The Biggest Issue (II): The Destructive Effect.

July 19, 2010

Oddly, the Creator was recently listening to the DA’s Shadow Minister of Rural Development, Mr. Swathe. This came after reading a number of newspaper articles and weblog posts written by right-wingers, virtually all of whom played the race card in one way or another. It’s worth asking what is meant by “playing the race card”. Its meaning actually differs according to who you are describing.
When a black person plays the race card, what s/he is doing is saying, in effect, “Whites are trying to take advantage of their privileged position in order to undermine me or the faction or policy for which I stand”. So, if two comparable candidates compete for a job, and one of them says “Yeah, but I’m black and he’s white”, that person is saying, in effect, “If you appoint this person, you will be furthering the aims of the great white conspiracy to undermine black people, and as a white person, this person will follow the objectives of that conspiracy”.
It would all be a terrible and silly conspiracy theory, if it weren’t for the fact that white people have been historically trying to undermine black people for the last couple of millennia, and to most blacks the Broederbond and the United Party are not easily distinguishable in their effects.
Thing about the race card is that, obviously, a person who is not winning an argument or who does not deserve to be considered for a post can easily say “You’re just doing that ‘cos I’m black”. In other words, what is called the race card only has meaning when race is used inappropriately, as a way of sidestepping real issues.
When a white person plays the race card, s/he is saying, in effect, “You’re just doing that ‘cos s/he’s black”; that is, “Blacks are trying to take advantage of their privileged position . . . the great black conspiracy to undermine white people”. On the face of it, there’s no difference that a philosopher could find between the two discourses. There is, however, an actual difference — which is that blacks aren’t generally in a privileged position and there isn’t a great black conspiracy to undermine white people. You will not find black people who think that whites are stupid, lazy or feckless — on the contrary, many blacks who unfairly play the race card are suffering from the belief that whites are cleverer, smarter and more diligent than they, and don’t want to be put in the shade.
What this means is that when blacks play the race card it is sometimes wrong in the specific instance. When whites play the race card it is sometimes right in the specific instance (in our corrupt society it is perfectly possible for a black-dominated entity to strive to exclude whites, just as it is possible for a white-dominated entity to strive to exclude blacks). However, as a general principle, when whites play the race card they are essentially trying to deny the obvious structural advantages which whites enjoy over blacks as a result of colonialism and apartheid. Whites playing the race card are almost invariably racists and are almost invariably enemies of the 1994 settlement.
Which takes us back to the Democratic Alliance.
Before Mr. Swathe spoke there was a speech by Willie Spies, late of the Freedom Front Plus. (Plus what? Now with added racial and tribal prejudice? It appears so.) The Freedom Front Plus, please recall, was a descendant of the Freedom Alliance, a broad front of racists and fascists attempting to prevent democratic elections in South Africa through the use of massive violence. The appropriately-initialled FA was responsible for possibly ten thousand murders before its bloody campaign collapsed in ignominious defeat, and the brutal thug responsible for the Mmabatho massacres in 1994, General Constand Viljoen, happily waltzed into Parliament with massive white support.
Spies is now a member of AfriForum, which is invariably described as a “human rights organisation” in the press and radio. AfriForum is an organisation devoted to the interests of white Afrikaners, although it is willing to accept support from brown Afrikaners if they do what they are told. As such it campaigns to secure the privileges which white Afrikaners enjoyed under apartheid, and to roll back any loss of white Afrikaner privileges which have arisen out of the collapse of the racist state. As such, AfriForum is a “human rights organisation” in the same way that the Ku Klux Klan is.
Spies was speaking against land redistribution, on the basis of his efforts to give land to white Zimbabwean landowners. He cited a family whose farm had been invaded by black people and who had taken the Zimbabwean government to court, first in SADC and then in South Africa. They had a fairly good case, so the Zimbabwean government didn’t contest it (they probably couldn’t afford the fees, anyway) and the landowners won. The people living on the farm beat up the landowners (cue for harrowing photographs of injured white people, on whose skin blood shows up much better than it does on black people) and drove them off the land, ramming the point home by burning their house down. It’s an ugly story, by any standard.
Spies, however, drew an interesting conclusion: that this had all been planned long before by Robert Mugabe (he cited Mugabe’s speech at his inauguration as proof) and, therefore, that the international community should have acted to prevent Mugabe from becoming President in 1980. It appeared that Spies had little faith in black people’s choice of leaders. (He was uninterested in anything which had happened in Zimbabwe between 1980 and 2000, or possibly just ignorant.) One could say that Spies was using Africa Addio-style propaganda to claim that there was a vast black conspiracy against white people, which is where we came in. Later, when Spies was asked how the hell land reform and restitution should take place, he replied that this should happen within the context of white ownership through the title deeds which they acquired (at gunpoint, as he did not say).
OK, one can expect this from the FF+. (It was notable that Spies was not particularly avowedly racist, didn’t mind shaking hands with black people, etc.) So one awaited Mr. Swathe’s speech with interest. How would the DA distinguish itself from the FF+ (especially since both parties had delivered eulogies following the death of Eugene Terre’Blanche)?
Mr. Swathe’s position was interesting. He agreed with Mr. Spies that there should be no land reform outside the context of property rights (to summarise: if you stole something before 1994, it’s yours, but nobody gets to steal nothing now). Very well; but what about land reform happening within the context of property rights? Here Mr. Swathe’s position was all too plain. Where blacks get their hands on land, said Mr. Swathe, it’s a disaster. In 90% of cases, they just break everything. They steal stuff. They’re always fighting each other and they burn things. They don’t look after anything and it all goes to hell. That’s why land reform is a failure.
Wow, one may say. It is possible to say that a specific farm handed to a specific black or group of blacks has deteriorated — there’s a farm thirty kilometres from where this is being written which once grew oranges, where the orange trees were burned away, the irrigation equipment was trashed, and where now a handful of scrawny cattle graze in fields which once supported a real crop, surrounded by the skeletal forms of dying pine-tree windbreaks. Clearly some black people who take over farms are people who cannot be trusted to wipe their own backsides without supervision. But to extrapolate from this that blacks cannot farm is a murderous lie. Indeed, one woman at the back rose up to protest that her father was involved in a highly successful farm which had been established through land reform. Ah, replied Mr. Swathe, I said 90%. There are always exceptions. They prove nothing. Blacks can’t be trusted with land, in general.
This is a lot more racist than Mr. Spies’s position. Perhaps, to be fair, it is not really more racist, but is simply openly expressing a racism which was implicit in Mr. Spies’s position. The question is, surely, how anyone can get away with such an expression of racist belief. The audience, at least half black, did not storm the podium and tear off either speaker’s trousers, which would probably have happened in 1990. (At the very least, probably the black half of the audience would have decamped en masse. Meanwhile, numerous black DA councillors were present, all of whom appeared untroubled by the racist propaganda spouted by their superior. This is weird, isn’t it?
It seems probable that sheer repetition has enabled this level of racism to restore itself to public acceptance. Of course, that alone is not enough, but repetition does have a numbing effect; gradually one comes to accept that people have a right to say a hundred and first time what has already been said a hundred times. However, the act of repeating the phrase “Blacks are stupid, lazy and feckless” should surely have been difficult to sustain at some point in the past. How did it get into the public discourse?
Obviously it has been commonplace within a part of the public discourse — most specifically, that part of the public who vote DA and FF+, white reactionaries and their hangers-on. There isn’t much doubt that apartheid-era attitudes exist big-time in this community. The fact that they have learned not to make lip-farts when blacks say things they don’t want to hear, and to shake hands with blacks in public, does not mean they have changed their minds.
Meanwhile, however, the massive media campaign against the government after 1999 had a powerful impact. This was in part a neoliberal corporate campaign, the object being to undermine the left and boost the right, but also to weaken the political authority of the government, to systematically deny it the right to take initiatives of its own. The silencing of Mbeki (in the media, that is) is important whether or not Mbeki was right; the point is that he had ideas of his own, and this could not be tolerated. However, once this had been accepted it was easy to go further and claim that Mbeki’s ideas, and the independence of his ideas, were intimately tied up with Mbeki’s skin colour; that, contrary to all evidence, Mbeki was a racist, and that all of Mbeki’s wrong ideas (and in this discourse, all of Mbeki’s ideas were wrong) could be traced back to Mbeki’s blackness, hence his hostility to (and envy of) superior white people and ideas.
And once this propaganda was established in the case of Mbeki, it could be used against any black intellectual who did not do as he was told by whites. Then it could be used against any black who said anything which was remotely unpopular. Then it could be used against any black who stepped out of line. At each stage, the discourse depended upon racial prejudice — and, particularly, upon blacks not contesting racism, but rather choosing to ignore it (for fear of becoming targets of the same type of attacks) or even endorse it (because destroying the career of a black who stepped out of line might create a space for oneself — and having to stick to the white line was a small price to pay in exchange for hugely lucrative employment, as people like Seepe, Mangcu and company have found).
As a result blacks have simply become accustomed to hearing racist propaganda against them without question, complaint or qualm. It is simply part of the background noise, and nobody is outraged when a black person recites filth last heard uttered by the Blankebevrydingsbeweging. As a result, blacks are being coached to believe that they are actually inferior to whites. The Zuma government has continued this process by refusing to hold blacks to high standards of integrity and competence, and indeed largely abandoning the idea that such high standards matter. Whites love this because Zuma is doing what they expect a black person to do, and because, whenever Zuma spouts guff about African solidarity or about a developmental state he is, by his example, undermining the very ideology he pretends to endorse. Thus one can safely believe, courtesy of Zuma and his merry males, that when a black says something which sounds good, that black, like Zuma, doesn’t mean it, and instead means the opposite.
So racism is succeeding as part of a carefully-crafted and quite clever plan on the part of whites, and is facilitated by white control of the media and of corporate capital. However, it is also succeeding because blacks (and all people of goodwill) refuse to challenge this, and instead often connive at it.
Perhaps you think this isn’t a problem?


The Biggest Issue (I): The Situation Gets Worse.

June 3, 2010

Across much of the world, social inequity in nation-states is determined by class, and to a lesser extent by gender. Only in Latin America and South Africa is race a significant factor. (This does not mean that blacks and browns are not oppressed in white-dominated societies all over the world, only that in Latin America and South Africa, the blacks and browns make up significant proportions of the population.) In those regions, class was determined by the fact that whites seized the country and all the possessions in it and then ruled through mixed-race half-breeds. Therefore, in a place like Venezuela or Bolivia, the paler your skin, the more economic and political power you are likely to have. The victories of figures like Morales and Chavez, politically and economically significant as they were, were predominantly racial victories.
Understandably, this is not acknowledged. In Latin America, as in apartheid South Africa, the refusal to acknowledge the racial context of social inequity was enforced by law — although in Latin America this law was not so tightly codified as in South Africa. Nevertheless, it was the law which prevented the Indians from getting their land back, it was the law which discouraged descendants of slaves from escaping from poverty, and therefore it was the law which ensured that white people in places like Peru and Brazil would always be rich enough to ensure that they could use their wealth to hang on to power. And if that failed, there was always the army which could be relied on to serve the interests of the people who lived in the best suburbs. (It must have been a shattering shock to the system when the Venezuelans discovered in 2002 that their army would follow the elected President rather than the Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce even though the Chairman and all his friends lived in the best suburbs.)
In South Africa, this refusal to acknowledge race was driven, of course, by racism. Blacks and coloureds were poor because they were genetically irresponsible and feckless, and therefore were not capable of holding down real jobs or making use of a proper education. Therefore, South African society merely reflected the true merit of its citizens. One could believe this, provided that one was white, but there was a problem when it came to grand apartheid. Were Kaiser Matanzima and Gatsha Buthelezi merely monkeys dressed up in suits, or were they the highly-esteemed elder statesmen of, respectively, independent nations and quasi-independent nation-states with a noble history and playing a vital role in national and foreign policy? If the latter, which most whites were told and therefore believed, then obviously not all blacks were worthless. One had to acknowledge that a tiny fraction of them were capable of rising above their inherent inferiority.
Then again, there was the problem that many blacks had guns. The South African Police depended on armed blacks to keep order in townships when there weren’t enough armed whites. The South African Army had established numerous black battalions and had established armies in every independent homeland. The war in Namibia was largely conducted with black cannon fodder, and towards the end of the Rhodesian war, although the fact was not very widely publicised, it became clear that white Rhodesia could only survive behind a shield of black mercenaries. (The collapse came when it became impossible to pay them.) Blacks were not supposed to shoot whites, but what if they did?
So the whites had to accommodate the notion that blacks could under certain very specific circumstances be permitted to have white privileges, including the power of life and death.
All this might have been expected to ameliorate racism to some extent. No doubt it did. But racism is a very hard thing to remove because it begins very early in life and because it permeates culture. It would have been a very difficult thing to eliminate. So, instead of eliminating it, white society, as usual, took the easy path. They pretended that it didn’t exist, expanding upon the denial of racism which had always been a feature of the apartheid state (“separate development”, “plural relations”, “own and general affairs”, “consociational democracy). This was the birth of the “rainbow nation”, a pure advertising-agency image, which black South African politicians tolerated because the alternative was to face up to the intractable antagonism of the white community, something which black South Africans have huge problems addressing.
However, what seems to have been assumed was that white racism would gradually fade away. It was a natural assumption. Racism seemed related to sheer ignorance; to the fact that whites virtually never mixed with blacks on an equal basis. In the post-1994 situation, it might have been assumed that whites would gradually begin such mixing, and therefore racism would begin to disappear. Affirmative action and BEE would speed up the process. The public suppression of racism, under which everyone from Betsie Verwoerd down was invited to essentially say “I am not a racialist, but . . . “, was also supposed to help with this; if everybody ignored it, perhaps it would go away.
Since it did not, we now have a huge problem. Part of the problem is generated by the complicity of virtually all whites, to a greater or lesser degree, in apartheid. Many whites served apartheid; many more benefited from it. Few challenged apartheid; fewer still fought against it with any vigour. As a result, whites perceive themselves as guilty. By a natural human process of denial and self-delusion, whites therefore proclaim themselves to be innocent. The crime from which they benefited and shall benefit for decades to come is declared not now to exist, and indeed, never to have existed with reference to them. Instead, a different crime has been invented — the crime of saying that apartheid has had any impact on South African society. This is racism, and immoral, because it blames the victims of South African society — namely, the whites.
How has this bizarre situation come about? For it undeniably has; blacks, even quite radical ones, act sheepish and shuffle their feet when they talk about the legacy of apartheid, while whites routinely denounce anyone who dares to talk about such things. Presumably, the object of this is to compel everybody to ignore the elephant in the room, because it belongs to whites.
There is a fair amount of evidence that racism has become much more acceptable than it was a decade or so ago. If you examine South African political weblogs, the proportion of comments containing some degree of racism varies from about 40-50% on weblogs like the Mail and Guardian’s Thoughtleader and the related Constitutionallyspeaking, to something like 90% on weblogs like Politicsweb. Notice that these are nominally liberal and intellectual fora; weblogs like zasucks exist entirely to propagate racist filth. In the letters pages of newspapers one finds a slightly more measured tone, probably because many middle-class whites — the kind of person who writes letters to newspapers — are not under the direct authority of the ruling class; they get their instructions from the papers, not through memoranda and e-mails. But the pundits! Johnson, Mulholland, Myburgh and their avatars are all spewing the most obnoxious racism into the Avusa stable, and the implications of many other commentators are similar. Calland has now become openly neoliberal, while Steven Friedman calls for the judicial protection of hate speech because it so dominates the white political discourse which Friedman wishes to preserve (but why preserve it if it is racist?).
So, if there is racism, it is partly because racism is being promoted in elements of the media. This raises the question of whether racism has increased in the broad white community or whether it has particularly increased in the bourgeoisie. There is certainly a lot of racism in white cultural activity. Books like Disgrace and films like District 9 are cases in point, and a recent “alternative” film which depicts blacks in general as rapists and Nigerians as superstitious barbarians shows how unthinkingly such dogmas are reproduced by those who pretend to be intellectuals.
What is here meant by racism is the belief that blacks are inferior to whites as a result of some innate defect derived from birth. Typical examples are the DA’s call for “promotion based on merit” and hostility to “cadre deployment”, both of which are condemnations of black people being given responsible political jobs. Related to this is the concern about affirmative action amongst whites, which invariably entails the belief that affirmative action must lead to giving incompetent people jobs. The concern about black economic empowerment is of a different order; what upsets whites here is that black people are getting extremely large salaries. One might argue that this is a bad thing, because most blacks are very poor — but then, overwhelmingly more whites are getting much larger salaries, and most whites are not so poor, so the general effect is that whites are much more privileged than blacks, and getting, if anything, more so. Black economic empowerment affects less than 5% of the wealth of the country, but is blamed for all ills, because the concept panders to white resentment of the fact that a black person might be richer.
The situation goes further. A part of the white hostility to the purchase of submarines and fighters lay in the firm belief by whites that blacks don’t know how to sail boats or fly aircraft, and can’t be taught to do this; that such things ought to be left to whites. One looks at the situation in Zimbabwe, where many commentators solemnly proclaim that the blacks were plotting to destroy the country from the beginning (and, of course, South African commentators solemnly proclaim that the local blacks will lose no opportunity to do the same here — black commentators being quite energetic in promoting such ideas here).
The universal tendency to personalise all politics finds particular expression here. Prominent black politicians who displease the ruling class are not simply wrong — indeed, the reasons why they displease the ruling class are generally hushed up as much as possible. Rather, they are stupid, evil and corrupt. Malema is the prototype for this (journalists with expensive watches and costly cars are happy to denounce Malema for having an expensive watch and a costly car, thus showing that he is a hypocrite, with the further implication that virtually all black politicians are hypocrites unless the media specifically says they aren’t) but a large number of similar politicians are treated in essentially the same way. In general, black politicians and businesspeople are jeered at, and the worst possible spin put on their actions, because the audience for the jeering wishes to hear such things. White politicians and businesspeople are treated with respect, partly because they own the media, partly because they have much better connections with the judiciary than most blacks — but, particularly, because the predominantly white audience of the media instinctively feel that Helen Zille and Patricia de Lille are more trustworthy than anyone with a darker skin. This is not based upon their record (for the press avoid discussing records, since to do so openly would be a huge embarrassment in both cases).
Another problem however, is that racism can also be used to promote tolerance of misbehaviour on the part of black politicians of whom the ruling class approves. Most members of the Zuma faction of the ANC have been engaged in corruption and got away with it to a greater or lesser extent. While we are continually told that corruption is very bad, somehow it becomes less bad when it is Zuma or Mashitile engaged in it. This is not because whites particularly admire corrupt black people — it is, rather, that the racist mind-set automatically assumes that black people are corrupt. When the press declares: “There is a corrupt black person, isn’t it disgraceful?” its white audience will predominantly nod their heads. But if the press says: “Look at this ebullient, somewhat arrogant black person dancing and singing — isn’t it entertaining, and if he is a trifle corrupt, well, what do you expect?” then the white audience will yet again nod their heads. Whites have come to expect blacks to be corrupt and incompetent — unlike whites — because they are so instructed. Hence they have come to tolerate corruption by the back door, and what is worse, they can then tell themselves that because they are tolerating black corruption, they are being non-racist when really they are being racist.
Therefore, white South African racism is becoming more prominent and more energetic with time. Is this really a serious problem? That’s a case for a subsequent observation.

A Bag of Broken Glass.

April 18, 2008

One hilarious question is often asked by those wealthy South Africans who are paid by our corporate kleptocracy to pretend that they are pundits: why are South Africans so divided, what ever happened to the glorious idealistic unity of the Rainbow Nation? The question is purely rhetorical, since these affluent imbeciles answer it by identifying whatever demons their paymasters expect them to provide. It is also preposterous. There is not now, and never has been, a Rainbow Nation; the very concept was a pure product of the liberal delusions which, sadly, came to dominate the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and discourage it from taking meaningful action.

Instead, South Africa was, is, and apparently will be, a hideously fragmented society.

This is not extraordinarily surprising. Our community is numerically dominated by an African majority, which is itself divided into ten cultural minorities, some of whose languages are not mutually intelligible and some of whom are physically distinguishable in appearance. There is, however, a large minority divided into three main ethnic groupings, the “coloureds”, the indians and the whites. These ethnic groupings are also divided culturally and linguistically, and there are further internal divisions here, especially between Muslim and Hindu indians and between Afrikaans and English whites (with the whites of Jewish origin providing yet another minority division in that community). In addition to these divisions, there are broader religious divisions between Christians and animists, and between the different Christian churches.

Add to this mix the fact that we are one of the most economically divided countries in the world, with a small wealthy minority and a huge impoverished majority, and you can see that any attempt to unite the country around a single dogma or institution would have a lot of work on its hands.

However, the alert reader will have already noticed an elephant in this not very large living-room. The elephant answers to the name of Colonialism And Apartheid, which is an invidious name for an elephant, but it is a bad-tempered pachyderm if ever there was one. This is, of course, the elephant which the pundits are doing their best to camouflage. It is not a very good best, but luckily those South Africans whom the kleptocracy consider the ones who count have their eyes screwed tightly shut.

The purpose of colonialism and apartheid in South Africa was to control the activities of the majority of the population in the interests of a minority, or rather of a minority of that minority claiming to act in the interests of the minority. The method which was used, from early on, was fragmentation. The Dutch were separate from the dark-skinned slaves, and when the Dutch moved into the interior it was considered undesirable to promote the inevitable miscegenation which came with the shortage of women, in a community which was not enslaved. (Of course miscegenation and even population blending took place to some extent among the “trekboers”.)

Then came the English, who were at pains to distinguish themselves from the Dutch, and who, in “freeing” the slaves, were at pains to distinguish them on racial grounds from white people. And, of course, to distinguish the africans from everyone else; the English had the bright idea of promoting conflict between the newly-invented ethnic group of coloureds, and the relatively recently-discovered ethnic group of africans, conscripting coloureds into the military in the Kat River Settlement; later, of course, they also discovered the advantages of co-opting africans into their own communities (especially, apparently, the “Mfengu”). The English also drew a distinction between the Zulus, whom they defined as noble savages, and the Xhosa (whom they were the first to call “Kafirs”) whom they defined as ignoble and dishonest — though good enough as cheap labour for the new cities.

The Boers, oddly enough, did not seem to divide people in quite the same way, oppressing the africans almost universally. (On the other hand, they had divided themselves, between the Afrikaans-speakers who remained in the Cape and those who had moved to what became the Boer Republics.) The English duly imported indians to work the sugar-cane plantations and thus developed yet another source of division, a racial group particularly resented by the locals excluded from this labour, and even more resented because the indians rapidly made use of their imperial contacts to raise themselves above the level of the Natal africans.

And then, of course, came the rapid rise of the capitalist and financier class in South Africa, the Randlords and the agricultural barons, and the resentment which the white working class felt equally for them and for the africans who were willing to work for less pay.

All this before the Boer War, which reduced the Boers to the status of hopelessly crushed peons in their own country, after which they were restored to the status of a subordinate class, the enforcers and junior administrators for the English-speaking whites, all of which they of course resented. No sooner had this boiling pot of mutual resentments and anger been established, becoming ever more vigorous as the suppressed ethnic and linguistic groups one by one grew to recognise how badly they had been treated and strike for better conditions — no sooner was the trouble at its peak, than the British Empire blithely announced that this recipe for factionalism was now a Union, and everything was all right, on the same model as Australia and Canada.

At least in Canada the British had overcome the hostility of a single group of ethnic dissidents, the French Canadians. In South Africa the situation was like a dozen very angry cats in a sack. The racial and class divisions built into the Union Constitution, and the lack of enthusiasm for the Empire felt by almost everybody except a few weak-minded English settlers, did not help matters. Even before Union, there had been sputterings of rebellion among the Zulus, led by the half-hearted rebel Bambatha. Four years after Union the Afrikaners again struck for independence. Within a few years there was the Rand Revolt of the whites, the Bondelswaart uprising in South-West Africa, and the millennial activities among the africans (shades of Nongqawuse) which were savagely repressed, as at Bulhoek.

And then, just to improve all this situation, came the gradual hardening of the white racist line which flowered into apartheid and the active division of the society into more than a dozen ethnic groups, each with its own administration, many supposedly with their own national identity, and simultaneously a mighty clampdown upon social democracy of any kind.

Look back on all this, on colonialism and apartheid and all that they have wrought, and you can see that South Africa is not really a country at all. It is a sack filled with the broken fragments of nations, the most recently broken of which was the doomed dream of Afrikaner oligarchy. Superficially it seems to hold together, but the fragments are sharp and it is perfectly possible that the sack will prove too weak to hold them together.

It is possible to exaggerate this, of course. We may remember the fond determination of white South Africans to pretend that the state-sponsored terrorism run by Inkatha was actually ethnic violence between Zulus and Xhosas. (Of course the violence was not especially between Zulus and Xhosas, and indeed Zulus and Xhosas have not historically been particularly hostile to one another.) This led to the belief that Natal was going to secede from the rest of South Africa. This did not happen because nobody had the faintest desire to accomplish it. Nor was there a racial bloodbath after 1994, as white racists across the world had predicted.

On the other hand, the political divide between the ANC and the DA is very largely a divide between white and african. (Interestingly, the DA has managed conflict between English and Afrikaans speakers much better than the old National Party did, but this is probably because both parties are afraid of the ANC and thus are more willing to compromise than before.) This is true in virtually every province as well as at national level. Granted, indians and coloureds are not so ethnically loyal, and they also don’t have their own parties (the Minority Front is more a joke than anything else). There are provincial parties based in tribal groups, but apart from Inkatha they don’t amount to much.

Class conflict, too, has been managed — largely by pretending that it does not exist. Because classes have virtually no contact with each other, and don’t much want to contact each other (since the africans are mostly poor and the whites mostly rich, and coloureds and indians tend to be better off than the rest, the class divide is also largely an ethnic divide, which helps to obfuscate it and paradoxically reduce conflict; as in Latin America the rich are almost literally on a different plane from the poor). Very probably, factors such as black economic empowerment and affirmative action, although not massively significant in changing the balance of economic power, have the paradoxical effect of heightening class conflict . When africans see other africans, with no conspicuous virtue other than the right social or political connections, getting rich, wealth becomes an accessible goal and a source of resentment.

Hence, these conflicts are on the rise. They are not expressed so coherently. In many cases, for instance, they are canalised into xenophobia, mainly against Somalians for some reason, although Zimbabweans, who have flooded the country as Zimbabwe has declined, also face a great deal of criticism. When the affluent public notices the existence of xenophobia, it congratulates itself that it is not itself xenophobia (not, of course, being threatened by the growing threat of joblessness which is attributed — not always falsely — to a flood of foreigners).

One of the biggest tragedies of the Mbeki government was that it never really came up with a unifying system of beliefs and values for the country. Nascent in the idea of mutual socio-economic growth under the umbrella of the values of the Constitution was, surely, the possibility of a huge political movement which everyone could participate in. This idea certainly drove much of the rhetoric, and even some of the action, of the Mbeki government. But it was never participational. There has never been a serious effort to get the public to transcend their individual desires and take on the formidable problem of solving the national crisis, of all pulling together as one. Yet something like this was not only logical, given that the problems were indeed huge — it was desirable, given the fractured state of our society.

Mbeki and company fled from the idea. Conceivably it was just anathema to their centralised, technocratic approach to society. However, it is also possible that they did not believe that it was practical. There is, after all, a much more powerful counterforce working against this — the notion of selfish individualism, of suspicion of each other based on what a threat we might pose to each other. This is the neoliberal view of society, and it dominates the media and the public discourse despite all insincere appeals to the mythology of “ubuntu”. It is also the force which encourages people to move from their lack of identification with others, to the active attack on others which is crime, or tribalism, or racism, or corruption. The “Moral Regeneration Movement” hypocritically led by the crooked philanderer Jacob Zuma was supposed to deal with this, but since South Africans do not have any shared set of morals or values, and little or no willingness to make sacrifices in order to establish one, the MRM was merely a farcical sham.

As a result we rattle around in our sack, slashing at each other with fragments of our nationalisms — potentially vulnerable to any ur-fascist charlatan, or any overfunded and well-publicised fixer, who claims to have an answer to the problems we dare not even begin to understand.