I was reading James Myburgh’s interesting piece on transformation supposedly killing South Africa, and found myself reflecting on how far we really are from our nation building objectives as a people, because I realised that the opinion being expressed by James in this piece actually represents the views of many South Africans who feel excluded from this South Africa that we are currently building, hence arguments about whether white South Africans should stay or go currently enjoy much traction amongst the various sections of our society, as outlined by a couple of articles written within this forum over the past couple of weeks or so.
To hammer this point home further, a mate of mine from my varsity days who is a highly intelligent chap, a qualified professional with experience at a senior level within multinational corporations and who has also lived abroad and hence has had much exposure (he’s not parochial) had this to say on social media in a post over the past week, “the Mandela project didn’t work. It was superficial and did not address the hard truths. Stay or go, it really doesn’t matter unless we deal with the underlying issues. The first thing being structural race-based inequality.”
Different groupings within the very same society showing diverse perspectives on a topical issue, nothing new there, apart from the fact that the issue that these views are being expressed about will determine whether South Africa becomes or does not become what former President Thabo Mbeki spoke about in a Nelson Mandela memorial lecture at Wits in 2006, “the great masses of our country every day pray that the new South Africa that is being born will be a good, a moral, a humane and a caring South Africa, which, as it matures, will progressively guarantee the happiness of all its citizens.” Idealistic stuff right, but are we anywhere near achieving such high existential ideals as a people, and if not why?
Well, to quote former President Mbeki again, in his 1978 speech, The Historical Injustice, “All societies therefore necessarily bear the imprint, the birth-marks of their own past. Whether to a greater or lesser extent must depend on a whole concatenation of factors, both internal and external to each particular society.”
We must start off by acknowledging the fact that not too long ago, those who held political and economic power considered it appropriate (despite the convenient denialism of many in the current epoch) to instil policies that ensured the marginalisation and subjugation of the black African majority.
This is the history which we come from and that we are trying to break out of, but we will never do so until we acknowledge that this history has a direct bearing on where we find ourselves today and the fact that we have an economy, which is still to a large extent characterised by mostly white males being at the top of the food chain (despite persistent cries of white victimhood in this regard, this remains an empirical fact) and the black, African masses being at the very bottom and still largely excluded from the mainstream.
All of this necessitates a radical change, a shift in order to reverse the effects of the unjust past on the current prospects of the black majority, and hence the need for transformation. As my mate, former Springbok Luke Watson once stated in a brilliant talk on transformation that he gave at the UCT rugby club hosted by Ubumbo (a rugby club within the UCT internal league), which sadly got reduced to his comment about “puking on the Springbok rugby jersey” (I was there and his passing comment which we all laughed off in a light-hearted manner was taken out of context and completely blown out of proportion, but I digress), transformation is about a change of mindset and attitude before anything else.
This is of course very difficult and as a result most people are resistant to it, but here’s the thing, transformation requires a change of mindset and attitude from both black and white South Africans, as Luke Watson highlighted and without that change of mindset and attitude on both sides, we are not going anywhere as a country and in fact we’ll end up in a rut which seems like quicksand that we can’t get out of. So, au contraire, it is not transformation that is killing South Africa, but rather the refusal to truly embrace genuine transformation that is holding us back from becoming the Rainbow Nation that belongs to all who live in it as the Freedom Charter enjoins.
The point is that the current structure upon which South African society is built (inherited from our divided past) is unsustainable and highly untenable for most South Africans and hence it needs to be uprooted in order to promote inclusivity and bring about greater cohesion. This requires an internal transformation from all sides, which will have uncomfortable outward ramifications in the interim, but these are the growing pains that we need to embrace if we are ever to achieve the ultimate objective of non-racialism. The steps towards maturing into a non-racial democracy require that hard decisions be taken in order to change the status quo. We can’t wish that away.
The end goal is to transform South Africa into a non-racial country at all levels of human interaction and action and also transform gender relations in order to deal with historic gender inequalities. This inequality was entrenched through policies and of course it must be reversed through policies as well.
We must of necessity deracialise our economy so that it’s more inclusive and this requires policy interventions to reverse past injustices and of course, there are those who like Holocaust denialists, want to deny the existence of such past injustices (apartheid like the Holocaust was declared a crime against humanity lest we forget so there are parallels to be drawn here, down to the fact that there were reparations that were paid for the Holocaust, but no such restitution was arranged for the evils of apartheid) and their current impact who claim we must “just move on”, but that’s akin to living in a fool’s paradise.
So, we may argue against the mechanisms for restitution against past injustices, such as BEE and EE, but then we must find and suggest alternate solutions to do so, if we are ever going to move towards a deracialised, integrated, united society that is our ideal. To merely write off transformation as a killer to the nation building project, without bringing to the table workable mechanisms to make amends for the past with all its current effects is to live in an ahistorical and unrealistic world.
The argument that the African National Congress-led post 94 government is advancing “racial goals” is ahistorical and unrealistic because it doesn’t take into account the fact that the policies that this government has set in place, have been aimed at reversing the effects of the past in order to move towards non-racialism. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find a greater champion for non-racialism than the African National Congress.
In fact, it is quite interesting that even the main opposition are struggling with this transformation issue, hence the internal squabbles that we are currently witnessing that have led to exposes on its current leader which some claim are coming from “white liberals” who want to take their party back. So, whoever you are and wherever you are in South African society, you have to reckon with the burden of transformation, like it or not.
Let me also add that a truly transformed, non-racial South Africa will embrace and encourage heterogeneity, as opposed to suppressing it. So, for example, in such a society, we would celebrate and not criticise the opening of a new Afrikaans university, as it would be seen as contributing towards the promotion and development of a language and culture which forms part of our unique DNA as a people and would hopefully encourage other indigenous language groups to do the same , under the guise of nation-building.
So, on the contrary, the African National Congress-led government does not and has never had a racial agenda as falsely alleged by those who critique its transformation policies, but rather it is because of its aim of building a non-racial society that it must pursue transformation as an existential imperative.
The ANC-led government’s motivation and motive for seeking to transform South African society, is encapsulated in these words uttered by former President Thabo Mbeki in a speech I referred to earlier, way back in 1978, “Yet this is what a free South Africa will be like. For as the masses themselves long discovered, the antithesis to white supremacy, exclusiveness and arrogance is not a black version of the same practice.
In the physical world, black might indeed be the opposite of white. But in the world of social systems, social theory and practice have as much to do with skin pigmentation as has the birth of children with the stork. To connect the two is to invent a fable with the conscious or unconscious purpose of hiding reality.
The act of negating the theory and practice of white apartheid racism, the revolutionary position, is exactly to take the issue of colour, race, national and sex differentiation out of the sphere of rational human thinking and behaviour, and thereby expose all colour, race, nation and sex prejudice as irrational.”
Other parties might be advancing a multi-racial or anti-racism agenda, but all of these are completely different from non-racialism which is the ANC-led government’s end goal, with transformation as a means towards that end goal.
Mugabe Ratshikuni works for the Gauteng provincial government; He is an activist with a passion for social justice and transformation. He writes here in his personal capacity.