Things will never be the same again after the recent turmoil and looting. It is a turning point in our history. The speed and scale of events have shaken the confidence in our country’s future to its core.
Many people are rightly asking whether there is still a future in South Africa. For me, there are three starting points to give an answer to this question. The first is that people will not really want to leave if things can get better. In fact, most people cannot move overseas. The question is thus not whether people should stay, but how and where.
The second is that there is always a risk that the slow burn of decay, which has been underway in this country for years, could flare up again in a runaway firestorm. Responsible risk management is therefore essential. It is better to prepare a plan yourself than to wait longer for the ANC’s plans.
The third is that the government is not going to rectify the situation. The ANC’s approach when it comes to governing, is to live with crises rather than resolve them. Therefore, the only solution is for ourselves to create sustainable conditions which will enable us to stay here free, safe and prosperous. It’s going to be a daunting task. The only thing that will be harder is not to do it.
A different South Africa
Years ago Dr Anton Rupert said that a small nation must think and act big in order to survive. Longing for a kind of “old” South Africa, or nostalgia to return to a working “new” South Africa will not help anything.
We will have to build an “other” South Africa, by working with the realities and not with our wishes. The present is not going to go away, the past is not going to come back, and the future is not going to fix itself.
There is also no political solution in sight. Since 1994, there have been 12 elections (six national, six local) where the votes were overwhelmingly based on identity instead of policy. As democrats, we must accept that a multi-party democracy has not worked in South Africa and will most likely not work in the future.
As in other heterogeneous countries, South Africa is a demographic democracy where the composition of the population counts more in elections than the performance of parties.
South Africa’s challenge was strikingly articulated by one of the world’s leading liberal-democratic thinkers, Prof. Francis Fukuyma of Stanford. He said the country’s constitutional democracy was like “a kind of foreign body placed on top of a society that is not modernised in any other way”.
We are one country, but at least two worlds. The political, economic and social outcomes after 27 years show that a simplistic majority system cannot effectively manage the complexities of such a heterogeneous country.
South Africa, with its multitude of races, languages and cultures, is a former colonial region rather than a natural country. Prof. Samuel Huntington of Harvard warned that “ideology is a weak glue to hold people together who would not otherwise form similar ethnic, racial and cultural communities”.
For a democracy to work in such countries, a federation, which divides power more equally between communities, is a precondition. Otherwise, a mostly permanent one party dominant system is the rule. Therefore, a democracy without cultural freedom is only democracy for the demographic majority. A diverse country needs diverse solutions.
South Africa not only has a governance problem, in the ANC that does not have the ability to govern; we also have a dispensation problem with a diverse region that is not a naturally governable unit.
Therefore, most of the state has already failed, although fortunately the country has not yet imploded. For that, the strong private sector and the vibrant community sector must be thanked.
The recent crisis has proven this once again.
South Africa is a community of communities that must work together, rather than a uniform nation that should assimilate. The project to build a nation for the state could never work. We should rather build a state for the nation.
Nation building is a totalitarian project that requires the forced standardisation of the population. Unity and reconciliation are thus reduced to absorption in the majority. In contrast, state-building is a project to create space for diversity in a geographic region larger than Germany, Italy, Britain, Greece, Ireland, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Belgium combined. In addition, our population is even more diverse than Europe’s.
This does not mean the country should break up into chaos. Much rather, a disastrous implosion must be prevented by diverting more power from above to communities below. This can happen either through official recognition by legislation, or through unofficial acceptance of the realities that communities have built up from the ground.
Ideally, this recognition should be included in a kind of Cultural Agreement with the government. Provinces, such as the Western Cape, or cultural communities, such as Afrikaners, have a justified claim to equal recognition of geographical areas like all black population groups in the country.
The Constitution already creates room for this. The central state will no longer have the ability to undemocratically try and prevent communities from democratically taking on greater autonomy. This is normal. People who can afford autonomy do not want to live under the state’s rule, and have long had private medical and private security, or live in private towns, or want to live in places where the ANC is not in power. It is not a battle cry for secession, because accommodating diversity will promote national unity.
Afrikaners do not long for the past under the NP, but do not look forward to an eternal future under the ANC’s rule. We do not want to be above or below other communities, we strive for equality. We are not anyone's rulers or subjects.
We are only striving for normality, not for outdated systems and strange ideologies. A normal existence is where we have the freedom to make and implement decisions ourselves, and where the past is not used as a weapon against your future.
Normal is where you can sleep safely with open windows or where you can walk down the street with your family at night. It is normal to get value for your tax money, with working services, a free economy, where the rule of law is exercised, and your children have hope for the future.
The lesson of unrest
One of the most important lessons to be learned from the unrest is that the security, prosperity and freedom of achieving minorities will always be at risk in a situation where the majority has all the political power and a minority the economic prosperity. This is especially true where a government does not want to make the poor richer through economic growth, but wants to make the “rich” poorer by forced redistribution.
Minorities like Afrikaners must think more of themselves and expect more of themselves. It is certainly not a wake-up call for superiority, but about the “can-do” courage to create a future for oneself to remain sustainable in Southern Africa.
It is not ethnic mobilisation for an uprising, but cultural self-confidence for reconstruction. The way forward is to create the cultural infrastructure in which we can stay here sustainably. It is the condition for us to be able to make a lasting contribution to the well-being of the country and all its people. After all, the time is luckily over where we can prescribe for the majority, or have the power to determine the fate of the country. Afrikaners must therefore try to renew themselves rather than try to tell others what to do.
The challenge of our existence lies not in our small numbers, but in our countrywide dispersion as a minority. Therefore the solution lies in concentrating in places such as: community insitutions, in places where we are the majority, and there where we could become a sustainable majority.
We must support those who strive for larger autonomy in the Western Cape, and work together with other communities in a spirit of mutual recognition and respect to everyone’s benefit. We cannot prevent the government from failing, but we can build successful autonomy.
Flip Buys is chairman of the Solidarity movement.
This article first appeared in Afrikaans on Maroela Media.