Mandela dies. Apartheid lives

Why does apartheid logic live on so strongly in so many countries? Because it gives an over-powerful state the power to manipulate citizens and enrich certain powerful dishonest lobbies at the expense of others

His ideas need liberating globally
Charles Crawford
On 15 December 2013 20:34

Nelson Mandela devoted his life to opposing discrimination and segregation based on the idea of ‘race’. He has been buried amidst unprecedented global acclaim for his moral and political principles hardened in this struggle.

Yet the idea of discrimination according to ‘race’ is alive and well in South Africa and around the world. What is going on?

Discrimination works only by identifying who is empowered to dish out the segregation and who is the victim of it. History shows many ways to do this. Not all of it is malevolent.

In fact measuring and categorising people for different purposes is how any modern society works. Without categorisation there is no specialisation and smart division of effort.

Men are clearly ‘different’ from women, just as old people are different from young people. People who have a country’s passport can be distinguished from foreigners who don’t. People with qualifications apply for jobs not open to people without them. Tiny numbers of people who run fast qualify for the Olympics; the sluggish multitude don’t. A child born in the United Kingdom to one family can become King or Queen; you and I can’t.

In South Africa itself, the apartheid system did not stand out for the wretchedness of its results. Different dictatorships elsewhere in the world have oppressed/murdered people in far greater numbers and/or imposed wicked ethno-racial segregation (see the USSR passim).

However, apartheid took the logic of segregation and discrimination to the highest levels of law, purporting to combine comprehensive segregation and inherent rationality. This affected literally all aspects of daily life, with the worst effects bearing down on the majority community who had no say in framing the rules.

To make the whole ghastly thing work, the law required clear definitions of racial categories. The 1950 Population Registration Act created three categories of people: Whites, Coloureds and Natives:

“White person” means a person who in appearance obviously is, or who is generally accepted as a white person, but does not include a person who, although in appearance obviously a white person, is generally accepted as a coloured person.

The whole apartheid edifice turned on this clause. Yet even this pseudo-specificity did not suffice. Hence the infamous ‘pencil test’: if your curly thick hair could support a pencil, you must be Black!

The world cheered in 1991 when South Africa’s Parliament repealed this one odious law. Hurrah. Apartheid was dead!

Alas not. The idea of defining and rewarding citizens by race continued. The argument was that drastic measures were needed to help the mass of people who had lost out under apartheid to catch up.

This required wholesale ‘positive discrimination’ based on apartheid’s own categories, such as the Black (sic) Economic Empowerment Act (2003):

                  "Black people" is a generic term which means Black Africans, Coloureds and Indians.

If South Africa’s firms do not now discriminate on the basis of skin colour as required by such laws, the state imposes brutish penalties:

[M]aximum fines for any failure to meet specified racial targets will start, for a first contravention, either at R1.5m or 2% of annual turnover, whichever amount is the greater. For a fifth similar contravention within three years, maximum fines will be either R2.7m or 10% of annual turnover, whichever is the larger

What this means in practice is a corrupt bureaucracy that allows the ANC and SA Communist Party ruling elites at every level to reward their friends.

Worse even than that, it also means that in South Africa the colour of your skin is by law far more important than mere human merit. Astute South African intellectual R W Johnson points out that both the former liberal opposition party in South Africa and the Communist tendency have succumbed to this cynicism:

In contemporary South Africa skin colour trumps merit just as it did under apartheid. This dissociation of merit from achievement has catastrophic effects … in a country that is part of an international world, which has to compete with multiple rivals, such a policy is virtually suicidal.

Indeed. In 2012 as foreign investment elsewhere in Africa boomed, South Africa attracted a pitiful $4.6 billion, 24 percent down on the previous year. Any sane foreign investor interested in Africa will take one look at this edifice of folly, realise that a new business is compelled by law to employ people who may be incompetent, and go somewhere else.

So much for unhappy South Africa. Yet what happens here in the United Kingdom?

The state’s so-called ‘Ethnic Monitoring Questionnaires’ categorise us in eerie apartheid-friendly ways: Asian, Black, Chinese, Mixed Ethnic Background, White. Asians get sub-categories: Bangladeshi, Indian, Pakistani and Other. Blacks get sub-categories: African, Caribbean and Other. Mixed Ethnic get sub-categories: Asian and White; Black African and White; Black Caribbean and White; and Other. Whites get no sub-categories: being Polish or French counts for the modern racist state far less than being (say) Chinese.

These appalling distinctions of course are not ‘ethnic’ categories at all, as the UK state seems to accept in another context:

Everyone has an ethnic identity in the same way that everyone has a gender. The word “ethnic” often gets associated with the word “minority” so there is a common misunderstanding that the word “ethnic” only refers to “ethnic minorities” i.e. those other than “White” - this is NOT TRUE.  The word “ethnic” refers to race or culture. It is distinct from nationality, race, place of birth, language or religion, though it may be related to all of these.

What specious, unconscionable - even evil - drivel. This way of thinking is little more than a throwback to Victorian-era racial distinctions that are meaningless in any scientific sense and trivially offensive in every other sense.

Why does apartheid logic live on so strongly in so many countries? Because it gives an over-powerful state the power to manipulate citizens and enrich certain powerful dishonest lobbies at the expense of others, all in a doomed wasteful chase for ‘fair’ outcomes.

After he left prison Nelson Mandela had an historic opportunity to attack this insidious and ultimately inhuman way of thinking. Alas it was just too big a task. His own party now champion it, and as a result are dragging their sad country down. 

Charles Crawford is a Contributing Editor to The Commentator. A former British Ambassador in Sarajevo, Belgrade and Warsaw -- and also a diplomat in South Africa during the transition from Apartheid --  he is now a private consultant and writer. Visit his website and follow him on Twitter: @charlescrawford

blog comments powered by Disqus