Liberation of a special type

John Kane-Berman asks why the ANC has so failed the black African majority

Earlier this month Phumlani Majozi wrote on Politicsweb of the “heartbreaking” figures on “family breakdown” in South Africa. Citing Statistics South Africa, he reported that 86.1% of Asian/Indian children lived with their fathers, against 80.2% of white children and 51.3% of coloured children – but only 31.7% of black African children.

Boys growing up without fathers were more likely to become criminals, girls to become pregnant in their teens, and both boys and girls to drop out of school. However, the problem of “fatherlessness” was largely ignored, he wrote. Moreover, “as long as the rates of fatherlessness remain this high among blacks, it will be a struggle for them to catch up to other groups on income and prosperity”.

The main catch-up formula of the government run by the African National Congress (ANC) to deal with social and economic inequalities is affirmative action in its various manifestations. This is supposedly the remedy for the manifold injustices of apartheid and “colonialism of a special type”.

However, the ANC’s habitual blaming of inequalities exclusively on apartheid ignores not only the impact of absent fathers, but a host of other factors too. White pupils benefited from higher per-capita spending on their schooling, but their parents also made sure that the schooling actually happened. They did not allow school inspectors to be chased away, or permit control of their children’s education to be handed over to a militant trade union. Technical and vocational education was promoted, not undermined. Nor did white students routinely set fire to buildings on university campuses.

Job reservation laws were enacted to protect whites in various jobs, but proper education made sure that those employed in these jobs were adequately equipped to fill them, not least in the public sector. Laws were also enacted to protect white business from black competition. Nowadays we have a situation in which all kinds of businesses are handicapped by miles of red tape, often administered by incompetent, unsympathetic, and corrupt bureaucrats. Freed from racial restrictions, black African (and other) would-be entrepreneurs face a host of other obstacles.

One of the major consequences of all these encumbrances, along with restrictions on the labour market, is a steady rise in unemployment since the ANC came to power. Other factors contributing to rising joblessness are the generally hostile attitude to private business and failure to maintain and develop economic infrastructure.

If anyone in 1994 had forecast the rise in unemployment under ANC rule, nobody would have believed them. But between that year and last, unemployment on the official definition rose from 2.0 million to 7.2 million. If discouraged workers are included, unemployment rose from 3.7 million to 11.1 million. These are increases of 260% and 200% respectively.

Is the unemployment tragedy an unintended consequence of other policies, or is high unemployment itself a policy objective?

White homeowners had few problems in obtaining title deeds. The racial limitations on black land ownership were removed before the ANC came to power, but huge numbers of homeowners wait endlessly for their title deeds. Secure property rights were the foundation of white economic success in farming and other businesses, as well as in fostering stable communities.

Now instead of building on this foundation by ensuring secure property rights for everyone, enabling blacks to emulate the success previously achieved by whites, the ANC wants to remove secure property rights altogether. This is not about ending apartheid, or even redressing the injustices of the past. It is about imposing an entirely new ideology upon the country – actually the only “reform” being pursued.

White suburbs were generally run properly. Electricity and water supplies were reliable. The same applied to business districts. White ratepayers would never have tolerated the pervasive breakdown in services that characterises hundreds of black townships up and down the country today. Nor would white taxpayers have countenanced the looting that has destroyed so many state-owned enterprises. Still less would they have permitted the disintegration of the country’s rail network.

In June 1923 Richard Victor Selope Thema, who had been secretary general of the ANC some years earlier, said during a meeting with the prime minister, Jan Smuts, to protest against the pass laws and the denial of freehold rights, “We have contributed to the progress and advancement of this country. We have sacrificed many lives in the mines, we have built this city, we have built the railways, and we claim that we should have a place in South Africa.”

In 1994 the ANC took over this priceless – and for Africa, unique heritage. Far from building upon it, it has destroyed much of it, while stifling the growth of the mining industry and much else. The ANC in power has done infinitely more damage to Eskom than it was ever able to do when it was busy blowing up pylons during its liberation struggle.       

Prior to 1994, successive white governments passed laws designed to create an environment in which whites in general and Afrikaners in particular could thrive. The ANC proclaims its commitment to the advancement of all blacks, and of black Africans in particular.

Yet whereas the National Party (NP) created an environment in which its electorate could prosper, the ANC has created something different: a state built on expanding patronage, institutionalised corruption, abysmal schooling, and rising unemployment.

The objective is to empower not black Africans in general, or even the working class, but a largely corrupt middle-class party and its communist and trade union allies. The ANC’s overriding commitment is to its national democratic revolution. Ordinary black people are incidental to this ideological objective.

* John Kane-Berman is a policy fellow at the IRR, a think-tank that promotes political and economic freedom. Readers are invited to take a stand with the IRR by clicking here or sending an SMS with your name to 32823. Each SMS costs R1. Ts and Cs apply.