For the (aspiring) lawyers – in today’s The Times:
PROFICIENCY in at least one indigenous African language should be demonstrated before anyone can be awarded a law degree, says parliament’s justice and corrections oversight committee.
Committee chairman Mathole Motshekga made the suggestion during yesterday’s meeting of the committee. He said the legal fraternity should do more to accommodate African languages in court.
Motshekga was speaking during the National Prosecuting Authority’s briefing of the committee on its performance plan for the 20172018 financial year.
Motshekga said there seemed to be a “communications breakdown” between the justice department, its entities and the people “because of the language question”.
“We are training so many lawyers. They are all English speaking, but the majority of the people speak indigenous languages. It is our view that going forward no one will be able to get a law degree unless they have passed [an examination in an] indigenous language,” said Motshekga.
He said changing the law curriculum to include social sciences should be considered.
“Law is not just mastery of rules, it has to do with people. If you don’t understand society and how it functions, then how do we extend rights to people?” asked Motshekga.
An article by Ilana Mercer March 26, 2017
From their plush apartments, over groaning dinner tables, pseudo-intellectuals have the luxury of depicting squalor and sickness as idyllic, primordially peaceful and harmonious. After all, when the affluent relinquish their earthly possessions to return to the simple life, it is always with aid of sophisticated technology and the option to be air-lifted to a hospital if the need arises. Is there any wonder, then, that “the stereotype of colonial history” has been perpetuated by the relatively well-to-do intellectual elite? Theories of exploitation, Marxism for one, originated with Western intellectuals, not with African peasants. It is this clique alone that could afford to pile myth upon myth about a system that had benefited ordinary people.
What is meant by “benefited”? Naturally, the premise here is that development, so long as it’s not coerced, is desirable and material progress good. British colonists in Africa reduced the state of squalor, disease and death associated with lack of development . To the extent that this is condemned, the Rousseauist myth of the noble, happy savage is condoned. Granted, Africa’s poor did not elect to have these conditions, good and bad, foisted on them. However, once introduced to potable water, sanitation, transportation, and primary healthcare, few Africans wish to do without them. Fewer Africans still would wish to return to Native Customary Law once introduced to the idea that their lives were no longer the property of the Supreme Chief to do with as he pleased.
It “is an absurdity to assert that cannibalism, slavery, magical therapy, and killing the aged should be accorded the same ‘dignity’ or ‘validity’ as old-age security, scientific medicine, and metal artefacts,” noted anthropologist George Peter. While old habits die hard, most “people prefer Western technology and would rather be able to feed their children and elderly than kill them,” he notes in Culture Matters: How Values Shape Human Progress. And the West largely eliminated “many of the worst endemic and epidemic diseases in West Africa.” Ask Moeletsi Mbeki, the brother of South Africa’s former president Thabo Mbeki. He has admitted that “the average African is poorer [today] than during the age of colonialism.”
Even so—and whether they stay or go—the blame for all the ills of this backward and benighted region falls on Westerners. One dreadfully off-course notion has it that the colonial powers plundered Africa and failed to plow back profits into the place. This manifest absurdity is belied by the major agricultural, mineral, commercial and industrial installations throughout the continent. The infrastructure in Africa was built by the colonial powers. Far from draining wealth from less developed countries,” as P. T. Bauer richly documented, in Equality, the Third World, and Economic Delusion, “British industry helped to create it there.”
Another widely canvassed, equally implausible, accusation is that the West, which was streaks ahead of sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia well before colonization, got rich on the backs of poor nations. How then do we explain the fact that the Scandinavian countries, Switzerland and Australia, have achieved some of the world’s highest living standards? After all, none of these nations had any colonies (except Australia, which after World War I acquired sovereignty over the former German territory consisting of what is now Papua New Guinea). They were rich without any meaningful ties to the undeveloped world. The wealthiest and most advanced countries were themselves colonies once: North America and Australia. As Bauer conclusively proved, the West’s human resources, and not any exploitation of the backward world, account for its innovation and achievements.
Much less is it legitimate to claim that contact with entrepreneurial Europeans and Asians has enervated Africa. Regions that have had the greatest commercial contact with the West are far and away more developed than regions that had little such contact. Compare the people of West Africa, parts of East and Southern Africa, and the inhabitants of Africa’s ports, with desert and rainforest dwellers like the Bushmen and pigmies. Or, with never-colonized Liberia, Afghanistan, Tibet and Nepal.
We can’t lay the blame for Africa’s tragedy on the much-deplored exploitation of natural resources either. Most natural resources are useless lumps of nothing. Without the ingenuity of men—iron, aluminium, coal and oil would lie purposeless and pristine in the wildernesses, and the matter and energy abundant on earth would come to naught. Such a state of affairs describes pre-colonial Africa, to which the colonial powers introduced the wheel and wheeled transport.
“In the Gold coast there were about 3000 children at school in the early 1900s, whereas in the mid-1950s there were over half a million. In the early 1890s there were in the Gold Coast no railways or roads, but only a few jungle paths. Transport of goods was by human porterage or canoe.”
Before colonialism, sub-Saharan Africa was a subsistence economy; because of colonialism it became a monetized economy. Before colonialism, there were only bush back roads through which men trekked with goods on their backs. During colonialism roads were built. In pre-colonial times the absence of public security made investment in Africa too risky. Post-colonialism, investment flowed. With the colonial administrations came scientific agriculture, introduced by the colonists and by “foreign private organizations and persons under the comparative security of colonial rule, and usually in the face of formidable obstacles.”
“‘In British West Africa public security and health improved out of all recognition … peaceful travel became possible; slavery and slave trading and famine were practically eliminated, and the incidence of the worst diseases reduced.’ Mortality fell, population increased, communications and ‘peaceful contact within Africa and with the outside world’ increased in British colonies.”
As uneven and problematic as progress often was, “everywhere in Black Africa modern economic life began with the colonial period.” “Economic modernity could not have been effected without a mediated imperial structure,” maintains economist Niall Ferguson. In Africa, colonial governments encountered “conditions unfavorable to material progress,” to wit, civil and tribal war and slavery. By establishing the rule of law, protecting private property and enforcing contractual relations, building infrastructure, and organizing “basic health services,” and introducing modern financial and legal institutions—the colonial powers enhanced, rather than hindered, progress. Although—or perhaps because—all these advancements interfered with traditional customs, they also advanced the continent materially.
Clearly, political independence doesn’t go hand-in-glove with material progress. But grievance-based explanations have a way of evolving. Before independence, Africa’s backwardness was attributed to colonialism. After independence, neocolonialism replaced colonialism as the excuse du jour for the failure of African leaders to ameliorate their people’s plight. Neocolonialism encompasses any unhappy condition that can no longer be attributed to colonialism. Pizza Hut opening an outlet in Lima can easily be framed as the modern equivalent of Pizarro descending on the Incas, to paraphrase journalist Henri Astier.
On rare occasions the interests of an African politician and his people will converge. On one such occasion, and in desperation, the former president of Sierra Leone, the late Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, where life expectancy is just forty-nine years, “asked a visiting British politician, in the presence of journalists, if it might be possible for his country to become part of the British Empire again.”
When all is said and done, the West is what it is due to human capital—people of superior ideas and abilities, capable of innovation, exploration, science, philosophy. Human action is the ultimate adjudicator of a human being’s worth; the aggregate action of many human beings acting in concert makes or breaks a society. Overall, American society is superior to assorted African and Arab societies because America is still inhabited by the kind of individuals who make possible a thriving civil society.
Reposting RW Johnson’s article from last year for the sake of including it in our archive (originally posted here) 14 June 2016
Waking up the Sleeping Dogs
I live in Cape Town and mix with a reasonable cross-section of my fellow residents. In recent time, particularly among the white and Coloured communities – who make up around 70% of the population, I have been surprised to see how often the notion has come up quite spontaneously of an independent Western Cape or, at the least, considerably greater autonomy for the Cape. In any group where the subject comes up there is, each time, great and universal approbation for such schemes. People exclaim with enthusiasm “That is my dream !”, “Oh, if only we could do that !” and so on.
This is interesting because while these sentiments are undeniably out there and in some strength but they are, as yet wholly unrepresented in the public realm. True, in the last elections here a tiny Cape Independence Party made its appearance. Its posters proclaiming an independent Cape caused a considerable frisson but the party received a derisory vote because even those who sympathised with it felt considerably more comfortable voting to retain DA rule locally. But if my (admittedly unscientific) sample is anything to go by, such sentiment has since become stronger.
The roots of such feeling are not difficult to discern. Ever since the DA came to power in Cape Town and in the Western Cape one has heard a growing chorus from visitors that “It feels like a different (and better) country down here !” The public hospitals and schools work far better here than anywhere else in South Africa, the traffic lights work better, the city centre is safer, there is less litter and generally there is better governance.
The municipalities of the Western Cape typically get clean audits and the whole province is seen as a showcase for DA rule. The Cape is also predominantly Afrikaans-speaking and there is considerable resentment at attempts to do away with Afrikaans instruction. Indeed, some Coloured Afrikaans-speakers have told me that they see the attempt to make Stellenbosch University English-speaking as the second great betrayal of the Coloured people.
In the 1950s, the argument runs, the abolition of the Coloured vote cut the community off from its natural development. Now, at last, the universities are open to its sons and daughters but since most are Afrikaans-speaking, a change in language policy would deprive another generation of the chance of social mobility.
Beyond that, of course, the Western (and Northern) Cape are distinctive in having predominantly Coloured and Afrikaans-speaking populations, the only places in South Africa where Africans are in a minority. There is, inevitably, a resentment against the tide of African immigrants from the Eastern Cape which has flooded into the Western Cape since the abolition of influx control. Whisper it softly, but the fact is that many Coloureds were happier when the Cape was a Coloured Labour Preference Area.
One hears angry and sometimes racist statements: “Why do we want these people ? They only bring problems”. “Zille was right, they are refugees. They are fleeing from the Eastern Cape because it’s collapsed under ANC rule. And they come here and vote for the ANC so they can collapse things here too”. “They are committing genocide against the Coloured population”. And so on. There are many bitter remarks about Jimmy Manyi having declared that Coloureds should only get 8% of the jobs in the country and that they should be forcibly spread out around the country.
Common to both white and Coloured narratives is the notion that under ANC rule South Africa has been sliding backwards on almost every index, that the Western Cape has, alone, resisted this trend. Inevitably, both communities see only a further downwards slide under ANC rule and simply want to remove themselves from it.
From time to time black intellectuals from Gauteng come down here and write bitter articles saying that the Cape is not properly African, that Africans can’t feel comfortable here, that it is racist – and so on. However, over time I have made a steady practice of asking ordinary Africans I meet here how they like Cape Town. They are uniformly enthusiastic – and like it for all the same reasons that whites and Coloureds do.
One is left with the feeling that up-country black intellectuals dislike Cape Town simply because they are in a minority here and that doesn’t feel quite right to them. For whites, Coloureds and Indians who are used to being in a minority almost everywhere, this cuts no ice. What is more striking to me is the enthusiastic approbation of working class and immigrant Africans. In other words the black intellectuals who denounce the Cape may not represent very much.
Imagining a separate Cape
What would a more autonomous Cape look like? In almost every sphere one finds a push for self-sufficiency. More and more businesses are providing their own power supply (and the City of Cape Town would like to get into the act too). Similarly, there is increasing talk of Cape Town and the Western Cape building de-salination plants along the coast. In such ways, a de facto energy and water independence might be achieved. There is talk of the city or the province taking more control over its railways and there is huge frustration at the way the national police force is starving the Cape of sufficient police on the ground: everyone would leap at the idea of a local police force, locally recruited, controlled and monitored.
There is great pride in Cape Town’s superior hospitals and a bitter resistance to the thought of the central government taking control over them (as is intended). Inevitably, the private sector in medicine is very large and active in Cape Town. However, all discussions of autonomy/independence centre on the fact that the key moment would be when the local authorities set up a local fund into which all taxes now paid to the national government were instead paid to the Cape. This would be the moment of a great leap of faith when independence actually happened.
Could an independent Cape make sense? Financially, not as things stand. In effect Gauteng still subsidises the Cape. But it is still possible that an independent Cape might boom. Almost certainly it would attract a large amount of domestic and international investment as the dead hand of the ANC was removed. Doubtless, the resultant state would experience a long-lasting tourism boom as well as a continuing infusion of educated people and capital as minority South Africans from other provinces migrated there. Quite likely that would in turn spur a boom in high-tech and associated industries.
Concentrate more and more of the minorities and their capital in one province, remove the spectre of ANC rule and you would, fairly certainly, get an investment and entrepreneurial explosion. Already Cape Town attracts high-tech entrepreneurs, it is the only province with four universities, major financial institutions are headquartered here – in a word, all the elements are present.
How realistic is such a vision? One cannot rule it out. One should never forget that there is a fundamental difference between countries which were always unified national states (like France) and those which were made up of separate national units – like Yugoslavia or, indeed, the UK. If the Treaty of Union between Britain and Scotland, signed in 1707, can today still provide the focus for a powerful movement for Scottish independence, what can one say of the fact that South Africa was, until 1910, four separate countries? Those lines of division remain in the popular mind and even in today’s provincial boundaries.
However, no matter how one conceives of this movement – towards greater autonomy, independence, whatever – there is no getting around the fact that there would have to be a “big bang” moment when tax-payers in the Cape all began to pay into a Cape-based fund rather than to the national revenue collection.
When the Cape began to have its own police force, when the city of Cape Town or the province of Western Cape begins to build desalination plants along the coast to create its own water supply and when it begins to generate most of its own electricity.
The silent issue
The reason why this growing swell of popular support for greater Cape autonomy finds no public representation is simple: it is an embarrassment to all the political parties. The ANC is, of course, flatly centralist and feels threatened by any talk of greater provincial autonomy. Probably the EFF would feel the same though Malema may dream of a more autonomous Limpopo province which he might head. The DA is cross-pressured.
Helen Zille has continually been accused by the ANC that she was building a boerestaat in the Western Cape and naturally has been at pains to disavow any such ambition. Rather, the Western Cape is seen by the DA as its model shop-window for the rest of the country, demonstrating that the DA governs better. In that sense, it is crucial to the DA’s effort in the rest of South Africa.
For the Western Cape to develop separatist ambitions would not only deprive the DA of its one great stronghold inside the system but would also serve to undermine the legitimacy of the DA’s efforts everywhere. On the other hand, DA representatives in the Western Cape are doubtless aware that most of their voters there would prefer greater provincial autonomy and some would opt for outright independence, so they hardly wish to deny all such hopes. So complete silence is the best policy.
Even the Freedom Front and the Afrikaner Right would have difficulties with this issue. The problem – which De Klerk faced in 1990 – was that there was no “predominantly white” part of the country. Indeed, the biggest concentration of whites (in Gauteng) was situated amongst an even larger black population.
The Afrikaner Right demanded a territorial division of the country – but no one could say where a boerstaat should be. When one was finally founded in Orania, it was not in any of the areas of Afrikaner concentration but in the empty spaces of the Northern Cape.
The territorial dimension
It is worth pointing out that South Africa as a whole might have benefited had there been a territorial dimension to the post-apartheid settlement. The classic comparison is Canada which has a much stronger form of federalism. When the French-speaking population of Quebec felt that their language and culture was being submerged by the Anglo culture, Quebec separatism forced the Ottawa government to reconsider.
French was given equal status with English in every province of the country and the Liberal Party elected French-speaking leaders who became Prime Minister. Only when it was clear that French language and culture were to be given full recognition and protection did Quebec separatism subside. This was all undoubtedly good for Canada.
The acceptance of the power and rightful place of the Francophone minority has broadened into the acceptance that in a democracy there must be respect for all minorities. But crucially this all depended on Quebec’s ability to threaten secession: it was that threat which forced the Anglophone majority to make these concessions which were to the advantage of the whole of Canada.
There seems little doubt that there would have been major benefits to the national community had a stronger version of federalism prevailed in South Africa. If the national ruling elite had had any anxiety about separatist pressures in the Western Cape this would have gone far to moderate the Jimmy Mani-style of affirmative action which has so undermined trust among Coloureds. And that in turn would have benefited all the minorities.
Had the ruling elite been more concerned at the threat of more Oranias, the complete alienation of the Afrikaans community could easily have been avoided by a proper respect for its culture and language – which, after all, the constitution endorses. The result would have been to foster a common South Africanism, an enhanced sense of national cohesion, in just the same way that Canadian tolerance and inclusiveness has fostered a stronger sense of a common Canadian identity.
As it is, our constitution has been a pathway to the easy exercise of unbridled majoritarianism which has sometimes been vindictive, spiteful and needlessly intolerant.
The costs of alienation
The results are now plain to see – and the costs are very high. Well over a million whites have quit the country, as have smaller numbers of Coloureds, Asians and Africans. Many have literally despaired of their country. Opinion surveys make it clear that this is true even of many members of the minorities who remain in South Africa.
Orania is something of a weathervane in this. At its birth during the high period of post-1994 euphoria it was ridiculed and seen to have little future. Today it is thriving and growing and there is talk of more Oranias. The same stresses are seen politically: the ANC has lost most of its minority support and there is an evident process of political polarisation.
As African nationalism fails, many voices – emanating from the EFF and ANC – become only more shrill and hysterical, while not a few whites, Indians and Coloureds have relapsed back into the openly racist attitudes of the past. It would be wrong to say that the rainbow nation has failed completely but what is certainly true is that the combination of over-centralised power and an intolerant majoritarianism is driving the national community apart.
The evolution of Cape politics
In the Cape the passage of time has made the situation clearer. Initially, the dreadful performance of the DP in 1994 appeared to have killed off Cape liberalism. Within the Western Cape there was a long and confused jostling for power between the ANC and the National Party, producing a merry-go-round of provincial premiers ranging from Hernus Kriel and Marthinus Van Schalkwyk to Peter Marais, Gerald Morkel and Ebrahim Rasool.
The DP (and then DA) gained steadily but for a long time the province’s political system remained extremely competitive – essentially because the ANC retained large-scale Coloured support, inherited from UDF days. Had the ANC behaved differently, this could have been maintained but probably the fatal moment came with the mayoralty of Cape Town of the ANC’s Nomaindia Mfeketo, an administration so riddled by corruption, looting and nepotism that its reputation still hangs in the air like a bad smell. Capetonians dismissed this administration at the first opportunity, allowing the DA to take control for the first time. The DA took its chance and soon consolidated its power in both the city and the province.
Today the DA’s dominance has every appearance of permanence. At each election it has further strengthened its position and it has continued to gain power in many of the province’s smaller municipalities as well. The ANC rails against it but quite ineffectively. Crucially, the ANC has lost the Coloured vote and there is no longer such a thing as even a single ANC Coloured ward in Cape Town.
But the ANC is handicapped by the fact that it seems almost not to understand democratic politics. Its militants’ habit of excrement-throwing has merely served to further alienate support in all communities. Its repeated threats to make the city or the province ungovernable simply derive from the wrong era: it was one thing to destabilize an apartheid government but to attempt to overturn a democratically elected government by mass action smacks of the fascist tactics of the 1930s.
There is no sign that such campaigns even have the support of Khayelitsha. On top of that, the ANC has the habit of sending teams of its “big guns” to investigate why the city and province have this strange predilection for Opposition voting and to recommend how they can be made to revert to normalcy under ANC rule. Frequently Nomaindia Mfeketo is sent as one of these “big guns”, suggesting that the ANC has failed to understand anything about its own defeat. Meanwhile, the spectacle of the ANC undemocratically holding onto power in Oudtshoorn and looting the town into bankruptcy has not improved the party’s image in the province.
The fact that the DA has run Cape Town for the last ten years and the Western Cape for the last seven, has had multiple effects. First, the area’s reputation for clean and better governance has been good for business confidence and has attracted investment. The result is a faster rate of economic growth than the rest of the country and a lower unemployment rate. The area’s attraction to foreign visitors has visibly increased.
The decay of Cape Town’s inner city has been halted and completely reversed. The Waterfront area is still a sea of construction cranes, a clear sign of continuing investment. This in turn has caused a continuing “semigration” as more and more members of all race groups seek to move here from other provinces.
It is estimated that 80% of all high net worth individuals in South Africa will soon have first or second homes in the Cape. As a result, even in the midst of the current recession, property prices in the Cape remain firm and, indeed, had a 12% increase last year. The results may be seen in Cape Town’s explosive growth towards the West Coast and the booming growth of both the province’s next two biggest towns, Stellenbosch and George.
The impact of immigration
Although the largest element in immigration to the Cape probably still comes from Xhosa-speakers from the Eastern Cape, there is also no doubt that Cape Town and the Western Cape have now thoroughly re-established their claim to be the mother city and mother province in the eyes of the country’s minorities as well as a considerable number of immigrants from Zimbabwe and other African countries.
The political impact of this immigration has probably been to strengthen the DA’s hold over the area – after all, that is one of the factors attracting the migrants. One might have expected the continuing influx of Xhosa-speakers to have inflated the ANC’s vote, but this has not happened: indeed, the DA’s share of the vote has continued to grow. At the least this suggests that the African electorate is somewhat demotivated, but it is also true that the DA has been nibbling successfully at its fringes.
A factor which may have some significance in the future is that most of the African immigrants, particularly the Zimbabweans, seem solidly on the DA side. Overall, there seems no doubt that this inward migration has increased the forces pushing for greater autonomy or even independence for the Cape. Many of the immigrants are, after all, seeking to leave areas of ANC governance and would find attractive the idea of achieving even greater distance from central ANC rule.
However, it is important not to look at the incoming tide of affluent white immigrants to the Cape and arrive at the conclusion that an autonomous Cape would be a boerestaat. For a start, many of these incomers are retirees. They will be found not on the barricades but on the golf-courses and their verandahs. They are not the stuff of which an insurgent separatist movement can be made.
Secondly, the solidity of DA rule in both city and province rests upon the fact that the party actively recruits among all race groups and everyone can see that that is the only way ahead. In practice this means that the Coloured community’s dominant position in the population is reflected politically and it provides many of the bloc’s leaders.
An uncertain future
Where does this leave the question of greater autonomy for the Western Cape? On the one hand one can predict fairly safely that the local appetite for autonomy will only grow. On the other hand, one can be sure that the central ANC government will be adamantly opposed to making any concession. Indeed, without much doubt they would interpret the slightest sign of autonomist feeling as an imperialist-inspired attempt to destabilize the country.
Given the fact that the DA will wish to keep the issue dormant too, this may be enough to keep it from surfacing too openly. But the country is sliding towards an economic and political crisis, a process which the ANC seems unwilling to recognize, let alone stop.
Given that process, one can imagine circumstances in which voices will be raised in the Western Cape asking whether it might be better to float away in a lifeboat of one’s own devising rather than go down with the ship. Moreover, in such circumstances the central government’s grip on the situation may also be loosened. If the downward spiral were to continue such pressures for autonomy would be bound to increase.
Conversely, the best way to put this issue back to sleep would be for the country to find a way to clamber out of the present crisis and start growing strongly again. One can safely predict that in such circumstances, racial and political tensions would ease and that the status quo would again begin to seem attractive. After all, South Africa was jammed together into becoming one country only by armed force and a major war. The resulting union was a difficult place to govern and might not have worked at all.
Nigeria’s dread example
One only has to look at contemporary Nigeria to see how a period of poor governance and economic stress can cause a country to dis-assemble. When Muhammadu Buhari became President of Nigeria last year the prospect was fair: he had promised to crack down on corruption and on Boko Haram – and he clearly meant it.
Strong steps were taken against those who had looted the national treasury and the army successfully cracked down on Boko Haram. But the oil price had fallen, creating downward pressure on the naira and Buhari, old and ignorant of economics, refused to allow a devaluation. The currency black market took over. Dollars were hoarded, business came to a standstill, people lost jobs and the economy went into free fall.
In Nigeria, social stress quickly manifests itself in ethnic form and so, a year later, we find Boko Haram is still there, 320 have died in Muslim-Christian clashes in the North, 300 Shiite Muslims have been shot dead by the army and there have been renewed attacks on oil and gas installations in the Niger Delta, causing a 70% cut in the electricity supply.
Most threateningly of all there has been a recrudescence of Biafran separatism in the Eastern region where 40 pro-Biafra activists have been shot dead by the army – which is, of course, bound to trigger reprisals. This sort of thing cannot go on for long without the whole country pulling itself apart, for Nigerian society is far too various to have any natural unity.
The conventional wisdom until now has been that having lost three million people in a civil war means that Nigerians will not risk such divisions again. That is now clearly out of date. Indeed, on recent visits to Nigeria I have found insistent questioning as to whether its component parts might not be better apart. I have even heard some Yorubas in the West wondering aloud whether things might have been better if Biafra had won its war.
The successful Union
South Africa has been much luckier. Despite also having every sort of racial, ethnic, religious and linguistic division, separatist tendencies have been easily contained thus far. In part this was due to the shrewdness of the founders at Union, sharing out the Parliament, the Appeal Court and the Executive between three provinces. (Natal, which lost out in that deal, was the only province to dream of going it alone.)
On top of that the decision of Botha and Smuts to seek reconciliation (and the fact that Afrikaner leaders were back in control) headed off the danger in the crucial nearly years that disgruntled and embittered Afrikaners might try to reconstitute anything like the old Boer republics. Moreover, for most of its history as one country South Africa has experienced quite rapid economic growth and the country has become steadily richer and stronger despite having many times more people than at the outset.
This has been a hugely unifying force for it meant that Union had been an undeniable success. Thus there has been little real threat to the original union – indeed, the attempt to create bantustans in the apartheid era never really gained credence. Even in the eyes of apartheid supporters Venda, Transkei, Lebowa and the rest all remained fundamentally part of South Africa.
What is different now, and what is so destructive, is the widespread feeling that under the present government South Africa is doomed to slide and to keep falling on every index. People point to the increasingly ragged state of many of our institutions and conclude that “everything is falling to bits and not working”. Which, translated, means that whereas Union was a big success, the New South Africa has not been.
If such a belief really sets in, it is only to be expected that people will seek other solutions. In other words, the government needs urgently to carry out the structural reforms required to kick-start economic growth again not just because that is the only way to bring down unemployment but because it is in the long run the only way to maintain national unity.
Originally Published 4:00 am, Sunday, July 7, 2002
Colonialism has gotten a bad name in recent decades. Anti-colonialism was one of the dominant political currents of the 20th century, as dozens of European colonies in Asia and Africa became free. Today we are still living with the aftermath of colonialism.
Apologists for terrorism, including Osama Bin Laden, argue that terrorist acts are an understandable attempt on the part of subjugated non-Western peoples to lash out against their longtime Western oppressors. Activists at the World Conference on Racism, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, have called for the West to pay reparations for slavery and colonialism to minorities and natives of the Third World.
These justifications of violence, and calls for monetary compensation, rely on a large body of scholarship that has been produced in the Western academy. This scholarship, which goes by the names of “anti-colonial studies,” “postcolonial studies,” or “subaltern studies,” is now an intellectual school in itself, and it exercises a powerful influence on the humanities and social sciences. The leading Western figures include Edward Said, Gayatri Spivak, Walter Rodney and Samir Amin. The arguments of these Western scholars are supported by Third World intellectuals like Wole Soyinka, Chinweizu – who uses only one name, Ashis Nandy and, perhaps most influential of all, Frantz Fanon.
The assault against colonialism and its legacy has many dimensions, but at its core it is a theory of oppression that relies on three premises.
First, colonialism and imperialism are distinctively Western evils that were inflicted on the non-Western world. Second, as a consequence of colonialism, the West became rich and the colonies became impoverished; in short, the West succeeded at the expense of the colonies. Third, the descendants of colonialism are worse off than they would have been had colonialism never occurred.
In a widely used text, “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa,” the Marxist scholar Walter Rodney blames European colonialism for “draining African wealth and making it impossible to develop more rapidly the resources of the continent.” A similar note is struck by the African writer Chinweizu in his influential book “The West and the Rest of Us.” Chinweizu offers the following explanation for African poverty: “White hordes have sallied forth from their Western homelands to assault, loot, occupy, rule and exploit the world. Even now the fury of their expansionist assault upon the rest of us has not abated.”
In his classic work “The Wretched of the Earth,” Fanon writes, “European opulence has been founded on slavery. The well-being and progress of Europe have been built up with the sweat and the dead bodies of Negroes, Arabs, Indians and the yellow races.”
These notions are pervasive and emotionally appealing. By suggesting that the West became dominant because it is oppressive, they provide an explanation for Western global dominance without encouraging white racial arrogance. They relieve the Third World of blame for its wretchedness. Moreover, they imply politically egalitarian policy solutions: The West is in possession of the “stolen goods” of other cultures, and it has a moral and legal obligation to make some form of repayment.
I was raised to believe in such things, and among most Third World intellectuals they are articles of faith. The only problem is that they are not true.
There is nothing uniquely Western about colonialism. My native country of India, for example, was ruled by the British for more than two centuries, and many of my fellow Indians are still smarting about that. What they often forget, however, is that before the British came, the Indians were invaded and conquered by the Persians, by the Mongols, by the Turks, by Alexander the Great, by the Afghans and by the Arabs. Depending on how you count, the British were the eighth or ninth foreign power to invade India since ancient times. Indeed ancient India was itself settled by the Aryan people who came from the north and subjugated the dark-skinned indigenous people.
Those who identify colonialism and empire only with the West either have no sense of history, or they have forgotten about the Egyptian empire, the Persian empire, the Macedonian empire, the Islamic empire, the Mongol empire, the Chinese empire and the Aztec and Inca empires in the Americas. Shouldn’t the Arabs be paying reparations for their destruction of the Byzantine and Persian empires? Come to think of it, shouldn’t the Byzantine and Persian people also pay reparations to the descendants of the people they subjugated? And while we’re at it, shouldn’t the Muslims reimburse the Spaniards for their 700-year rule?
As the example of Islamic Spain suggests, the people of the West have participated in the game of conquest not only as the perpetrators, but also as the victims. Ancient Greece, for example, was conquered by Rome, and the Roman Empire itself was destroyed by invasions of Huns, Vandals, Lombards and Visigoths from northern Europe.
America, as we all know, was itself a colony of England before its war of independence; England, before that, was subdued and ruled by the Norman kings from France. Those of us living today are taking on a large project if we are going to settle upon a rule of social justice based upon figuring out whose ancestors did what to whom.
The West did not become rich and powerful through colonial oppression. It makes no sense to claim that the West grew rich and strong by conquering other countries and taking their stuff. How did the West manage to do this?
In the late Middle Ages, say the year 1500, the West was by no means the most affluent or most powerful civilization. Indeed the civilizations of China and of the Arab-Islamic world exceeded the West in wealth, in knowledge, in exploration, in learning and in military power. So how did the West gain so rapidly in economic, political, and military power that, by the 19th century, it was able to conquer virtually all the civilizations in the world? This question demands to be answered, and the oppression theorists have never provided an adequate explanation.
Moreover, the West could not have reached its current stage of wealth and influence by stealing from other cultures for the simple reason that there wasn’t very much to take. “Oh yes there was,” the retort often comes. “The Europeans stole the raw material to build their civilization. They took rubber from Malaya and cocoa from West Africa and tea from India.” But as economic historian P.T. Bauer points out, before British rule, there were no rubber trees in Malaya, nor cocoa trees in West Africa, nor tea in India. The British brought the rubber tree to Malaya from South America. They brought tea to India from China. And they taught the Africans to grow cocoa, a crop the native people had previously never heard of.
None of this is to deny that when the colonialists could exploit native resources, they did. But this larceny cannot possibly account for the enormous gap in economic, political and military power that opened up between the West and the rest of the world.
What, then, is the source of that power? The reason the West became so affluent and dominant in the modern era is that it invented three institutions:
science, democracy and capitalism. All these institutions are based on universal impulses and aspirations, but those aspirations were given a unique expression in Western civilization.
Consider science. It is based on a shared human trait: the desire to know. People in every culture have tried to learn about the world. Thus the Chinese recorded the eclipses, the Mayans developed a calendar, the Hindus discovered the number zero and so on. But science requires experiments, laboratories, induction, verification, and what one scholar has termed “the invention of invention” – the scientific method, this is a Western institution. Similarly, tribal participation is universal, but democracy – involving free elections, peaceful transitions of power, separation of powers – is a Western idea.
Finally, the impulse to trade is universal, and there is nothing Western about the use of money, but capitalism based on property rights, contracts, courts to enforce them, and, ultimately, limited-liability corporations, stock exchanges, patents, insurance, double-entry book keeping – this ensemble of practices was developed in the West.
It is the dynamic interaction between these three Western institutions – science, democracy and capitalism – that has produced the great wealth, strength, and success of Western civilization. An example of this interaction is technology, which arises out of the marriage between science and capitalism.
Science provides the knowledge that leads to invention, and capitalism supplies the mechanism by which the invention is transmitted to the larger society, as well as the economic incentive for inventors to continue to make new things.
Now we can understand better why the West was able, between the 16th and the 19th century, to subdue the rest of the world and bend it to its will. Indian elephants and Zulu spears were no match for British jeeps and rifles. Colonialism and imperialism are not the cause of the West’s success; they are the result of that success.
The wealth and power of European nations made them arrogant and stimulated their appetite for global conquest. Colonial possessions added to the prestige,
and to a much lesser degree to the wealth, of Europe. But the primary cause of Western affluence and power is internal – the institutions of science, democracy, and capitalism acting in concert.
Consequently it is simply wrong to maintain that the rest of the world is poor because the West is rich, or that the West grew rich off “stolen goods” from Asia, Africa and Latin America, because the West created its own wealth, and still does.
The descendants of colonialism are better off than they would have been had colonialism never happened. I would like to illustrate this point through a personal example. While I was a young boy growing up in India, I noticed that my grandfather, who had lived under British colonialism, was instinctively and habitually anti-white. He wasn’t just against the English, he was generally against the white man. I realized that he had an anti-white animus that I did not share. This puzzled me: Why did he and I feel so differently?
Only years later, after a great deal of reflection and a fair amount of study, did the answer finally hit me. The reason for our difference of perception was that colonialism had been pretty bad for him, but pretty good for me. Another way to put it was that colonialism had injured those who lived under it, but paradoxically it proved beneficial to their descendants.
Much as it chagrins me to admit it – and much as it will outrage many Third World intellectuals for me to say it – my life would have been much worse had the British never ruled India.
How is this possible? Virtually everything that I am, what I do, and my deepest beliefs, all are the product of a world view that was brought to India by colonialism. I am a writer, and I write in English. My ability to do this, and to reach a broad market, is entirely thanks to the British.
My understanding of technology, which allows me, like so many Indians, to function successfully in the modern world, was entirely the product of a Western education that came to India as a result of the British. So also my beliefs in freedom of expression, in self-government, in equality of rights under the law and in the universal principle of human dignity – they are all the product of Western civilization.
I am not suggesting that it was the intention of the colonialists to give all these wonderful gifts to the Indians. Colonialism was not based on philanthropy: It was a form of conquest and rule. The English came to India to govern, and they were not primarily interested in the development of the natives, whom they viewed as picturesque savages. It is impossible to measure, or overlook, the pain and humiliation that was inflicted by the rulers over their long period of occupation. Understandably the Indians chafed under this yoke.
Toward the end of the British reign in India, Mahatma Gandhi was asked, “What do you think of Western civilization?” He replied, “I think it would be a good idea.”
Despite their suspect motives and bad behavior, however, the British needed a certain amount of infrastructure in order to effectively govern India. So they built roads, shipping docks, railway tracks, irrigation systems and government buildings. Then the British realized that they needed courts of law to adjudicate disputes that went beyond local systems of dispensing justice. And so the English legal system was introduced, with all its procedural novelties, such as “innocent until proven guilty.”
The English also had to educate the Indians, in order to communicate with them and to train them to be civil servants in the empire. Thus Indian children were exposed to Shakespeare, Dickens, Hobbes and Locke. They began to encounter words and ideas not in their ancestral culture: “liberty,” “sovereignty,” “rights” and so on.
This brings me to the greatest benefit that the British provided to the Indians: They taught them the language of freedom. Once again, it was not the objective of the English to encourage rebellion. But by exposing Indians to the ideas of the West, they did. The Indian leaders were the product of Western civilization. Gandhi studied in England and South Africa, Nehru was a product of Harrow and Cambridge. This exposure was not entirely to the good; Nehru, for example, who became India’s first prime minister after independence,
was highly influenced by Fabian socialism through the teachings of Harold Laski. The result was that India had a mismanaged socialist economy for a generation.
But my broader point is that the champions of Indian independence acquired the principles and the language and even the strategies of liberation from the civilization of their oppressors. This was true not just of India but also of other Asian and African countries that broke free of the European yoke. My conclusion is that against their intentions, the colonialists brought things to India that have immeasurably enriched the lives of the descendants of colonialism.
It is doubtful that non-Western countries would have acquired these good things by themselves. It was the British who, applying a universal notion of human rights, in the early 19th century abolished the ancient Indian institution of sati – the custom of tossing widows on the funeral pyre of their dead husbands.
There is no reason to believe that the Indians, who had practiced sati for centuries, would have reached such a conclusion on their own. Imagine an African or Indian king encountering the works of Locke or Madison and saying, “You know, I think those fellows have a good point. I should relinquish my power and let my people decide whether they want me or someone else to rule.” Somehow, I don’t see this as likely.
Colonialism was the transmission belt that brought to Asia, Africa and South America the blessings of Western civilization. Many of those cultures continue to have serious problems of tyranny, tribal and religious conflict, poverty and underdevelopment, but this is not due to an excess of Western influence but to the fact that those countries are insufficiently Westernized.
Sub-Saharan Africa, which is probably in the worst position, has been described by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan as “a cocktail of disasters.” But this is not because colonialism in Africa lasted so long but because it lasted a mere half-century. It was too short to permit Western institutions to take firm root.
Consequently, after their independence most African nations have retreated into a kind of tribal barbarism that can be remedied only with more Western influence, not less. Africa needs more Western capital, more technology, more rule of law and more individual freedom.
None of this is to say that colonialism by itself was a good thing, only that bad institutions sometimes produce good results. Colonialism, I freely acknowledge, was a harsh regime for those who lived under it. My grandfather would have a hard time giving even one cheer for colonialism. As for me, I cannot manage three, but I am quite willing to grant two. So here it is: Two cheers for colonialism! Maybe you will now see why I am not going to be sending an invoice for reparations to Tony Blair.
The Dangers of the ANC’s Decline
Making matters worse, there is little evidence to suggest that the opposition parties are on the whole less corrupt—or more competent—than the ANC. It is true that the Democratic Alliance has had some technocratic successes in the Western Cape. But that party has never had to manage the Bantustans. Its potential to integrate their local politicians into a cohesive national program is untested; that it could do so while simultaneously stanching out patrimonialism seems far-fetched.
In this sense, the greatest danger of fragmentation is that it will threaten the very cohesion of the South African state. Civil war is certainly not on the horizon, but as the ANC is consumed by infighting, regional party leaders will likely choose to bolster their fiefdoms over complying with orders from the top.
Many will celebrate the ANC’s decline, but fragmentation would mark a turn to a disconcerting second phase in South Africa’s young democracy—and it may lead to a government that is even worse at serving its citizens.
Cape Independence is a drive towards a smaller country, something EF Schumacher would have advocated. It is both an economic as well as a political movement.
Richard H Stephenson
Small is beautiful – an economic idea that has sadly been forgotten
EF Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful was the first book on politics I ever read; it was the only book about politics I ever saw my father read or heard him talk about. It arrived in our cottage in rural North Yorkshire as a manifesto from a radical countercultural world with which we had no contact. Re-reading its dense mixture of philosophy, environmentalism and economics, I can’t think what I could possibly have understood of it at 13, but in a bid to impress my father I ploughed on to the end.
Looking back over the intervening almost four decades, the book’s influence has been enormous. “Small is beautiful” was a radical challenge to the 20th century’s intoxication with what Schumacher described as “gigantism”. For several decades, mass production methods were producing more cheap goods than ever before; the mass media and mass culture opened up new opportunities to a wider audience than ever. It was creating bigger markets and bigger political entities – his book came on the eve of the vote on the European Common Market in 1975 – but he believed such scale led to a dehumanisation of people and the economic systems that ordered their lives.
One of the recurrent themes through the book is how modern organisations stripped the satisfaction out of work, making the worker no more than an anonymous cog in a huge machine. Craft skill was no longer important, nor was the quality of human relationship: human beings were expected to act like adjuncts to the machines of the production line. The economic system was similarly dehumanising, making decisions on the basis of profitability rather than human need: an argument that played out most dramatically in the 80s coal miners’ strike. What Schumacher wanted was a people-centred economics because that would, in his view, enable environmental and human sustainability.
It was a radical challenge which, like many of the ideas of the late 60s and early 70s (feminism is another example), were gradually adopted and distorted by the ongoing voracious expansion of consumer capitalism. Niche brands such as The Body Shop in the UK or Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream in the US attempted to build a “small is beautiful” model of economic enterprise that put relationship, craft and environment at the heart of their way of working. They were later snaffled up by corporate giants. Small became cool but only as part of a branding strategy which masked the ongoing concentration of political and economic power. Gigantism has triumphed.
The power of the global multinational and the financial institutions was beginning to become apparent in the early 70s, but it has grown exponentially since, unaccountable to national governments. Schumacher warned that a city’s population should not rise above 500,000, but we are now living in an era of the megapolis and several cities around the world are heading towards 20m. Schumacher would be weeping over his herbal tea at the fate of his big idea.
However, small is beautiful is an idea that keeps reappearing – the latest incarnations are farmers’ markets, and local cafes baking homemade cup cakes – because it incorporates such a fundamental insight into the human experience of modernity. We yearn for economic systems within our control, within our comprehension and that once again provide space for human interaction – and yet we are constantly overwhelmed by finding ourselves trapped into vast global economic systems that are corrupting and corrupt.
Many of the issues Schumacher raises we are still wrestling with. He questioned the shibboleth of economic growth as the central preoccupation of politics; he talked of resource constraints on economic development. Above all, he insisted again and again that human happiness would not be achieved through material wealth. He had a vision of human need that would strike a 21st-century reader as oddly puritanical, and his frequent references to Burma as a model jar badly.
But his point is still valid as the wellbeing debate today demonstrates; despite our increased wealth since the 70s, we are no happier. Schumacher warned against exactly the issues we are now dealing with as levels of mental illness – depression, anxiety, panic attacks, stress – rise and the World Health Organisation predicts that depression will be the second most common health problem in western developed nations by 2020. This was what Schumacher feared, and his answer was “small is beautiful”. Go back to the human scale: human needs and human relationships, and from that springs the ethical response of stewardship to the environment.
What is most striking about the book now is its bold idealism. No one writes like that now; reading Schumacher’s bracing prescriptions for our future, it is chilling to realise how so many thinkers, politicians, academics have all signed up to a deadening pragmatic consensus and our thinking has been boxed into a dead end of technocratic managerialism. Small is beautiful is the cry of the romantic idealist, and there seem to be none left.