowed to break away from the ‘Transformation’ grand narrative. Real transformation would occur voluntarily, without violent compulsion.

Libertarianism is a philosophy dedicated to radical social change. Real transformation can only follow from freeing the market, affording individuals the ability to control their own lives and destiny (thus respecting their dignity) and abandoning violence and force as a ‘legitimate’ means to an end. Using initiatory force to achieve a desired outcome completely delegitimizes the cause – both the means and the end. Stalin’s end was a utopian, peaceful and happy society. Hitler’s end was a strong, communitarian and united society. Yet the means they used to attain these ends completely delegitimized both communism (state socialism) and fascism (corporate socialism). Both lacked the libertarian approach. On the other hand, the American Revolution, the negotiations to end Apartheid, were based on the libertarian approach. Unfortunately, the content (as opposed to the means) often lacked the libertarian ingredient.

Any South African who claims to favor transformation must logically be a libertarian. Otherwise he is not in favor of transformation, but in favor of ‘Transformation’, which has nothing to do with change. There can be no change without abandoning statocentrism, totalitarianism and collectivism.

  • Alan Keartland

    A young man with a mission has, in my opinion, the ability to clear the mist from the mirror. Give this piece the opportunity to give you a new lens through which to gain focus. Having the time, I am going to read it a couple more times myself and then look at the essay he mentions.