Posted on June 2, 2019

South Africa, 1999

Gedaliah Braun, American Renaissance, August 1999

South African flag

South Africa’s second one-man-one-vote elections have come and gone. There was never any doubt about who would win and who would be the next president: Nelson Mandela’s personally anointed successor, Thabo Mbeki. The African National Congress (ANC) now has a crushing majority of 266 in the 400-seat parliament.

The New National Party (NNP — renamed from the previous National Party, which established apartheid) has been nearly wiped off the political map, going from 20 percent of the national vote to about seven percent, leaving it with 28 members in parliament. The former Nationalists still cling to power only in Western Cape Province, home to Cape Town with its majority of coloreds (mixed-race people) who are often openly anti-black. In the 1994 elections the “Nats” won easily with more than 50 percent of the vote, but this year it was marginally outpolled by the ANC, and rules in coalition with the increasingly popular Democratic Party (DP).

With 38 seats, the DP is the new official opposition, and is the only party willing to take principled positions against the ANC. It is, for example, in favor of reestablishing capital punishment, and is the only party to state that it would under no circumstances join an ANC coalition government — a declaration it has stood by in the Western Cape provincial government. This has led some blacks and liberals to call the DP “fascist,” an irony for the party of Helen Suzman, who was for years the sole member of parliament in opposition to the ruling National Party and its policy of apartheid. Prior to 1994, the DP spent all its energy trying to end white rule, thus helping to usher in the very ANC hegemony about which it now complains so bitterly. Rising dramatically from three percent of the vote to nearly ten percent, it will be a significant obstacle to ANC abuse of power.

The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), the Zulu-based party of Mangosuthu Buthelezi (now Minister of Home Affairs in the ANC government), though faring less well than in 1994, did better than expected, losing only about one percent of its support and coming a close third behind the DP. Winning a plurality in its stronghold of Natal Province (where it formerly had a majority), it now rules in coalition with the ANC. The remaining seven provinces, including Gauteng, which contains Johannesburg, are firmly in the hands of the ANC.

The African National Congress is now just one vote shy of a two-thirds majority in the parliament, which would allow it to change parts of the constitution, such as determining who sets local education policy. Practically speaking, though, the ANC has more than a two-thirds majority since there are several small black parties ideologically allied to it, and at least one MP has already promised to vote with the ANC.

One of the things that supposedly cannot be changed even by a two-thirds majority is the so-called Bill of Rights, which protects free speech, freedom of the press, the right to private property, etc. Changing the Bill of Rights would require a three-quarters majority and approval of six of the nine provinces. These rules are not, however, likely to prevent a black government from doing as it pleases, especially since the Constitutional Court, the ultimate arbiter in such matters, was entirely appointed by Nelson Mandela and is essentially an instrument of the ANC. It has yet to rule against the government on a single issue.

Why the Crushing Victory?

Why, however, was the ANC victory so crushing? Many people would think this question unnecessary; does not the ANC represent the will of the great majority of South Africans? Common as this view is, I believe it is superficial. An article entitled “The Black Youths Who Want a White President” and written by a black journalist appeared in the left-wing Weekly Mail & Guardian shortly before the election. It detailed several ordinary black teenagers’ unabashed acknowledgment of white intellectual and moral superiority, and their own preference for white leadership. I have argued at length elsewhere that the great majority of African blacks think as these teenagers do — that they are not in the least bothered by racial differences in ability and realize that their country would be better governed by whites than by blacks. Liberal South African journalists have often been confounded when they find these views to be commonplace amongst Africans, and more than one has admitted to me that I may be right about this.

The massive vote for the ANC therefore requires an explanation, and the first is docility. As a good friend of mine, a black woman and administrator in a large bank, says: “You mustn’t forget, most of our people are uneducated and ignorant” — meaning that they can be manipulated. The leaders say “Vote ANC,” so they do. At the same time, the almost universal belief in witchcraft means that many doubt the secrecy of the ballot. They fear that if they do not vote for the ANC, they will be found out and punished.

An incident from 1856-7 still throws light on the extent to which Africans may be willing to do as they are told. Following an incident in which a young Xhosa girl had a vision in which her people were instructed to destroy all their cattle and food as a means of vanquishing the British, they did as they were told — and then starved to death by the tens of thousands. Even now, a mob of blacks may rush out and kill an old woman because someone claims to have learned, in a dream, that she was a witch.

It is not only in Africa that black psychology surprises whites. Didn’t American blacks reelect a convicted drug user as mayor of the nation’s capital? Didn’t they dance in the streets when double-murderer O.J. Simpson was set free? Isn’t Rev. Al Sharpton — a notorious liar — among the most popular blacks in America?

Perhaps a clue to the nature of black thinking was revealed in the ANC’s reaction to a Democratic Party (DP) campaign poster. The DP’s white leader Tony Leon — arguably the most intelligent and honest politician in South Africa — ran under the simple slogan “Fight Back!” Against what was obvious: crime, unemployment, anti-white discrimination, undreamed of levels of corruption, the declining economy, etc. The reaction of the ANC was illuminating. It accused the DP of really meaning “Fight Black!” Not that there is anything wrong with objecting to black rule, black criminality and corruption, etc., but the poster said no such thing. Why did blacks react as they did?

I believe it is because they know in their hearts that only the white man could dream up the idea of blacks running a country like South Africa. Only the white man could ignore the fact that black rule has failed everywhere else and persist in believing it could somehow work here. Yet they are told, day in and day out, by foolish whites and their fellow-traveling black elite, that it will work and that it is wicked to say otherwise. So they are in conflict, “in denial:” they have been persuaded to believe things that deep down they know are not true. This naturally makes them extremely sensitive to anything remotely accusatory and they are always on the lookout for any hint of the truth surfacing — which must then be shouted down as “racism.” At some level they also think whites ought to be saying the very things they accuse them of saying, that whites should be fighting black rule because black rule can end only in disaster. This is why they view something quite harmless as an attack.

Nappy Hair

If this sounds fantastic, do not forget that similar incidents have made news in America. A white schoolteacher was excoriated for assigning a black-authored book to her black students, which extolled the virtues of “nappy” hair. Why the outrage? I suspect that the protesting blacks unconsciously assumed that the white teacher was telling black students their nappy hair was bad. This must be what she meant because that is what they themselves think — as evidenced by the fact that so few of them wear a natural hairdo. Blacks screamed at this hapless white woman because by merely talking about “nappy” hair she was drawing attention to something that blacks themselves think is bad. Details — like what she actually said — didn’t matter.

Sensitivity of black leaders to the underlying belief that blacks are incapable of governing is shown by frequent claims to the contrary. Mr. Mandela and Mr. Mbeki are often quoted to the effect that “people say blacks can’t rule and yet the sky hasn’t fallen since we’ve been in power.” Statements like this only reflect their own uncertainty, and sometimes the facts simply contradict the leaders. There has been widespread government corruption with rake-off, shakedowns, and officials on the take at all levels. Mr. Mandela himself was quoted in The Star of Johannesburg, expressing his “disappointment at the incidence of corruption among ANC members, in particular senior activists, brought in to cleanse the civil service of corruption.” When even senior ANC men brought in to clean things up have their hands in the till there is little hope of good government. Mr. Mandela might as well set the fox to guard the hen house.

At the same time there is reason to think Nelson Mandela is an unusual black politician. He does not seem bent on personal enrichment and has an endearing sense of humor. At one point he had called the minority white parties “Mickey Mouse,” hoping to persuade whites not to waste their votes on them. The DP leader Tony Leon replied that “the ANC sure has some Goofy policies.” Subsequently, while visiting a friend in a hospital, Mr. Mandela learned that Mr. Leon was also there recovering from bypass surgery. Approaching his opponent’s bed from behind the curtain, and speaking in a falsetto voice, Mr. Mandela said, “Hello, Mickey, this is Goofy come to visit you.” It is hard to dislike someone who has such a playful streak.

There is less reason to think Thabo Mbeki is unusual. His constant refrain is that South Africa contains two nations, one rich and white, the other poor and black. He offers no suggestion that blacks themselves might be in any way responsible for this. “Transformation” is the new buzz word, which can only mean taking from the haves and giving to the have-nots. Whatever restraint Mr. Mandela exercised over predatory black politicians who want to confiscate white wealth is unlikely to be exercised by Mr. Mbeki.

An inkling of Mr. Mbeki’s character is shown in his groveling towards Winnie Mandela, convicted of kidnapping a young black (later killed), and virtually accused by Bishop Tutu of murdering him and others. The former Mrs. Mandela is being considered for a deputy ministership, despite having outrageously abused such a position in the past. Mr. Mbeki explains that she was “unfairly crucified for things done within the political atmosphere of the time” — like kidnapping and probably killing young blacks! Apparently she simply has too much grass roots support to be opposed, murderer or not.

There is widespread concern that Mr. Mbeki will continue to centralize power, bringing South Africa ever closer to a one party state — the natural desire, it seems, of any African politician. This recent landslide victory will be an impetus in that direction, the very direction the country’s junior-sized replica, Zimbabwe, has taken since black rule began.

In the glow of the comically misnamed “African Renaissance” following the collapse of the Soviet Empire, there was one universal panacea. As a black journalist typically put it, “lack of democracy on the continent lies at the root of its underdevelopment,” and the end of the Cold War was supposed to let democracy flower. Of course, the few such democratic “successes” — such as Zambia — have proven ephemeral. In any case, while democracy may help development it is by no means sufficient, as India demonstrates. Nor is it necessary: Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea and Singapore have all prospered without it.

What probably is true is that the characteristics required for democracy — managerial ability, cooperativeness, mutual trust, foresight and discipline — are also the very traits that contribute to economic development, so that a democratic country is likely to be developed, and vice versa. In a largely black society, democracy and prosperity are likely to be equally difficult to achieve.