Ilana Mercer, Into the Cannibal’s Pot: Lessons for America from Post-Apartheid South Africa, Stairway Press, 2011, 332 pp., $24.95.
South African-born Ilana Mercer is the daughter of a rabbi who was active in the fight against apartheid. Within a year of the establishment of black rule, however, she saw what was coming and decided to move out. Now a columnist based in the US, she writes regularly for World Net Daily, VDare, and her own weblog (barelyablog.com), and has published one previous book, a collection of libertarian essays called Broad Sides: One Woman’s Clash with a Corrupt Culture. She had considerable difficulty getting this new book published because of its unfashionable criticism of majority rule and insufficient praise for leftist icon Nelson Mandela.
The bad old days
Mrs. Mercer is no apologist for the apartheid system, which she calls “reprehensible” and “contemptible,” but she clears up some misconceptions about it. Apartheid was never based on a theory of racial supremacy; rather, it was a survival strategy for the badly outnumbered Boers. She notes that the Afrikaner nationalist intelligentsia “almost without exception defended apartheid not as an expression of white superiority but on the grounds of its assumed capacity to reduce conflict by curtailing points of interracial contact.” The system was anything but lawless; the Afrikaner government “was characterized by an obsession with imposing restrictions through proper legislation and with due process in executing these laws.”
On the eve of Afrikaner rule in 1946, the black population of South Africa was 8.6 million; by 1991 it had grown to 28.3 million. At the same time, life expectancy soared from 38 to 61 years. This period saw the economy grow by an average 3.5 percent every year. White industrialists, especially in the mining industry, put constant pressure on the government to allow them to use more black labor, and it was during these years that blacks came to dominate many semi-skilled trades such as construction, sheet metal, furniture, clothing, and baking.
Under apartheid, the white share of total personal income steadily declined as the black share rose. According to the International Monetary Fund, by 1987 South African whites were paying 32 percent of their incomes in taxes but receiving only 9 percent in benefits. The excess was consumed mostly by blacks in the form of welfare, housing, health, and education, amounting to one-and-a-half times what they paid in. South Africa was a Mecca for black immigrants from across the continent. Indeed, were it not for the international boycotts and embargoes, South Africa would probably have continued to experience steady economic growth, producing a sizable black middle class with an interest in political stability.
Crime was already a problem in the black townships in those days, but a tough and competent white police force kept it within bounds. A Western system of Roman-Dutch law and a relatively independent judiciary dished out prompt and harsh justice, including the death penalty for necklacing, muti-murder (aimed at obtaining body parts for witchcraft) and baby-rape (believed to cure AIDS). However much they resented the race laws, ordinary blacks had no desire to do without the physical protection offered by the white police force.
Much of the apartheid system was gradually scrapped by the white government itself, beginning in the early 1980s. Coloreds and Indians were admitted to Parliament, influx control laws were dismantled, public facilities desegregated, and anti-miscegenation laws repealed. Blacks enjoyed full property rights and were accepted at historically white universities.
The problem with democracy
A prerequisite for parliamentary democracy is that majority and minority status should be fluid—that the ruling majority party should, at each election, be almost as likely to become a minority as to retain its majority. In a multiracial polity this does not happen. Parties represent racial groups rather than different philosophies of government, and elections become racial headcounts.As the old system approached its end, the major obstacle to negotiating a new constitutional order was the question of whether South Africa would become a unified, centralized democracy, as demanded by the ANC, or a cooperative federation of the various racial and tribal groups. One cannot understand South African politics without grasping this issue.
The majority race has a lock on power; government ceases to have a mediating function and becomes an instrument in the hands of the majority for oppressing minorities. For this reason, many theorists of democracy have urged that the principle of majority rule be severely curtailed in countries with mutually mistrustful peoples with different languages, races, or religions. Some form of structured power-sharing that protects minority rights is likely to be more successful than winner-take-all majority rule.
In surveys conducted between 1986 and 1989, two-thirds of South Africa’s whites preferred some sort of power-sharing accommodation with blacks rather than majority rule. Most whites asked only that, in Mrs. Mercer’s words, “the new, multi-racial order guarantee security, predictable politicians, competent civil servants, a strong economy and secure property rights.”
Many blacks felt the same way. One survey taken in Soweto in 1978 found that 57 percent of blacks preferred equal numbers of blacks and whites in the cabinet. Only 35 percent favored pure majority rule. “Perhaps most blacks realized that being disenfranchised in a functioning state was preferable to being masters in a failed one,” suggests Mrs. Mercer.
President F. W. de Klerk promised to push for power-sharing; he even campaigned on the slogan, “Oppose majority rule.” He had a powerful ally in Zulu chief Buthelezi, who had his own reasons for distrusting the Xhosa-dominated ANC. Mr. Buthelezi espoused a multi-racial, decentralized federation, in which the representatives of various groups would agree to share power and abide by a system of mutual vetoes and spheres of autonomy.
This was not to be. The ANC insisted on unlimited power for the “majority,” meaning itself. Its demands were fully supported by the United States. Under-Secretary of State for Africa Herman Cohen warned: “Minorities cannot expect a veto. All sides [have] to recognize the right of the majority to govern. No side [can] insist on overly complex arrangements intended to guarantee a share of power to particular groups, which will frustrate effective governance.” Pres. George Bush, Sr. even told Pres. de Klerk he thought black South Africans should enjoy not merely “equal opportunity” but “equality of outcomes.”
In the 1994 elections, the ANC received over 62 percent of the vote. Large-scale intimidation had made it nearly impossible for rival parties to campaign in the African townships.
Black Economic Empowerment
Mrs. Mercer explains that the main ANC policy is a program called Black Economic Empowerment, or BEE. This requires that a percentage of all white-owned companies be taken over by blacks, on pain of being shut down. By 2014, the employees of all enterprises are supposed to be “demographically representative,” i.e., at least 75 percent black and not more than 10 percent white. This transfer is known, ironically, as “deracializing the economy.”
Plum positions with white companies are not, of course, given out to just any blacks. Almost all go to a small elite with connections to the ANC. Many go to ANC officials, who do a brisk business renting themselves out as front men to white companies looking for government contracts.
Similar racial quotas apply to the civil service and police. ANC parliamentarian Mario Rantho has declared it “imperative to get rid of merit as the overriding principle in the appointment of public servants.” As a result, municipal budgets in the billions are now often under the control of illiterate blacks. The black editor of South Africa’s largest circulation weekly, the Sunday Times, has acknowledged: “My African colleagues who manage large companies or government departments tell me that to get a job done, you usually have to employ a white.”
Needless to say, the job is often not done. The average black household saw its income shrink by 19 percent during the first six years of ANC rule, and the total number of persons of all races living in “absolute poverty” has doubled since the ANC came to power. Most blacks therefore do not benefit from BEE at all but they still enthusiastically support it for reasons of racial solidarity.
Whites have also suffered. One tenth now live in poverty, many in huts without sanitation or electricity. Around a million whites are thought to have left South Africa; the exact number is uncertain, because the government stopped keeping records. Nelson Mandela describes fleeing whites as “traitors” and “cowards.”
South Africa jostles with Iraq and Colombia for the title of most violent country in the world. Over 300,000 people of all races have been murdered since the establishment of majority rule. More people are killed in a typical week under ANC rule than died in detention during 40 years of Afrikaner rule.
In the European Union, the murder rate is about 1.6 per 100,000 people per year; in American it is 6 (whites: 3.5; blacks: 26.5). The South African rate depends upon whom you ask. The police claim it is 60, but outside observers note what Mrs. Mercer calls a “pervasive pattern of police manipulation of statistics.” The South Africa Medical Research Council says the true number is closer to 89; Interpol estimates it at 114.8. Among South Africa’s white farmers, the figure is thought to reach 313. That is nearly 200 times the murder rate of Europe.
Only about 8 percent of murders result in a conviction. The police are ill-trained, illiterate, and corrupt. Under Afrikaner rule, a crack anticorruption unit known as the Scorpions monitored police behavior, and the police in general were subject to judicial review that often resulted in criticism and reform. The ANC has done away with both kinds of restraint on abuse and corruption. Mrs. Mercer attempted to contact some of the few white “old hands” who remain in the police system, but all were afraid to speak to her. Four hundred thousand private security officers struggle to make up for the shortcomings of the official police; some are hired by the police to provide security for the police station.
Defending oneself can be risky. A Firearms Control Act outlawed most guns in private hands. Victims are also prohibited from retaliating against “non-threatening” home invaders—as if breaking and entering were not threatening. One 26-year-old Afrikaner found two intruders in his home at two o’clock in the morning. He fired a single shot, killing one man and injuring the other. He now faces murder and attempted murder charges, and a local ANC official called the shooting “racist murders.” Mrs. Mercer provides several similar examples.
White farmers are a special category of victim. As Chris van Zyl of the Transvaal Agricultural Union explains, “Rather than simply reflecting South Africa’s overall high crime rate, murders against farmers are part of an orchestrated strategy to drive white farmers from their land.” Attackers often pounce on Sunday morning, when many family members are away at church. The attackers torture the elderly and infirm and then ambush the rest of the family when they return. Women are normally raped before being killed. Dr. Gregory H. Stanton of Genocide Watch says that “the rates at which the farmers are being eliminated, the torture and dehumanization involved—all point to systematic extermination.”
The ANC is notoriously unconcerned about these murders, which fit nicely into its own plans for “land reform.” The government wants 30 percent of all agricultural land in black hands by 2015, and it has tried to push through legislation that would allow it to seize land “simply by giving notice to the expropriated owner.” Unsuccessful in this effort, in March 2010 it proposed a plan in Parliament to nationalize all productive land at once. The government also intends to put a ceiling on how much land individual farmers can own; the effect would be to make large-scale commercial farming impossible.
Fifteen million acres of productive farmland have already been transferred to black ownership, and much of this now lies fallow. A London Times journalist writes:
Once-productive maize fields now grow only weeds. Citrus orchards are dying, their valuable fruit rotting on the branches. Machinery lies about rusting. Irrigation pipes have been looted and farm sheds are derelict and stripped of roofing. Windbreak trees have been hacked down and roads are potholed.
Mrs. Mercer describes a case in which blacks actually burned a farm to the ground in frustration at their own inability to manage it. Meanwhile, as she explains, the law requires that white farmers “battle their ubiquitous assailants with only a shotgun, a handgun and a legally limited number of rounds at their disposal.” The only effective defense they have is a private Afrikaner militia known since the 1770s as the Commandos, when they first began patrolling the frontier area near the Fish River. Needless to say, the ANC now plans to dismantle this.
One little-known trend Mrs. Mercer reports on is the growth of Islam, previously restricted to a tiny community of Cape Malays. Islamic militants began agitating in South Africa within a year of the ANC takeover. Islam today is the largest religion of conversion, with over a million followers, or 2 percent of the population.
The innocent-sounding People Against Gangsterism and Drugs (PAGAD) is a Muslim front involved in extortion, racketeering, and intimidation of witnesses and political opponents. In 1999 and 2000, the group carried out no less than 80 fire bombings of such targets as restaurants, homosexual nightclubs, and Jewish establishments. PAGAD appears to have gone dormant after the arrest of most of its leaders.
For the time being, therefore, the ANC seems to have been able to curb the worst Islamic excesses. One expert argues that the “tacit alliance between mainstream Muslim leaders and the ruling party has successfully managed to sideline more radical voices.” The future balance of power remains to be seen, however. The ANC already has a Muslim wing known as the Call of Islam, and recently elected a Muslim as its Western Cape provincial leader.
Mrs. Mercer holds out little hope for her native land. Her message is mainly directed to us; the book’s subtitle is “Lessons for America from Post-Apartheid South Africa,” and the cover features an American flag. “South Africa’s gutted institutions serve as a harbinger of things to come in the US,” she notes, “where affirmative action is still dismissed as a ‘minor irritant,’ but ought not to be.” As our government continues to transfer wealth from the productive to the unproductive, all the while importing more unproductive people, America is increasingly coming to resemble what she calls the “dying Christian civilization at the foot of Africa.”
[Editor's Note: This article first appeared in the August 2011 issue of American Renaissance.]