Van Wyksdorp, South Africa – As South Africa descended into chaos, my thoughts turned to the United States – a great country brought down by the same toxic and demented racial politics that set my homeland on fire last week .
As I write, shocked South Africans are trying to find an answer to an orgy of arson and looting. Freighters are being turned away from some of our larger ports because it is too dangerous to unload them. Hundreds of thousands of people face hunger due to the destruction of warehouses and the disruption of food supply chains. Tens of thousands of jobs and small businesses have been destroyed; the material damage is incalculable.
Former President Jacob Zuma’s refusal to be held responsible for corruption sparked this chaos. Rather than face the prospect of imprisonment and disgrace, he appears to have attempted a preemptive coup against his successor.
But that’s only part of the picture. The overriding truth is that a idea pushed South Africa to the brink. You know this idea because it animates the sermons of critical race theorists trying to force you to kneel down and atone for your supposed sins. I’m going to call it the Belle Idée, because it is beautiful in a way – but also dangerous.
La Belle Idée maintains that all humans are born with identical gifts and should turn out to be clones of each other in a just society. Conversely, any situation in which the disparity survives is in itself evidence of injustice. This is the line promoted by CRT expert Ibram X. Kendi, who attributes all racial disparities to racist policies.
But what policies is he talking about? Kendi is reluctant to be drawn on this point, and for good reason: he cannot name the policies, because they no longer exist. In your country, all discriminatory laws have been repealed, all forms of overt racism prohibited and replaced by laws which impose preferential access for blacks to jobs, housing and university admissions.
Kendi must therefore insist that an invisible miasma of “systemic racism” infects whites and causes them to act in such a subtly racist manner that most of them don’t even know they are sick until. that this is brought to their attention by diversity consultants.
Once upon a time, South African revolutionaries would have laughed at such things. Until the mid-1980s, the goals of our struggle for freedom were the eradication of capitalism and the creation of a classless society where fairness would be imposed at gunpoint by commissioners. But the Soviet Union collapsed just as the African National Congress began to rise to power, forcing our new leaders to adopt neoliberal-type economic policies.
It did not go well with the hard left, which openly vilified President Thabo Mbeki (1999-2008) as a surrender. To appease them, Mbeki set out to build a black middle and upper class that would reap the fruits of neoliberalism and thank him for it.
The aim of this new game was not to destroy capitalism, but to force it to open its doors to black aspirants. Beginning in 1999, Mbeki’s government enacted a set of American-sounding laws designed to eradicate racial disparities of the type that Kendi exercises. Old revolutionary songs have been dusted off at rallies, but somewhere along the line the Belle Idée has replaced socialism as our ideological thread.
As the new millennium dawned, Mbeki made it known that he was unhappy with the national rugby team’s slow progress towards full racial representation. Failure in sport, he suggested, was better than no full representation. Equity before victory.
At least initially, Mbeki’s plan worked quite well. Some black people have become billionaires. Many more joined the white elite in the suburbs and sent their children to private schools. The transformation of the civil service has spurred the growth of a new black middle class, typically commanding much higher wages than in the private economy.
But in the longer term, the economic consequences have been devastating. In addition to paying taxes at the Scandinavian level, South African companies were required to cede significant ownership shares to black partners, whether or not they brought in anything other than black skin and high-ranking connections.
Companies were also required to meet racial quotas when hiring and ensure management was racially representative, which means about 88% black. Tendering for public contracts was becoming increasingly unnecessary, as contracts were invariably awarded to black-owned businesses, even if their prices were double, triple or tenfold.
The investment has dried up. The brains are empty. The economy has stagnated, pushing unemployment up to 11.4 million today from 3.3 million in 1994. The result: utter misery for the underclass, doomed to sit in tin shacks, half starved, watching the black elite grow fat on the choice of fairness laws and rampant corruption.
It was a particularly bitter experience for black youth, 63% of whom are now unemployed, too weak for alcohol and drugs to ease the pain. Last week, it proved easy for Zuma and his henchmen to lure them to the streets with the pledge of loot.
And so we come to the moral of this story. It’s a warning about the practical consequences of ideas like those put forward by Kendi and CRT superstar Robin DiAngelo, who, in the name of “fairness,” argues that it’s racist to talk about work ethics or expect all workers to show up on time, regardless of race.
It is precisely these values that brought South Africa to its knees. We created a society where nothing was expected of blacks, except “black”. Honor and diligence were not required of government appointees. Laziness was tolerated. Failures and corruption have gone unpunished. The blind pursuit of fairness has begun to achieve its opposite: a staggering equality gap between blacks themselves, with the lucky few benefiting immensely and the masses falling into abject poverty.
Most black South Africans recognize this. In 2021, only 3% of them cited racism as a serious problem, according to a survey by the Institute of Race Relations. The same survey found that 83% of black South Africans fully or partially agreed with the following statement: “Politicians talk about racism as an excuse for their own failures.
Which brings us to the thin silver lining of this dark story. Many black South Africans who oppose this anarchy were out in force last week, setting up roadblocks to keep crowds away from their homes and businesses.
I hear their voices on the radio calling for change. By sound, they want a country where human outcomes are determined by the content of his character, not by pigmentation or ruling party friends. Martin Luther King would appreciate their message. Kendi & Co. wouldn’t.
Rian Malan is the author of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and the worldwide bestseller “My Traitor’s Heart.. “