If PW Botha had died 10, even five years ago, there wouldn’t have been so many whites praising him as we have seen during the last 10 days. I think these eulogies to a man who did great harm to us all should be seen as part of the great wave of pessimism lately plaguing much of the white community and, to a lesser extent, also other minorities.
People who were once proud and enthusiastic New South Africans now curse the ANC government and privately make racist jokes. Most of those who have enough money or good enough education, talk about joining the more than a million whites already living overseas.
Progressive writers such as Andr√© P Brink, Rian Malan and Christopher Hope paint a bleak picture of our future in pieces published overseas, and are suddenly hailed as heroes by the very people who called these writers traitors during the apartheid days.
This new Great Depression is a phenomenon of the last six, nine months or so. It manifests itself in angry and reactionary letters to newspapers, calls to talk radio stations, conversations in pubs and around braai fires and exchanges on internet chat rooms. There are even early signs of a revival of a narrow, old-style Afrikaner nationalism.
Crime is the biggest complaint, and more and more South Africa’s excessive crime rate is understood in racial terms, even as a kind of conspiracy against whites. Yet crime is not worse now than a year or two ago; if anything, there has been a slight improvement.
Affirmative action is another big complaint, yet statistics show very few whites are unemployed and they still dominate most plum jobs outside the civil service. So what triggered the new wave of pessimism?
Perhaps the old fear many whites had of a black government during the apartheid years had not disappeared completely. Events in Zimbabwe, the Congo, Somalia, Sudan, Ivory Coast and Liberia have made sure that suspicions remained alive that Africa was not democracy-friendly. And then a series of events triggered a feeling among a group already feeling alienated and marginalised, that the skies are about to fall in on them.
The Zuma debacle has certainly contributed. Minorities felt that the vicious in-fighting in the ANC was a “black thing”, even a Xhosa/Zulu thing, that they could not understand or influence. Angry crowds threatening a witness and publicly disrespecting the president made them fearful, while Zuma’s own behaviour and statements and the wildly irresponsible utterances of the youth leagues of the ANC and the Communist Party gave them a sense of instability.
Anything that reminds whites of Africa’s “typical” weaknesses pushes a button. An example is the daily reports of corruption among politicians and civil servants and lucrative secret deals by senior ANC leaders. The ANC leadership’s behaviour when former whip Tony Yengeni went to jail (he was accompanied by, among others, the Speaker of Parliament, remember?) didn’t help.
Neither did the evidence and allegations that many ANC figures were beneficiaries of the murdered tycoon Brett Kebble.
The health minister’s continuing weird antics regarding HIV/Aids, and the fact that she is never censured by the president, are another example.
Other examples are exorbitant salaries of city managers, parastatal bosses and other officials and the gross inefficiency of the Department of Home Affairs and certain provincial and local governments.
The arrogant and unilateral fashion in which the changing of names and symbols is being pushed through is a serious source of discontent among whites. They remember that former president Nelson Mandela said at the time of his inauguration in 1994 that the domination of one group over another would never be allowed again in South Africa, and they feel the ANC has not remained true to that promise. They feel dominated.
The standard black response that whites should be thankful for the generous deal they got and that they still form the bulk of the upper middle class somehow doesn’t make much of an impression on them.
The Western Cape ANC’s attempt to grab power in the Cape Town City Council sent an alarming signal to whites that the ANC wasn’t a truly democratic organisation and wouldn’t accept defeat if it ever lost an election.
Whites are also nervous about the government’s new attempts at re-racialising South African society. (I had a taste of this last week when I was asked to fill in a form of appointment by a university demanding that I classify myself as “African/Coloured/Indian/White/ International Person (white)/International Person of colour”. Of course, I classified myself as African.)
Former Mpumalanga premier Mathews Phosa was quoted last week as saying a critical test of a democracy is how it is accommodating minorities. Of course he is right. The fact that minorities, especially whites, are materially still better off than most others is not enough of an argument. Many of their problems are ghost pains, but they experience them as real.
But the white minority should also stop knee-jerk reactions to events and examine their prejudices if they want to be happy citizens.