Monday, April 15, 2013

On Zuma's Efforts To Blame Apartheid


In comments that he made to mark the 20th anniversary of Chris Hani's assassination, President Zuma alluded to the recent debate regarding the impact of apartheid on the current problems confronting South Africa.

He said that "to suggest we cannot blame apartheid for what is happening in our country now, I think is a mistake, to say the least. We don't need to indicate what it is apartheid did. The fact that the country is two in one - you go to any city, there is a beautiful part and squatters on the other side - this is not the making of democracy and we can't stop blaming those who caused it."

Jacob Zuma's "Nkandla" in the back ground and a simple mud house in the foreground.

"While wanting to see change happening fast in every corner of the country, we are under no illusion that South Africa will automatically and comprehensively change in only 20 years. That is impossible. The legacy of apartheid runs too deep and too far back for the democratic administration to reverse it in so short a period."

President Zuma's remarks were a repetition of what has become a central refrain in ANC communication: that the legacy of the past - i.e. apartheid or "colonialism of a special kind" - is responsible for the triple crisis of inequality, unemployment and poverty. The remarks are usually accompanied by simplistic comparisons between whites who live in the "beautiful part" and blacks who live "on the other side."

We are all the products of our past - and there can be no doubt that apartheid created serious distortions in the normal development process that black South Africans would otherwise have experienced. However, the roots of inequality and poverty are far more complex than that. They include, in particular, lack of access to decent education, employment and effective government services - all factors that have been within the sphere of government policy since 1994.

The inequality that characterised our society in 1994 may certainly be ascribed to the complex legacies of the past. However, the fact that, 19 years later, we are an even more unequal society is the consequence of the failure of government policy. Unacceptable levels of inequality have their roots - among other things - in:
  • the dismal performance of our education system caused overwhelmingly by government mismanagement and the depredations of SADTU; 
  • the fact that almost 40% of black South Africans are unemployed - primarily as a result of   rigid labour policies; policies and attitudes that discourage foreign and domestic investment and the refusal of COSATU to countenance competition in freer labour markets;
  • the inability of government to deliver decent services - which is attested to by service delivery protests throughout the country almost on a daily basis; and
  • the implementation of inappropriate policies to promote equality - which have greatly benefited the top 10% of the black population - but which have done nothing for the bottom 60%.
Attempts to blame these failures on "apartheid" will simply divert government and public attention from the urgent need to implement the kind of realistic solutions called for in the National Development Plan. They also serve intentionally or unintentionally to stir up racial animosities that we simply cannot afford. When President Zuma says that "we cannot  stop blaming those who caused it", he is playing the very dangerous game of making whites the racial scapegoats for the manifest failures of his own government.

The reality is that many of the beautiful parts to which President Zuma refers are now increasingly inhabited by the emerging black elite and middle class. In 1995 whites accounted for 69% of those in the top earnings decile. By 2007 their share had diminished to 43%. By now it will be even smaller. The nature of the squatter camps is also changing: several are now inhabited by impoverished whites. The country may be "two in one" as President Zuma observes but they can no longer be simplistically characterised as 'rich white' and 'poor black'.

Clearly we South Africans need to engage one another in frank discussions about the legacy of the past, the challenges of the present and  our vision for the future.

No comments:

Post a Comment