Assuming Singapore is perfect (a discussion for another day) and where we’d like to go, why are we taking so long get there? Is it that we’re not drawing on the gifts that colonialism bestowed upon us? As Western Cape Premier Helen Zille tweeted:
“Would we have had a transition into specialised health care and medication without colonial influence?”
“For those claiming legacy of colonialism was ONLY negative, think of our independent judiciary, transport infrastructure, piped water etc.”
The previous blog post answered — at the risk of making it sound as though whose ancestors built what toys is the measure of civilisation — that Africa had specialised health care, medication, impressive (if not “independent”) judicial systems, as well as transport and water systems that were on par with or ahead of anyone else’s, before colonialism.
That post also said the anthropologist jury is still out on whether a civilisation’s development is dependent on the duration for which its people are settled and their infrastructure maintained, or dependent on cycles of conflict, displacement and resettling. Either way, bearing in mind that it had just been settled by Bantu people from further up north (not forgetting the Khoi-San), the region we now call Southern Africa was, by Eurocentric standards, relatively “civilised” by the early 17th century.
Zille’s view not only passively says to take advantage of what colonialism left behind; it actively says we’d have to have gone through colonialism to advance as Singapore did. That undermines everyone except the colonialist while failing to judge said colonialist for his crimes against humanity. That smacks of white supremacy.
There’s a reason Helen Zille felt the need to tweet that at this discursive moment. South Africans are under a lot of pressure, especially economically. Politically, we’re feeling helpless. When something is squeezed like we’re being, what’s on the inside starts coming out. If you squeezed something you’d thought was an orange but its juice was sour, you’d start wondering whether it was a lemon or a grapefruit instead. Likewise, if you squeeze our Rainbow Nation, and white supremacist thoughts start flowing out, then perhaps our economic and political issues are symptoms of that identity crisis. Misidentifying South Africa as “new” when its thinking is fundamentally old is akin to getting your name wrong at the start of a test. In the unlikely event that you could still remember the correct answers after that, your mark would still be misallocated.
The reason our strengths don’t match Singapore’s is that one party that could arguably take us there — the DA that Helen Zille is a member of — insists on being a victim of its own success. When it explains its governance successes, in none of its statements, articles, or other communication does it say, “A significant number of our core members and network of service providers achieved these results because they got major head-starts under apartheid, which the party therefore benefits from.” For then, restitutions would be unavoidable.
We can describe the DA as non-racial and non-racist until we’re blue in the face (to match the flag), but it would be more responsible of us to admit that a significant number of South Africans believe the DA exists to protect white interests, despite having heard arguments to the contrary. We’d logically extend that responsibility into the way we explain the DA’s successes, conceding that the DA started out with a structurally unfair advantage. These wouldn’t be concessions to empty populism; they’d be giving others’ views the benefit of the doubt. What happens if we don’t take this approach?
The DA’s Penny Sparrows, Dianne Kohler Barnards and Helen Zilles still unconsciously believe corruption and incompetence are inherent to majorly black political parties, whereas good governance and ethics are inherent to majorly white ones (or colonialists) — and they’ll say that on social media.
We could have had an ANC that was as corruption-free as the DA, or we could have had both parties’ members start off on similar economic bases in their private capacities and their respective networks. But we’re being dangerously naïve if we tell ourselves we could have transitioned into healthy democracy without reparations, and have nothing go terribly wrong. There are no free lunches in the universe.
At dog-whistle politics’ pitch, we’re explaining “black corruption” and “incompetence” without reference to this initial disparity or the presence of racial bias in the way we ruminate on, say, state capture by persons of varying skin colours — and then we’re shocked to discover that people like Helen Zille think colonialism was beneficial.
The intellectual white supremacy Zille openly tweets of is a natural flowering of the moral white superiority that’s been assumed all along. This is why black people would rather countenance the ANC get away with murder than vote the DA into power. They can hear the dog-whistle messaging. (And yes, I know I have said a lot of this before. Do I at least get marks for consistency?)
We’re not Singapore because the impulse that causes us to look to colonialism to make us a Singapore is indistinguishable from the impulse that divides us into coloniser and colonised, undermining the latter to justify the former — while we delude ourselves into thinking our identity is Rainbow Nation. The juice that comes out when you squeeze is racism.
We’re not going to be Singapore until we figure out how to be who we say we are first.
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I’m nearing the final stages of that book working on me.