The race-obsessives vs. the SA middle-ground

John Kane-Berman says the positions of our elites are at odds with those of ordinary people

Is the race-obsessed middle class trying to undermine the middle ground?

South Africa has just experienced (for the umpteenth time) a happy event which should not have been possible, if indeed it was not downright dangerous.

According to the Trends Analysis Report published by the South African Human Rights Commission in December last year, derogatory comments against black people are "rife". Other experts in the study of "whiteness" tell us that the beneficiaries of colonialism perpetrate "daily micro-aggressions" against black people. In the view of Mamphela Ramphele in an article published at the beginning of this year, "rainbowism is dangerous to the future of South Africa".

Yet the 2019 Comrades Marathon run earlier this month was nothing if not a compelling display of "rainbowism", indeed of successful colourblindness.

Earlier this month Dr Ramphele was quoted by the Sunday Times as describing former Model C schools as "enclaves of white privilege". This despite the fact that probably nearly half the children in these schools are now black. Dr Ramphele was objecting to what the newspaper regarded as the "unflattering" fact that four out of five teachers in the schools were white.

This "unflattering" fact does not seem to bother the parents of children in these schools. The latest opinion survey published by the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) reveals that 81% of blacks think the race of their children's teacher does not matter as long as the teacher is good. Could it be that ordinary black people are far more relaxed about race than middle-class opinion leaders such as Dr Ramphele?

Could it be that the priorities of middle-class elites are at odds with those of ordinary people? Most politicians, journalists, lobby groups, and business leaders will tell you "land reform is an urgent necessity" and that affirmative action is a "business imperative". Yet the IRR survey finds that only 2% of blacks think the government should speed up land reform, while only 1% think that it should speed up affirmative action.

Disturbingly, however, the IRR survey also finds that the proportion of blacks who think whites should take second place in South Africa has risen from 29% in 2015 to 62% last year. A possible reason for this is the increasing frequency of verbal abuse of whites by politicians in both the African National Congress and the Economic Freedom Fighters, with the Democratic Alliance sometimes in tow. Another might be the tendency of some opinion leaders, and some parts of the media, to play up anti-black racial incidents while playing down anti-white ones.

Sometimes racism is assumed where it does not exist. When photographs of black children sitting by themselves at a school in Schweizer-Reneke were published in January this year, Dr Ramphele immediately cried "racism". Not only that, but she wrote that "the Schweizer-Reneke scenario plays out in multiple variations all over the country, especially in small towns and farm schools". A few days later, however, Connie Prinsloo, the judge who reinstated the unjustly dismissed teacher in that incident, said that racism "needs to be eradicated, but not searched for where there is none to be found".

Apart from active politicians and the Human Rights Commission, Dr Ramphele is the most prominent person to have weighed in on some of these issues in recent months. But views of the kind she expressed echo those frequently to be found among opinion formers in public life and the media. South Africa knows from its own history how easy it is to inflame racial animosities. Then the talk was of "swart gevaar". Now it is of "whiteness".

But despite its finding that 62% of blacks now think whites should take second place, the IRR survey also finds that 60% think that "all this talk about racism and colonialism is politicians trying to find excuses for their own failures". It further finds that 86% of blacks agree that the different races need each other for progress. Although this is slightly lower than the 93% recorded in our 2001 survey, it is still high enough to constitute a solid base on which to consolidate the middle non-racial ground in our politics, to which the IRR has always been committed and of which it is now the leading advocate.

But politicians, the media, and others need to stop undermining that foundation.

* 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.