Race-based policies no cure for inequality

Phumlani Majozi writes on the lessons for SA from the US Supreme Court's recent ruling on AA

Lessons for South Africa from US Supreme Court

This past week, the United States (US) Supreme Court ended affirmative action in college admissions. It was one of the most significant and consequential Court rulings in America's modern history. A decision that got many in America upset, and many others like famed political commentator Ben Shapiro celebrating.

The Court’s majority opinion was written by Chief Justice John Roberts. In his concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote, “I hold out enduring hope that this country will live up to its principles so clearly enunciated in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States: that all men are created equal, are equal citizens, and must be treated equally before the law.” 

I found Thomas’ concurring opinion powerful, honest, and very analytical. If you genuinely believe that we are all, and that we must all be, equal before the law, then you cannot be in support of race-based affirmative action in America or anywhere around the world.  

In one of my posts on social media, I echoed that there are lessons for South Africa from this ruling by the US Supreme Court. We must reflect on our race-based policies that are increasingly becoming divisive and toxic in the country. At some point, what has been done by the US Supreme Court, will have to be done in South Africa.  

The protests by the Coloured community in Westbury, Johannesburg, three weeks ago, against the newly amended race-based government policies in the labour market are a testament to the toxicity and divisiveness of our race-based policies thirty years into our democracy.

Whites were disgruntled long time ago and many packed their bags and left South Africa, which has not been a positive for the country.

If our goal is to create a globally competitive society, then we must create an environment where a person of every colour, in every religion in the country, has an opportunity to pursue his or her dreams in the market. 

We need a united a society. Our unity and diversity can be our asset, as we compete with nations like China, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Kenya, and so on.  

Racial inequality cannot be addressed by race-based policies

Just like in America, racial inequality exists in South Africa. It’s a reality. On household wealth, white people are ahead. However, they are not ahead because of the colour of their skin; and blacks are not behind because of the colour of their skin.

The differences in skin colour do not explain the disparities on wealth. When it comes to wealth creation, human capital, which is knowledge and skills and experience, is crucial and is a huge factor in determining household wealth, regardless of the colour of the household. The focus must be on how we get more black people into higher levels of human capital, as that will ultimately increase their wealth. 

Black people both in America and in South Africa, also have staggering rates of family breakdown.  The nuclear family is critical for economic development. Late economist Walter E. Williams, who was a professor at George Mason University and a friend of South Africa, once said, “At the root of most of the problems black people face is the breakdown of the family structure.” 

Boosting economic prosperity amongst black people must also focus on fixing and strengthening families.

On LinkedIn two weeks ago, I posted a video of brilliant economist Roland G. Fryer of Harvard University, whose research showed that what determines mobility out of poverty are education, resilience, family, mental health, drug use, trouble with police. 

For black people to qualify to enrol in colleges, it must be ensured that they get the best primary and high school education. It begins at the foundation level. The differences between whites and blacks, are in academic skills, and that is what must be addressed. 

However, it must be emphasized that education can only be made available to people. The people’s responsibility is to make use of the educational opportunities available to them. 

Laying the foundations is the hardest work because it requires well-structured economic reform and unpopular decisions must be made. The unpopular decisions can upset interest groups like the South African Communist Party (SACP) and COSATU in South Africa. 

I want the disadvantaged people to be helped

My statements against race-based affirmative action have been misrepresented by my critics many times, which is unfair because I have written repeatedly that I am not opposed to both the government and the private sector helping the disadvantaged. Helping the disadvantaged is addressing inequality.

However, I do not believe that people must be helped because they're black, or that black people need some special help. People must be helped because they need help, regardless of their colour.

When it comes to businesses, all start-ups, regardless of the race of their founders must be eligible for funding from both the private as well as the public sector. If we repeal “race-based policies”, and just have “policies” that advocate for merit, most beneficiaries will still be black anyway. 

What troubles me greatly, is that we black people are desperate for seats in companies that were founded by minorities. Where are our companies that we’ve founded over the past decades? Those are the honest questions we should be asking now, instead of “How many black executives does Dischem have?”. We must focus more on creation of strong competitive companies.

Politics perpetuate racial divisions

Like in America, South African politicians perpetuate racial divisions by advocating for race-based policies. In surveys done by Afrobarometer and the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), the matters of race-based policies are not on the list of priorities for South Africans. Citizens want jobs, service delivery, and an end to corruption and crime.

In South Africa, we have politicians who perpetuate the idea that black people are at the bottom because of their skin colour, or because of white monopoly capital.

These politicians also perpetuate the notion that black people are at the bottom because they do not own land and whites own most of the land. Such is misleading and not helpful. The surveys that have been done show that land is not a priority to South Africans. Since the land restitution process began in the 1990s, most claimants have chosen to take money as compensation, instead of land.

What is also ignored is that agriculture is no longer a route to wealth. In 1961, South Africa's farming contributed about 9% of GDP. Today, that contribution is about 3%. In 2017, the government was sitting on thousands of farms, struggling with transfers. The government also owns land that it should be giving to the poor for land redistribution purposes.  

Yet, still with this context, the obsession is on white-owned land. Why obsess over white-owned land issue when there are so many land-related issues that need to be addressed outside of white-owned land. This is not helpful and is counterproductive. 

We must deal with the actual problems on matters of poverty and inequality. Race-based policies are not a solution, both in America and in South Africa. With what the US Supreme Court has done, I hope South Africa takes lessons.  

Phumlani M. Majozi is a senior fellow at African Liberty. His website is phumlanimajozi.com. Follow him on Twitter: @PhumlaniMMajozi.