There are many reasons why South Africa appears to be failing as both an economy and a society, but one stands out above all others. This is the near-complete absence of in-depth communication between black and white South Africans. The two groups of people whose participation is essential if the county’s problems are to be solved are not talking in depth or fruitfully to each other, and they are not doing so for two reasons.
The first of these is the lack of understanding created by the fact that the black section of South African society, like the Chinese and most societies on earth, is strongly collectivist in nature, while the white section is individualist. A collectivist society is one that automatically places the interests of the community as a unit ahead of those of the individuals who constitute the society, and is the original form of human society. The practice of ubuntu is an example of collectivism. An individualistic society is one that places the interests of the individual before those of the collective. The concept of individual human rights illustrates this practice. Individualist societies originated in post-medieval Europe and today are principally those liberal capitalist societies common to Western Europe and North America.
Communism and socialism are also collectivist ideologies, and it was the Soviet Union and China that supported the ANC during their struggle against Apartheid, and not the Western democracies, which tended initially to support the Apartheid government. Accordingly, as collectivists, today the ANC’s ideology is firmly communist rather than pro free-market capitalist. They therefore find it easy to overlook the manifest economic and political failures of communism and socialism, and to focus on the real or apparent failures of capitalism. This radical and culturally-based difference in economic and political ideologies makes fruitful exchange on these issues between white leaders and the ANC leadership virtually impossible. Alone, this largely ignored factor is sufficient to ensure that South Africa becomes and remains a socialist state over the foreseeable future, with all that this implies, unless white leaders take the consideration fully into account.
The second factor blocking inter-racial communication is perhaps best 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.”
As members of the individualistic culture that gave rise to the modern world, whites unthinkingly regard themselves as superior to members of the older, collectivist societies. This self-perception, as we know, expresses itself frequently in an arrogance, often unconscious, when dealing with those of other races. Arrogance, in turn, generates resentment, and resentment kills communication. Every culture tends in its own way to regard itself as superior, but whites have had their racial egos inflated by their technological dominance over the past few centuries. Blacks worldwide, on the other hand, rendered relatively backward by the historical developments that resulted in the acceleration of white technology, have suffered severely in regard to their self-perception, and are understandably highly sensitive to slight. The white South African delusion of racial superiority, expressed often in unconscious arrogance, therefore forms a major obstacle to fruitful inter-racial dialogue. Fanon is correct when he points out that the white is no less enslaved by his sense of superiority than is the black by his sense of inferiority. As a thriving modern nation, South Africa in 1994 presented a unique opportunity for black and white, through cooperation, to create a successfully integrated society, and also to disprove to the world, once and for all, the archaic libel of black inferiority. This has not happened, and largely for the two reasons cited above.
As part of the historical process, as we know, white South Africans dominated and politically suppressed South African blacks for 350 years. Among other things, restrictions were placed on blacks’ legal, educational, employment, and property rights, so denying them access to the economic opportunities enjoyed by whites and, most importantly, to the general possibility of accumulating capital.
In 1994 South African whites reluctantly handed the keys to power to the blacks, and then sat back on their assets, waiting to see how the ANC would do in terms of governance. At this point, not only did the blacks themselves lack assets, but, most significantly, thanks to all but low-level exclusion from the modern industrial economy that whites had imported into the country, and to the education system that supported it, they also by and large lacked the educational, industrial, financial, and commercial skills required in order to earn a good income and so to acquire assets in the near and medium-term future. In fact, a chasm existed between the deal negotiated in the 1990’s and economic reality. That chasm was the rational expectation by blacks of a new, prosperous standard of living for all in the reasonably near future and the incapacity of the new government, for a variety of reasons, to facilitate this.
What whites did not fully appreciate at the time is that the principal purpose of gaining power is to acquire assets. What exactly, with the keys to power in their hands, having renounced the right to expropriate whites’ assets, but lacking assets themselves and without the general economic capacity to generate their own employment and wealth in the near and mid-term future, were blacks supposed to do from this point on?
The keys to power included the key to the treasury. This was the only significant source of revenue available with which the ANC could gratify its own and its supporter’s heightened expectations. They therefore exploited it to the maximum. It is highly unlikely that anyone else in the identical situation would have done any differently, black or white. Similarly, the ANC utilised government employment as a means of providing jobs and rewarding its supporters. In the circumstances in which they found themselves, the ANC’s behaviour as a political organisation was hardly extraordinary, by today’s international moral standards, and whites are hardly in a position to moralise. The self-enriching and criminal corruption that appears to be endemic in the ANC, however, is a clear betrayal of the revolution, for which the ANC will in due course have to account to the people.
Having, over three centuries, made their bed to suit themselves, South African whites have now to sleep in it. They obviously have a great deal to offer the new South Africa, in terms of their capital, their technical and commercial expertise, and, generally, their self-interested good intentions. The problem, not only for them, but for the country as a whole, however, is that the ANC and other black leaders generally, and understandably, have little desire to deal with them for the reasons stated, any more than is absolutely necessary.
The ANC is deeply committed to a collectivist, Marxist economic policy. The majority of whites believe that this would be a disaster for both whites and blacks. As rational beings, the ANC could possibly be persuaded to change the more counter-productive of their economic beliefs in the interests of their people. This is unlikely to happen, however, unless the ANC leaders in the near future consider discussing the economy with whites sufficiently tolerable and productive enough to be worth their while.