Today I found myself at a public debate organised by BBC Africa radio at Wits University titled, “South Africa at 18: Do Black and White Still Matter in the Rainbow Nation?”
The short answer to this, as we all know is, “Hell yeah! Of course colour still matters!”
But in trying to dip their toe into this vast ocean of unresolved racial issues, the very professional people at the BBC did help to bring a few issues into starker relief.
1 The current apartheid is economic. As such, South Africa differs not much from every other country in the world in the oppression of underprivileged have-nots by the privileged have-lots. Where South Africa does differ is that in our case the have-nots correspond pretty neatly with the black population, thanks to the couple of centuries’ racial oppression they were subjected to.
2 The oppressor co-opts its rivals. And so the struggle veterans become BEE moguls or government ministers, or indeed ANC bigwigs, who perpetuate the very policies of exploitive capitalism they once fought. And their progeny now attend the very schools that inculcated the elitism that informed colonialism and apartheid. These born-frees were to be seen at the debate mouthing cliches about psychological barriers to achievement. If you believe you can do something then you can. Let merit be the measure, etc.
That argument will carry more weight once everyone’s parents have a few million in the bank.
3 The massive want to share in the wealth. The capitalist tactic of getting as much as possible for as little as possible informs the very accounting system that ostensibly values the business they do. But in the absence of accounting that measures a corporation’s impact in the environment and the communities in which it operates, these companies will continue to get away with bargain deals that enrich their shareholders and leave third-world nations to pick up the tab. This considered, it is far from unreasonable to expect these companies to offer a bigger share of their profits to the government. Call it nationalisation. Call it beneficiation. Call it CSI. Call it full-cost accounting. But the systems of rapacious capitalism that multinationals have been using to exploit their economic colonies for centuries have to change.
This much was clear from the responses of the youth at the debate at the Chalsty Centre, School of Law, Wits University. One imagines the sentiments of the masses at the Angelo informal settlement on the East Rand, for instance, would be a touch more militant.
Exploitation of the people by corporations and banks in the name of profit has been the name of the game for decades. What has changed recently is their enlisting state governments to do their dirty work. Technocratic presidents in Italy and Greece today serve little purpose other than to implement policies that will ensure banks get back the money they lost on unwise and exploitive investments.
The South African state apparatus showed itself to be a willing stooge of predatory capital when they massacred dozens of recalcitrant miners at Marikana the other week. Its betrayal of its responsibilities to the people who elected it cannot go any further.
If it does, we will be left with a government at war with its people, and a people without representatives. And an angry mass without a leader to articulate that anger is a mob. A mob knows one thing and that is to destroy.
That will be the outcome if we fail to address the continued lack of economic transformation in our society. And if that mob coalesces from the dozens of smaller mobs already at large daily in industrial and service-delivery protests, it will be bullets against stones and spears in every town.
A significant policy change away from obsequious, fawning capitalist accommodation would be a first step to avoiding this.