THE END OF THE APARTHEID ALIBI:
During the local election campaign Ferial Haffajee wrote about the sad state of her part (and every part) of Johannesburg: litter everywhere, potholes, street lights and traffic lights that don’t work, irregular water, irregular power, uncollected rubbish and all the rest of it. When she recited this lament to the ANC she was angrily accused of “nostalgia for the white city”.
In today’s South Africa it is, of course, politically inadmissible to say that the whites got anything right so instead Ferial recorded sadly how in the years before 1994 there had been lots of bold talk by the UDF about how much better in every respect things would be in the new, liberated South Africa. The developmental state. People’s education. Reconstruction and development. The comrades gave such inspiring speeches about these matters.
Ferial is a nice woman but her perspectives are so encased in a sort of terminal political correctness that she can’t call a spade a spade. But imagine the angry black voters of Soweto or Ekurhuleni who booed Ramaphosa, or the Indian voters of Chatsworth, or the Coloured voters of the Cape Flats: if you accused them of “nostalgia for the white city” you’d be told “Absolutely. You bet. So’s everybody.”
It is indeed a no-brainer. Cheap, plentiful and reliable electricity. Sewage and water systems that work properly. Street lights and traffic lights ditto. Decent roads, litter that gets collected, law and order: what’s not to like?
The point is this. Whenever anyone tries to hold the ANC responsible for anything its first instinct is to find a way of blaming apartheid. But in the local election campaign this was impossible. They’ve been in power for 27 years so if people don’t like the mess they’ve made of their towns and, indeed, of their country, there’s no one else to blame. So the best the ANC can do is try to invalidate their complaint by the accusation of “nostalgia for the white city”. Quite obviously it didn’t work and won’t work.
Moreover, it carries the suggestion that the broken state of the towns and cities is what you ought to expect in an African-run country, that things not working is somehow more authentic. This is a very dangerous notion: “Vote for us! We expect to fail, and we will! We stand for backwardness, for candles not electricity.” This leads nowhere.
What did socialists use before candles? Electricity!
It was not surprising that the effect of colonial conquest and the easy superiority of whites in white-ruled South Africa should have left many Africans with a diminished self-confidence and a low sense of their own worth. But the hope was that with all legal barriers removed and access to good education, a new sense of egalitarian self-confidence would be born, particularly in the younger generation.
This has not happened for no one has paid a higher price for the failure of ANC governance than young black South Africans. Far from improving, as one would have hoped, the state education on offer to them has declined in standard. If they get through Matric they often then find themselves way out of their depth on overcrowded university campuses, where standards have fallen too. The failure rates are horrendous, encouraging the sense that black students are inferior, always clustered at the bottom of the class.
Finally, young blacks face a horrendous labour market and the probability of long-term unemployment. Many of them get caught in pointless symbolic politics – arguing about statues, for heaven’s sake, or accepting that the only way ahead lies through racial populism. These are really dead-ends.
The ANC has taught young black South Africans that African government doesn’t work, that their politicians are crooks and that it’s not worth voting. The exact opposite of Mandela’s dream.
Moreover, the party was handed on a plate the richest country in Africa with the best infrastructure, the richest mining industry and the most productive agriculture. Within a generation it was an almost bankrupt country in which very little worked. What to say after that?
It’s not black rule. Botswana next door is well-run. It’s rule by leftists, which always makes everything suck. And they always use race as an excuse for their failures. You can see that in the deep-Blue parts of the United States.
Flashback: Over a decade ago, Nick Kristof reported that Zimbabweans were nostalgic for the old days of Rhodesia:
The hungry children and the families dying of AIDS here are gut-wrenching, but somehow what I find even more depressing is this: Many, many ordinary black Zimbabweans wish that they could get back the white racist government that oppressed them in the 1970’s.
“If we had the chance to go back to white rule, we’d do it,” said Solomon Dube, a peasant whose child was crying with hunger when I arrived in his village. “Life was easier then, and at least you could get food and a job.”
Mr. Dube acknowledged that the white regime of Ian Smith was awful. But now he worries that his 3-year-old son will die of starvation, and he would rather put up with any indignity than witness that.
An elderly peasant in another village, Makupila Muzamba, said that hunger today is worse than ever before in his seven decades or so, and said: “I want the white man’s government to come back. Even if whites were oppressing us, we could get jobs and things were cheap compared to today.”
His wife, Mugombo Mudenda, remembered that as a younger woman she used to eat meat, drink tea, use sugar and buy soap. But now she cannot even afford corn gruel. “I miss the days of white rule,” she said.
Nearly every peasant I’ve spoken to in Zimbabwe echoed those thoughts.
You’d think that Zimbabwe would have been a cautionary example for South Africa, but it seems to have been more of a how-to guide. And hey, the political insiders got rich.