Post Apartheid: South Africa’s Disastrous Brave New World

Let me start by stressing that I was somewhat involved in the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa, and knew people who were far more involved. One of my late friends Andra was a South African psychotherapist, who treated some of the victims of torture by the South African secret police, and one of her friends was assassinated by the latter. I have no illusions about Apartheid. Like almost everyone else, I celebrated the overthrow of Apartheid, and the relatively peaceful transition to majority rule without civil war. And Nelson Mandela is one of my heroes. This was approximately what my ‘free Nelson Mandela’ badge that I wore in 1969-71 looked like, before anyone much knew who he was. In the humor of the McCarthy period, I was a premature anti-fascist:

However, I have recently read another  anti-Apartheid activist R W Johnson’s account of South Africa since Apartheid: ‘South Africa’s Brave New World.’ It took some time and resilience to finish this brilliant, incisive and data-based account by Johnson, because it is so depressing to see how the peaceful transition to majority rule was so totally thrown away. Moreover, the post-Apartheid Nelson Mandela comes out of the account as a relatively powerless figure-head, who naively put ANC unity ahead of good governance, and whose ignorance of basic economics meant he had nothing to say on key decisions which were left to his deputy. The result was disaster.

The book is an absolutely devastating critique of what the ANC has done to South Africa in terms of corruption, appalling inefficiency and destruction of the industrial state. It is told by a Financial Times journalist and the critique is from a liberal concerned with the Black South African working class, who have been very badly served by the corrupt African middle class that has pillaged the economy, the aid donations, not to mention their leader Thambo Mbeki’s denial that HIV causes AIDS. For example, South Africa’s water supply system was the best in Africa but has been slowly destroyed by incompetence and in due course with climate change, this may kill hundreds of thousands, if there is a serious drought. The power grid had 30% over capacity in 1994, and there are now frequent power outages because no new capacity has been built and existing capacity is not well maintained. The railway system was the best in Africa, and is now so bad that Black South African customers have literally burned down several major rail stations in frustration. The police are hopelessly corrupt and filled with incompetent senior officers, who have ballooned in numbers at the expense of the on the ground policing. Approximately four times as many people die in police custody each year as happened under the tyranny of Apartheid. And the violent crime rate is astronomic and South Africa is the rape capital of the world.

Massive sums have been spent on defense, which can be corruptly contracted. South Africa now has state of the art submarines for which it has no conceivable use and advanced jet fighters it doesn’t have the pilots to fly. South Africa simply doesn’t have enemies that necessitate such equipment, but oh what pork barrel politics it provides. Only the massive increase in mineral prices have saved South Africa from economic collapse. And the victims of all this corruption and incompetence have, above all been poor Black South Africans.

What has happened is also an object lesson in getting the detail of any deal correct. The deal between the ANC and White Afrikaner National Party provided for proportional representation with each party’s organization deciding who would fill the proportion of seats they won in an election. This has proved to be a catastrophe because it means the ANC, which gets 65% of the vote simply nominates its 65% of seat holders, and so there is no effective opposition within the ANC, as there might be if seats were geographically elected. Democratic centralism indeed! This has made the resulting government hugely corrupt. The old Broederbond of white Afrikaners has been replaced by an even smaller ANC clique of incompetent, corrupt politicians and crony capitalists Black South Africans.

Even the much vaunted, much emulated ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’ was flawed by administrative incompetence, failure to follow the rules of evidence taking, bias towards Apartheid crimes and failure to uncover (perhaps understandable) ANC atrocities. Far more victims testified than actual perpetrators of the crimes so the the reconciliation was limited. (See ‘The Truth about the Truth Commission’ by Anthea Jeffrey.)

I have posted previously on the separate catastrophe over AIDS denialism by Thambo Mbeki, Mandela’s successor, that killed not only 2.5 million, largely Black South Africans because of appallingly ignorant health policy based on denying AIDS existed; it also killed one of Mandela’s sons. The white, Colored (Mixed Race) and Indian South Africans ignored the government’s delusions and largely protected themselves from AIDS. Not so the Black South African population. Imagine the uproar if this had been done by the white Apartheid government?

Cry the beloved country indeed! And in case you think Johnson’s case is racist, he points out how massively more successful neighboring Botswana has been by taking a different tack. This was not inevitable. This was path dependent, was the particular tragedy of the incompetent ANC leadership. Of course, Apartheid is partly responsible for this tragedy. By failing to educate Black South Africans in large numbers in technical and other skills in the 1970-90s, the number of appropriately educated Black South African candidates for key positions has been minuscule compared with demand. The skilled white population has been under-utilized, increasingly driven into exile by the crime rate, but are often used as contractors to do the work because qualified Black South Africans don’t exist, though under-qualified appointments nevertheless made. And the paranoia and reverse racism of Mbeki and other ANC leaders has a clear origin in their battle with Apartheid. Apartheid has very dirty hands even after it has ceased to exist.

I find writing this review extremely difficult: all those activists died for this? To be betrayed by a Black South African plutocracy and kleptocracy? Is this what Steve Biko (1946-77) died for? Is this what 700 schoolchildren were machine gunned to death for in the 1976 Soweto riots as captured in the end of ‘Cry Freedom’ clip below. Shame on the ANC!

South African HIV positive stats:

About creativeconflictwisdom

I spent 32 years in a Fortune Five company working on conflict: organizational, labor relations and senior management. I have consulted in a dozen different business sectors and the US Military. I work with a local environmental non profit. I have written a book on the neuroscience of conflict, and its implications for conflict handling called Creative Conflict Wisdom (forthcoming).
This entry was posted in Conflict Book Reviews, Conflict History, Conflict Processes, Conflict Statistics, Economic Conflict, Uncategorized, Ways to handle conflict and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Post Apartheid: South Africa’s Disastrous Brave New World

  1. This is a sad but salutary tale. It probably isn’t too surprising though as what tends to happen in these situations is that the problem is identified as solely being the ‘powers that be’ and nobody thinks to look at the structures. At the time of revolution or change the hope is that if the establishment is deposed then all will be well. However, it’s often the case that the personnel change but because the system remains the same no real change happens.

    While not as extreme, many people believe that that is what happened here in Ireland in the 1920s when a conservative, English, Imperialist elite was replaced by a conservative, Irish, Republican elite. My mother used to tell the story of how her parents were forbidden to speak Irish at school and she was forbidden to speak English. Same system, different bosses.

    The only thing I couldn’t understand in your article was the part about proportional representation – your description doesn’t sound like a description of proportional representation but I may have misunderstood it.

    The Irish electoral system is a PR system – (please don’t ask me any hard questions about it, though because I won’t be able to answer them!) but even so the results are not decided by the parties themselves but totally by the electors. Perhaps South Africa use a different form of PR than we use?

    Anyway, interesting review – thanks.

    • Trish. Yes there are a lot of similarities with what happened in Ireland sadly. Such a pity no one learned them, and passed on the learning to South Africa. I watched the Ken Loach film ‘The Wind that Shakes the Barley’ and reviewed it on my blog last year. I briefly did some conflict work in Northern Ireland/Six Counties in the late 1980s: very tough. The peace process took far too long and lacked good process as well as empathy.

      The proportional representation problem happened in South Africa, because as well as proportional representation, they also had centralized party selection of who filled the seats. I don’t know if this is what happens in Ireland. But it meant as I understand it from R W Johnson, that the ANC elected a leader of their party and then effectively he chose all the MPs and any MP who disagreed with him would be de-selected at the next election not by the voters but by the ANC leader. This proved to be a recipe for total corruption and incompetence.

      I will send something on conflict induced autism when I find a good summary. 🙂

      Thanks. Ed PS I am Welsh by origin though now live in the US.

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  4. In so many ways, this is true.
    I was shocked last Tuesday when the Protection of Information Act was passed in South Africa. It seems to me, to parallel the Terrorism Act of the Apartheid times almost perfectly.
    I am currently doing research into whether immigration to Australia is in the best interest of the Afrikaner child. It is this like this which makes me think that maybe it is.

  5. Today is the anniversary of the day South African Police where charged Not Guilty of the murder of Steve Biko in 1977.
    An incredible man, who led an incredible group of people to bring about an incredible change.
    Unfortunately, not all good things last.

    • @agenerationlost, Biko would weep at what has happened. The world should be paying more attention and putting the ANC in the pillory as they did the former Apartheid regime.

      • I couldn’t agree more. I think the world hasn’t quite realised the concept of “reverse Racism” yet.

      • @agenerationlost. Well the Chinese are going to give Australia a fair dose of reverse racism in the next couple of decades. Nothing like some of the Middle Kingdom for thinking the rest of us are barbarians…

        And to be fair the main victims of South Africa’s Black elite are other Black South Africans whose electricity supply, education, public transport and health care, not to mention employment prospects, have plummeted due the incompetence of the crony ANC appointments procedure. The average township dweller is according to polls totally opposed to positive discrimination because they get no benefit, just suffer the resulting incompetence. 17 years on the ANC have done nothing to improve the supply of rigorously educated Black South Africans able to do engineering, medicine, run businesses and create wealth; they have just made sure their own kids corruptly get jobs they can’t do. And the outside world is too enamored of Mandela to make a fuss, even over AIDS denialism of the awful Mbeki.

        I worked with a mixed race workforce in manufacturing most of my life and never had any accusations of racism. I think people can sense racist prejudice of whatever sort at about ten feet distance. I recently took one of those tests of latent racism where words are paired and your reaction time is minutely slower if say black and good are paired than white and good. I didn’t have any racism according to this test, which is why maybe I have never been afraid to call out how I see things like present day South African. I don’t know why I don’t have prejudice; perhaps because I grew up in a mining area and miners were held in high regard and of course as a child seeing them coming off shift they were covered in coal dust. 🙂 Or maybe I was just raised to value people as there are, not according to some stereotype of whatever sort.

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