It’s crucial to understand why yesterday’s black anti-Zuma marcher is fundamentally different from last week’s black non-marcher.
Let us first work out why last week’s anti-Zuma marches were so white-dense and black-light.
For the last few days, this blog has been saying that with Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) abused by President Zuma to fund his crony capitalist network, two things happen:
The first is black people think white people are the decisive reason the economy remains untransformed. In reality, President Zuma more decisively slows transformation than the average white South African could.
The other is white people think black people are the central reason Zuma is President. In reality, his patronage network keeps him in power despite his unpopularity amongst even black people.
Zuma plays these two sides off against each other, then.
When it’s time to vote or march against him, this dilemma in conscience affects many black people: they feel Zuma has done more to empathise with, and navigate, the economic exclusions experienced by the black majority than the previous presidents did. And indeed, under Zuma, we have seemingly shifted lefter.
In Zuma’s being scapegoated by what is believed to be white-owned media for his many sins, those black people vicariously participate in Zuma’s reproach and his navigation thereof. So though he steals and lies, he is the imperfect but necessary hero; though he is violent, he is the only husband who will protect from economic racism; though blemished, he is the only sacrificial lamb that bears the sin of structural racism in ways his predecessors never did; though selfish, he is the only martyr who shows black people how to cope before systemic racism.
This is many black people’s perceived and experienced reality, so there’s no arguing with it. For them, marching against President Zuma would be denying the need and the rightness of the little good they pick out of what is otherwise a messy and complicated leader. After all, white people don’t usually march alongside black people on their issues. The suspicion, then, must be that they care exclusively about their economic interests.
It is in this space that Zuma gets to say the marches against him were motivated by racism.
Though Zuma only feigns being a champion of black economic empowerment, each time we call for his removal without offering the trade-off that his ostensive role as economic emancipator will be taken over and consummated by others more capable and sympathetic than he is, we hang the spectre of economic nonexistence over black people’s heads.
So until a trade-off is suggested, the black majority only sees two possible futures: in the one, Zuma remains president but they have access to a junk-rated economy. In the other, if they march alongside white people for it, Zuma is no longer president but they have junk access to the economy.
Now that we understand last week’s non-marcher somewhat, we can discuss yesterday’s black marcher. This is the kind the EFF mobilises successfully. Until that EFF collapses or is absorbed into the ANC, those black people will be drawn by its call for land and asset expropriation without compensation. The majority of yesterday’s black marchers see right through Zuma’s act and want him out of the way so they can also get white people out of the way to their economic liberation. How white people are gotten out of the way for the purpose of black economic liberation isn’t necessarily violent, but neither is it necessarily nice. In the law of eye-for-an-eye, one may not exceed the violence shown under apartheid and colonialism to rectify their effects. You do the math.
Is this to say yesterday’s black marcher is violent and blood-thirsty? No, but it’s no use saying apartheid was a crime against humanity without acting like it was. Black EFF supporters probably hate unprovoked violence more than anyone else. That’s why many of them would respond to the unprovoked violence that apartheid was, with provoked violence — sort of how Old Testament God demonstrates his hatred for violence by inflicting it upon those who benefitted off of prior violence.
My point is calling for Zuma’s fall without articulating what that means economically corroborates accusations that white people will act more decisively to defend their economic interests than to rectify the effects of the apartheid they benefitted from. The untenability of such a status quo, of that post-Zuma South Africa, is why we have not moved past Zuma. If we cannot remove Zuma now, that nuclear energy deal is as good as done, as are whatsoever other rare delights he has in store for us.
Industrial designer and agricultural innovator William Blake suggested anti-Zuma marches be geo-spatially close to townships and rural areas instead of just at city centres and in suburbs. Risk is constant wherever people march; the ANC Youth League will always gate-crash. The greater risk is sitting at home or at work doing nothing about this political battle. The point is, where the marches happen says much about what Zuma’s fall is meant to accomplish and protect.
There are many economic trade-offs I’d suggest but one tweak in BEE would be the simplest. An understanding of BEE can buttress us from being politically manipulated into the false need to change the Constitution to allow for the expropriation of land, assets or business without compensation. The onus is on white people to lobby for real transformation and monitor the flow of wealth to ensure everyone has a fair chance to contribute to the economy and be rewarded fairly. One could argue it is on black people to vote differently or hold politicians accountable. But that simply demonstrates a lack of appreciation for the kind of perceived (and somewhat real) political reality many black people live within. In that political reality, everything white people would have black people do benefits white people first and black people last, if ever.
President Zuma’s removal is essential for our economic survival, lest he continue doing naughty things in the name of “radical economic transformation.” But an economic trade-off of some manner, shape or form is essential for his removal, without which most black people have no reason to march against him unless mobilised by the EFF to do so.
And for those who think black people are ignorant/uneducated/don’t understand what’s going on and therefore can’t be mobilised: lo and behold, they freaking marched yesterday. Why? Because the EFF proposes the most “radical” trade-off ever conceived of in our democracy: vote us in to replace the ANC, and we’ll let you take the land back.
One way or another, a trade-off of some nature is the only thing that will bring about political change in this country.
If I understand “the markets” correctly, the #ZumaTradeOff (centred on tweaking the new entry provision in BEE and therefore costing investors much less than the outright confiscation of assets) is our economy’s only hope for not only working better for Zuma’s absence, but working for everyone, lest inequalities persist.
What is this new entry provision? For those who haven’t read previous posts, I gleaned some technical insights from transformation consultancy BEE Novation. In the name of transformation, the current Black Economic Empowerment codes recognise as a “new entrant” to the economy, any black person with a net worth of less than R50 million for the purpose of part-ownership in an empowering company. With a threshold this high, transformation begins to look a lot like the enrichment of a politically-connected few to the exclusion of a politically unconnected many.
If we could drop the threshold to R10 million, and increase the number of points an empowering company could earn for introducing black people whose net worth is less than R10 million each, we could accelerate real economic transformation. If we were feeling drastic, we could consider not counting anyone over the threshold as black for BEE purposes. There is no way an individual with a R10 million net asset value could need support from legislation that was passed to help poor black people. There are real, and really poor, black people waiting in the wings.
At some point in the country’s future, white people will negotiate with black people. They could negotiate today with the black people who didn’t march last week, mobilising them to march in exchange for BEE being changed to really work for them.
Or they will negotiate tomorrow with the black people who marched with the EFF yesterday.
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That book is dancing on me.
Thank you everyone who’s been sharing the posts and the hashtag #ZumaTradeOff. Feedback is most welcome