Why SA is failing to resolve its racial problem Part 2 – The costly illusion of racial superiority
The political divide between black and white in South Africa since 1994 is widening at an alarming rate. If it continues to do so, the outcome is likely to be costly for black and white alike – both groups being heavily dependent on each other – whether they like it or not.
The ANC government has from the beginning been determined to follow a Marxist and collectivist economic and social programme that there is little reason to believe will be any more successful in solving South Africa’s poverty problem and preserving civil liberty than it has been for Zimbabwe, Mozambique, or Venezuela. There are three reasons why the ANC has chosen the course they have: Firstly, because the communist Soviet block was their principal supporter during their struggle against apartheid, rather than the liberal and historically racist West. Secondly, because as an African organisation, the ANC is inherently and culturally predisposed to the collectivist nature of communism rather than the individualism of liberalism. Thirdly, because South African whites have since 1994 singly failed to persuade the ANC leadership that a liberal democracy with a market economy would be far better for the country and the people as a whole than authoritarian communism. Given the worldwide, empirical evidence available to support the white’s contention, this is a notable failure on their part, and one which, from their position of political weakness, is likely to cost them dearly in future.
Just why have we failed in this regard? Why, if choosing liberal democracy over communism is, as they say, a ‘no brainer’, and a choice that most of the world has made, could we not persuade the ANC leadership of this, particularly as in 1994 the newly-negotiated South Africa had started out as a liberal democracy with a well-functioning market? Our failure is even more striking because the ‘economic transformation’ that the ANC calls for in order to eliminate black poverty is, in all probability, far more likely to be achieved by a democracy with an open market than by an authoritarian, Marxist economy.
There are two principal causes of this failure, and both are racially related. First is the difficulty, and sometimes unwillingness, of either of the two racial groups to fully understand and appreciate the worldview of the other. This problem is by no means insurmountable. The second cause is seemingly trite, but is, in fact, by far the more important: it is the white’s failure to show the appropriate respect to blacks on an individual, one-to-one basis, just as white’s automatically and generally do to one other, and as blacks generally and automatically also do to one another. Respect is an essential requirement if trust is to exist between people. No one will trust someone who clearly lacks respect for them. There has never been, therefore, any possibility of whites being able to convince the ANC leadership of the advantages of a liberal democracy.
This failure is a by-product of the delusion of ‘racial’ group moral superiority that arises from the emotional self-identification by the individual with their social or cultural group, described in Part 1. When addressing another individual readily identifiable as of one’s own cultural group, that individual is automatically assumed to possess the group’s defining moral virtues (unless there is good reason to believe otherwise). Accordingly, one is relatively at ease with them and naturally accords them the respect due to all those inherently possessing the virtues attributed to one’s own group. One assumes that they know and will adhere to all the standards and beliefs common to the group. Fruitful discussion and debate between different cultural or racial groups, however, is unlikely to succeed if one party is aware that the other does not regard it as a full moral equal or listen to it as such. The widespread lack of respect shown blacks by whites, and not only by white South Africans, but by whites worldwide, is a deeply unfortunate consequence of historical circumstances.
For countless millennia, Homo sapiens developed under radically different circumstances in Europe and Africa respectively. Climate was possibly the most significant of these. What differences exist between the black and white races today are certainly due to such circumstantial differences rather than to any inherent superiority or inferiority. The most obvious difference, skin colour, is clearly attributable to climate. And the popular white belief in their inherent superior intelligence is rebutted by the fact that even on intelligence tests designed by whites, many blacks score higher than many whites.
When Africa was colonised, the inhabitants were still in a relatively undeveloped state technologically and culturally in Western terms, due to their own particular and different historical circumstances. The colonisation of black Africa thus interrupted the natural course of cultural evolution on the continent. And because of the significant technological and cultural differences existing between the indigenous blacks and the white colonists at the time, the whites chose, and were able to enforce, a social, economic, and political order that largely excluded blacks, while at the same time exploiting them economically. The subordinated African society accordingly remained fixed in its relatively undeveloped state, unable to evolve. This relative technological and cultural backwardness is unfortunately often misattributed by whites to supposed inherent black inferiority – moral and cultural.
Faced constantly with the superiority of whites in regard to those factors which conferred power, many Africans duly developed a profound sense of racial inferiority which infects black consciousness throughout the world to this day. As expressed by the black philosopher Frantz Fanon, “The negro enslaved by his [sense of] inferiority, the white man enslaved by his [sense of] superiority, alike.”
While blacks, like everybody else, generally enjoy the sense of superiority provided by their self-identification with their social group, within their own tribal or clan affiliations, they generally do not do so in respect of the wider world.
It is this white delusion of inherent superiority and black fear of inherent inferiority, created by historical accident, that is unnecessarily poisoning black/white political relations in South Africa today. As a thriving and modern nation, South Africa in 1994 presented a unique opportunity for black and white, through cooperation, not only to create an integrated society, but also to disprove to the world once and for all the poisonous and archaic libel of black inferiority.
That this has not happened is to a large extent attributable to conscious and unconscious white arrogance. After 350 years of exploitative rule, having finally landed themselves in a very weak position at the foot of Africa, devoid of political power, the whites in 1994 duly handed the ANC the keys to the state. They then sat back on their untouched assets and subjected the ANC government to a stream of criticism, some of it justified but much of it contemptuous, unreasonable, and racially biased.
What on earth did we whites expect to happen in 1994? Did we somehow not understand that the whole object of gaining political power is to obtain wealth? What did we think that the blacks – impoverished, poorly educated, and largely unskilled after 350 years of neglectful and oppressive white rule – would do once all political power was in their hands? Perpetuate the status quo?
As the blacks’ only ready access to the capital and assets that all humans desire, and to which they now felt entitled, it was to be expected that the ANC leaders would exploit the State. It is highly unlikely that any other politicians in the same circumstances today, white or black, would do any differently.
Thanks to the presence of Nelson Mandela and other moderate ANC leaders, there was an early chance that the ANC could eventually be persuaded that the best interests of their people lay, not in an authoritarian, communistic economic and political system like Venezuela’s, but in a market-based, liberal democracy. For this to happen, however, the blacks had to be ready to listen to what the whites had to say. And for this to happen, the blacks naturally needed the whites to treat them and relate to them as moral equals; not to be condescendingly lectured to, but persuaded that what the whites contended was in fact correct. This has not yet happened, and is unlikely to do so, unless the widespread white attitude towards blacks changes soon.
So seemingly marginal a consideration as the failure of whites to regard and treat blacks with the same degree of respect that whites treat each other has caused the concept of the Rainbow Nation to abort. The constant offence and insult accorded blacks, much of it admittedly unintended and unconscious, has alienated many of them. It has also understandably lost whites the black leadership’s respect and, most importantly, has driven the black political narrative away from conciliation and racial inclusiveness towards reverse apartheid, where whites are regarded as undesirable and illegitimate outsiders. This has pushed the political middle towards the extreme and provided anti-white racial ammunition for radical, nationalistic politicians.
The current moral collapse of the ANC augurs badly for black and white alike in South Africa. To have any chance of avoiding the likelihood of Zimbabwefication, the leaders of society are going to have to get together to work out the best way forward. If whites are to participate usefully in this process, however, we have first to abandon our narcissistic arrogance and delusions of racial superiority, and exhibit a little of the humility and humanity embodied in the concept of ubuntu – now appropriate for our reduced station in the grand scheme of things.