In the week that Statistics South Africa revealed that the economy had shrunk by an annualised 51% in the second quarter of 2020, the sole focus of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) was on a hair advert with racist overtones – and on physically attacking many of the stores in the Clicks chain responsible for the advert’s release.
This focus on racism was useful in distracting attention from the economic disaster caused by the lockdown. It also helped to shift scrutiny away from the African National Congress (ANC) – Accused no 1 on corruption – to racism as Culprit no 1 in the problems confronting the country.
The Clicks campaign was, of course, driven by the EFF rather than the ANC. But the EFF is the ANC Youth League in different guise and is often used by the ANC to promote positions the ruling party fully endorses but finds it politic at times to play down.
In addition, the ANC itself has long pushed the view that racism is South Africa’s most important problem. This has made it deeply intolerant of people who take a different view – even when those people comprise a majority of black South Africans.
This reality came sharply to the fore in 2001, when the IRR commissioned a representative opinion poll on race-related issues. In the first question put to respondents, people were asked to identify the most serious unresolved problems they experienced. Some 58% of black people saw unemployment as the worst problem, while 38% highlighted crime and violence. By contrast, only 5% flagged racism as a key unresolved problem.
Essop Pahad, minister in the presidency, was indignant. He dismissed the IRR’s findings as ‘foolish’ and claimed that racism was the cause of unemployment. But that is far too simplistic a view.
Subsequent opinion polls commissioned by the IRR from 2015 to 2019 have all started with essentially the same question. Each time, black respondents have flagged unemployment as the most important unresolved problem – and by a large margin. Each time, the proportion of black people identifying racism as a key issue has been below 6%. In 2018 and again in 2019 it was down to 2%: and this despite a plethora of racial rhetoric from the ANC, the EFF, and many in the media.
But the ANC alliance refuses to heed what ordinary people have to say about racism – just as it refuses to heed their opposition to radical redistribution and their support for business-friendly policies.
The real barriers to upward mobility for black South Africans lie not in the alleged racism of the white minority but rather in a host of other challenges, including:
- limited direct investment and anaemic growth;
- escalating joblessness over many years;
- bad schools and often uncaring teachers;
- high rates of crime;
- a dependency on the state which the ANC has done much to entrench;
- debilitating perceptions of victimhood that undermine individual agency;
- the erosion of family life, leading to widespread single parenthood and a preponderance of absent fathers; and
- a mistaken reliance on racial quotas in employment equity (EE) and black economic empowerment (BEE) rules, which benefit a relatively small black elite while harming the great majority.
Instead of tackling these barriers – which is far more important and far more difficult to do – the ANC alliance is once again stepping up its anti-racism interventions. The minister of employment and labour is to be empowered to set racial targets for business in different sectors under the Employment Equity Amendment Bill. The scope for racial preferencing in state tenders is to be greatly expanded under the Public Procurement Bill, despite the massive looting the existing rules have already helped to spawn.
In the aftermath of the major protests in the United States (US) and elsewhere over the death at police hands of African-American George Floyd, the ANC alliance has also launched a new ‘struggle’ against racism in South Africa.
According to the ANC, all South Africans must endorse and participate in this campaign if they are to avoid complicity in racism. ‘If you are silent on racism, you are actually perpetuating it’, says ANC deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte.
This statement comes straight out of the critical race theory (CRT) playbook in the US. CRT has for decades been spreading from American universities into the media, civil society, business, the professions, and many other important institutions.
CRT’s influence has expanded exponentially in the aftermath of Mr Floyd’s death. This is partly because of widespread public outrage at the way in which he died. But the rise of CRT also owes much to its increasing capacity to ‘cancel’ its critics – many of whom have found themselves demeaned, deplatformed, and dismissed for even indirectly disputing CRT perspectives.
Just as the ANC alliance does in South Africa, so CRT pretends that racism is the most important problem in the US. It claims that racism is all pervasive, that it permeates every situation and every interaction – and that it is solely to blame for unequal outcomes between black and white Americans on skills, employment, income, and other indicators.
Strong upward mobility on the part of Chinese-Americans, Nigerian immigrants, and other ‘non-white’ people is ignored in the simplistic black:white binary on which CRT insists. Major practical barriers to upward mobility for African-Americans – similar to those evident here and ranging from poor schooling to crime and debilitating dependency – are also overlooked.
What relatively few Americans may realise is that CRT wants to eliminate not only racism but also capitalism. According to one of its most influential apostles, Ibram X. Kendi, author of a best-selling book on How to Be an Anti-Racist, racism and capitalism are evil ‘conjoined twins’ which developed together and must be destroyed together.
CRT thus has essentially the same goals as the national democratic revolution (NDR) to which the ANC alliance has been committed since the 1960s. The NDR seeks a socialist future and so also aims at destroying capitalism. It too uses the supposed fight against racism to demand equal outcomes, hobble growth, worsen unemployment, and bend society to its will.
CRT and the NDR have been clad in different camouflage in the US and South Africa, so as to take advantage of the images and analysis likely to resonate the most strongly within each.
But CRT and the NDR are simply different means towards the same collectivist and socialist goals. Both seek to eradicate the core Western principles that put the interests of the individual before those of the group, encourage voluntary exchange via the market, promote the free flow of information and ideas, and limit the overweening dominance of the state. Implementation of these principles has also brought about the greatest liberation from poverty the world has ever known.
Socialist hegemony is not what most Americans want, any more than it is what most South Africans seek. But it may nevertheless be what both countries in time confront unless the anti-racism mask is constantly stripped away to reveal the underlying anti-capitalist intent.
So the next time the EFF or the ANC beat the racist drum – whether over a flawed hair advert, or racial quotas, or on some other pretext – it is important to remember the real goal that lies beneath.