It’s perhaps a measure of the cruelty of fate that, having lost the leadership of Democratic Alliance (DA), even when he has interesting and important things to say, Mmusi Maimane is now sounding like a voice from the wilderness.

This is almost certainly true of what he clearly intended as a heartfelt engagement on South Africa’s destiny; his open letter, Dear white South Africans.

The first of several ironies that clamour for attention in his open letter is the thought that had he tackled some of these ideas when he was leader of the DA – that, for instance, ‘(the) beneficiaries of … race divisions are the extremist politicians and extremist movements (who) … gain traction and funding from fanning the flames’ of race – he might have been in a much better position to consolidate his leadership and grow his support around the notion of a shared rather than a riven sense of nationhood.

But that’s all in the past; today, he is merely the ‘chief activist’ – as he calls himself in his letter – of a movement of indeterminate scale and effect, One South Africa.

Even so, this is not a good reason to dismiss his arguments and ideas, or mistake their significance.

At the very least, they will strike a chord with many South Africans who wonder, because of how they are defined racially, whether they belong.

Maimane offers a poignant glimpse of his intimacy with this question.

The letter, he says, ‘stems out of a time I recently spent with my wife, a white South African woman, who expressed her genuine fears as to what her role is in today’s South Africa. In particular, how our interracial marriage informs this’.

‘Different narrative’

‘You see, our union is an offence to black and white nationalists for different reasons. And each side will tell her a different narrative. On the left, she’s told she is the enemy, yet on the right she’s told she is being targeted and persecuted for simply having a white skin.

‘Both are of course untrue, yet this is a dilemma many white South Africans face today.’

He raises important questions – but it’s interesting that he chooses to discuss them in a letter addressed to white people.

Few things are guaranteed to get attention for all the wrong reasons than the racially exclusive salutation, Dear white South Africans, not least the jarringly ironic implication, nurtured by apartheid ideologues (and sustained by white supremacists, still), that there is such a thing as a distinctive ‘white’ interest.

But the most important irony – which Maimane fails to address – is that the political agency of racial minorities, and even of class minorities, is insignificant precisely because of the single greatest asset of the democratic era, universal franchise.

Democratic equation

Inviting ‘white’ South Africans to ‘a conversation about a new way of bringing about change in this country we call our home’ risks, at least implicitly, suggesting that whiteness is a superior quotient in the democratic equation.

If Maimane is quite right to argue that all of us, in the myriad engagements of our daily lives, have a role in making a better society and actively advertising our belief in it, the challenge of fashioning a fairer, ‘inclusive’, prospering South Africa lies squarely in the realm of policy-making.

This much is plain to most of the people he addresses when he begins, ‘I write this open letter to those of you, the overwhelming majority, who want this country to work’.

Somewhere in all this is the unspoken notion that, when all’s said and done, the haves really do bear the lion’s share of the blame, or at least must shoulder most of the burden of making better lives for all.

Thus, he writes, ‘(we) cannot skip ahead to a non-racial South Africa without doing the hard work required to undo the injustices of apartheid. We have done some of that work but the job is incomplete. Our present goal should be to create a society that is racially cohesive, where there is empathy for injustices of the past, tolerance for difference and a deliberate pursuit of redress for those left behind.’

‘Quality of life’

He sketches a picture of a still largely untransformed South Africa (as the Daily Friend has done on umpteen occasions this year alone) with what he describes as ‘uncomfortable’ facts: ‘Income distribution among black and white is at a six to one ratio. This means income for white South Africans is six times that of black South Africans. When we reflect on economic inclusion, unemployment among white South Africans is at 6% while it is 40% for black South Africans. Quality of life is equivalent to that of First World countries for most white South Africans, and not because you are white but because of income.’

Unless one tries to argue that those who have an income are to blame for those who don’t, there cannot be a meaningful conversation about change for the better without examining the devastating effects of policy-making on school outcomes, empowerment outcomes, jobs, economic growth, investment, and governance of critical services such as electricity generation and healthcare.

The failures of the democratic era reflect not a failure of racial minorities, or even of the instrument of democracy itself, but of how democracy has been used.

Which is why I wonder what letter Maimane might have written had he had in his mind’s eye a populace he could address simply as ‘Dear South Africans’?

Such a letter would have had to acknowledge our democratic reality, and the sentiments and choices of the majority who are the primary agents of the change he wishes for, and which he senses – I am sure, correctly – that the ‘overwhelming majority’ of those he does address wish for, too. 

Such a letter would have helped to shatter the illusion of the power of race.

[Picture: Justice Amoh on Unsplash]

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29 COMMENTS

  1. Mmusi’s letter was a good understanding of how white people feel, until he showed that he still harbours a victim mentality, as well as grudge against the DA. His letter would have meant a lot more without pettiness.

  2. Income inequality — it should be mandatory for people to read the likes of Thomas Sowell before opining on matters like these.

    You need to compare apples to apples.
    Yes on aggregate whites have a higher income than blacks.
    However, there are distinct and not insignificant differences in median age (older people usually earn higher incomes and have accummulated more net wealth).
    There is also a significant difference in proportion of youth to the rest of the population with black south africans at nearly a third and white south africans around 20%.
    Again, kids in school have buggerall income.

    The white sample size in the overall population is much smaller so the effect of non-graduates and school drop-outs is likely to be more diluted than it would be for the larger sample size of black south africans.

    To truly compare income between white and black you need to compare the incone of related age groups — 30year olds with 30 year olds; 45 year olds with 45 year olds and graduates with graduates and school drop-outs with school-drop outs.
    Compare like for like, not aggregate with aggregate.

    Urbanization among black south africans have been slower and the tradition of broad and universal education later to develop. And there are other issues such as a longer tradition of saving and leaving inheritances for your children and grandchildren, etc.

    A more useful discussion would be to compare black income and prosperity of 2020 with that of 1980 and if no meaningful progress has been made consider why not and how to improve the odds.
    Same with white or colored or indian south africans.
    How does the 2020 citizens compare with 1980 or 1960, etc.

    Thats useful and meaninful analysis.
    Comparing white aggregate to black aggregate income is lazy politicking and guaranteed to do the precise opposite of the claimed purpose of “creating one south africa for all.”

    • Thanks for your comment, David. You are almost certainly right that a more complex set of results would be the reward of a more subtle analysis along the lines you suggest, but I am not sure that this necessarily undermines the admittedly blunt point that Mmusi Maimane makes, or the reality it hints at. The real issue is what meaning is attached to the chasm between – to use another blunt explanatory concept – the haves and have nots. (And, of course, why Maimane elected to address white South Africa on this topic.)
      Central to the IRR’s argument is that every measure points to the failure of post-1994 policy meaningfully to tackle the very considerable disadvantage that apartheid imposed on black people, and which continues to burden most black people through no fault of their own today. A telling reflection is the Quality of Life Index fashioned by the Centre for Risk Analysis at the IRR.
      Based on ten weighted factors indicative of the quality of life of a person or household, each indicator translates into a score of between 0 and 10, with lower scores indicating poor performance and scores closer to 10, better performance. The indicators are the matric pass rate; unemployment (based on the expanded definition); monthly expenditure levels of R10 000 or more; household tenure status (houses owned but not yet paid off to a bank); household access to piped water, electricity for cooking, and a basic sanitation facility; irregular or no waste removal, medical aid coverage and the murder rate.
      The picture is stark: white South Africans emerge with the highest quality-of-life score of 8.1 (when the murder data, not measurable by race but by province, is excluded) and 7.9 (when a nationally averaged murder rate is used). Outcomes were worst for black South Africans, with index scores of 5.3 and 5.4.
      Indicators in which white South Africans had the best outcomes include the matric pass rate, unemployment, expenditure exceeding R10 000 per month, mortgaged houses, waste removal, medical aid coverage and access to a basic sanitation facility. The outcomes were worst for black people on all indicators.
      As I say, the real issue is the meaning attached to this picture. A surely false argument would contrive to suggest that white people are to blame, or that white people have the political clout (or even share a political impulse) to sustain the circumstances reflected in this data, which, anyway, would not be to their advantage (for no minority can flourish where a majority is blighted by poverty, insufficiency, and so on). What is surely incontestable is that the policy environment since 1994 has, by and large, fallen far short of meeting democratic SA’s ambitions. (And, of course, even the haves have pay a penalty – not least in having to shoulder the lion’s share of the tax burden, and, where the haves are white, coloured or Indian, being told that jobs and opportunities are not for them because they are the wrong colour.)

    • Very much on point. I am still at pains to track down the study, but there was a study at some point which showed a stronger correlation between level of education and income, than between race and income. Oddly enough, Indian and Coloured ethnic groups showed improvements in income by leaps and bounds on the aggregate, but Black people lagged behind. The reason for this is education. There are fewer educated blacks, but among Black people, those with degrees are highly educated. That also explains the massive income disparity among Black people within the group.

      Rather than celebrating the fact that with education comes income, and this is a better predictor much in line with our values as a country, we see politicians sowing division and exploiting race as a proxy without any evidence.

    • Somehow you (and most others) leave out the most important, proven, factual discriminator in the equation, namely IQ.
      Race / ethnic group is a rubbish way to group ‘winners’ versus ‘losers’: South Koreans (as example) are successful because of IQ development, not because of being Koreans. (Witness North Koreans…)
      Until all accept that IQ is the biggest discriminator between success and failure, we are on a road to nowhere. Once accepted, one can have a decent debate and develop ideas on how to improve everyone’s IQ. (I’d suggest that comparing North vs. South Koreans would be a good start.)

      • That throws it back to the aggregate. IQ is just another arbitrary aggregate that does not paint an accurate picture, and it’s unclear what kind of public policy one could formulate from IQ. When IQ is used as a metric for what it was intended to, we could perhaps prevent certain low IQ individuals from entering public office or operating heavy machinery, and perhaps that’s not a bad idea. On the other side of the spectrum, high IQ individuals may be identified and lifted out of poverty when they have the genetic potential and then given a shot at bursaries, but IQ is not the only factor. It is a good predictor, but it’s not the only predictor. And note: individuals, not a crude and low-IQ measure like average IQ by race. Other than that, IQ? So what?

  3. Maimane is typical politician, no idea what to do, just talks something he thinks sounds right. I know that calling for removing 140 racist legislation and limiting powers of destructive unions will not bring in many votes, but it would not hurt, anyway we have to many politicians milking the racism story, we need something fresh.

  4. He must go back to his natural habitat and go preach creationism in mall style churches.

    We are so bored of this guy, I feel bad for him but he always had the charisma of a damp handshake.

    • It’s official. Creationist preachers from mall style churches are now cut from the same cloth as news24 columnists. He went from a party that struggles to find voters, to a platform that struggles to find readers. Perhaps that merits our pity, but no, I do not feel bad for him. He either had been the muppet at the helm of the DA, in which case he deserves all the scorn he gets for his ‘dear singling out people by their race’ cry wank of an open letter, when his only claim to fame is inflating the leadership vacuum of the DA. Or he was just a puppet meant as a BEE token, which failed to convince the majority of voters in the country to switch votes, and alienated virtually all the votes they could already bank on. Hey, if Maimane can lump people together haphazardly by their ethnic background, maybe they listened to him and decided to stick together according to ethnic background. If he did pen this open letter himself, he draws parallels between himself and Hilary Clinton in more ways than one. As with her, we definitely dodged a bullet by not having them as our national leader, and as with her, neither have an inkling of self-awareness to realise maybe – just maybe – their odious personalities and myopic tone deaf regurgitation of things that they mistakenly think impress other people when they hear them had more to do with them losing elections than their opposition.

    • An even simpler question: Where is Maimane’s letter that is worth reading? His own party rejected him, his own voters rejected his vision of the DA. Evidently, he can proceed writing more open letters, because whomever he addresses it to, is not bothering to respond. Dear Mmusi Maimane, return to sender. Kthxbi.

  5. Maimane has no self-awareness at all. He was the beneficiary of mostly white people’s middle class guilt. There is nobody else in the DA that managed to become DA leader with the same experience and level of qualifications that he has. Virtually everyone had to be at least the mayor of some municipality, or they had to win some sort of election. Maimane just waltzed in when the other diversity candidates had a falling out with Helen Zille. This will forever be a blight on the DA’s name: You can’t have your cake and eat it too. Either you are believers in your own pledged values, whereby race does not matter and you get somewhere in life based on merit, or race very much matters when you are trying to find a candidate that can wedge the black vote from the ANC, which is the only motivation I can find for a lacklustre, inexperienced, and thoroughly uninspiring candidate like Maimane taking the helm of a party and steering it into a direction completely unfamiliar to the DA’s core constituents and former classical liberal, Open Society values.

    Maimane has graduated now from being just a BEE window dressing candidate, to a full on race grifter. Still showing his inexperience, and still being thoroughly uninspiring, and clearly just addressing his letter to white south Africans, because they are the only group who will still bother reading his roundly rejected ideas.

    • Correct. That should be celebrated: The fact that if you educate yourself, you have an input that maps to the same output for everyone, regardless of race, should be celebrated. The problem is this narrative leaves politicians with less to do, and not more, so it is conveniently ignored. It does not fit the narrative, even though the facts are right.

  6. Maimane IS a limp handshake.
    He spent most of his time trying to prove that the DA before Maimane was a crock of nonsense ….. he really did damage the DA growth trajectory by trying to be everything to everybody and act like a spoilt, immature brat concerning Helen Zille.

    The Nats set out to uplift their people in 1948 and were in power for 50 years…….the ANC has been in power 26 years and although their agendas are identical and equally racist, the ANC has not even managed to help their own people, let alone the ‘others’.

    • I agree with you, but have a slightly different take. Maimane says “Income distribution among black and white is at a six to one ratio. This means income for white South Africans is six times that of black South Africans” If one just bluntly compares white have and black have, whites will ALWAYS show up better, not because being white magically makes one earn a better salary, but because there are fewer whites! How can one expect the same pie to further 55 million at he same level and standard as 3,8 million? It cannot be done, and that is the governments problem. If I have one set income every month and have to share that between 20 people, as opposed to 4, one can immediately see where the problem is. And I know the PC woke set will jump on me for suggesting blacks are in large part the authors of their own misfortune, but it is really the case whatever the reasons (cultural, traditional). There have been numerous studies which show that once black people urbanize, the number of children they have drops, and the standard of living of those children increases. The ANC cannot accept that they have to change the mindset of their majority voter (not dear whites) to self-help by adopting more responsible reproductive policies, and instead forces the whites into divesting more and more of their income in the form of usurious taxes, to have more money to improve the living standard of the a massively growing majority of voters. (I will leave out the issue of looting all the money for another day) There is no way this will work. No country in the world would be able to lift the lot of 89% of the population, using the resources of the balance to do so – even if they took every cent. What is needed therefore is a massive re-training of the majority to understand that too many children means less for each one. The first thing to go should be the child grant, and that money used to distribute the pill free to all households. At the same time, all black leaders should making not taking the pill a thing to be ashamed of, given that too few people are then unfairly burdened with catering to the aspirations of the many. How can the blacks ever leave “generational wealth” to the next generation, when the present generation eats up all resources before those resources are even available? Coupled with that, there should be a concerted push by the ANC to hire proper teachers who can actually teach. The teacher’s union, who behave like the third alliance partner of the ANC, after the communists and trade unions, should be de-fanged immediately and shuffled off the paddock. Finally, the ANC should immediately desist from imposing all forms of socialism/communism, and allow the market (all colours) to grow the economy. If they facilitated just these little things, a powerful multi-prong approach to improving peoples’ lives would occur. Low birth rates and a growing economy powered by a skilled majority.

  7. Big, immature mistake by Maimane to address his letter to ‘White South Africans’. The continued profiling of South Africans into racial boxes will ensure that race will forever split the people of South Africa.
    I had hoped for Maimane at first, but what a let down he turned out to be! Immature and hopelessly inexperienced!

  8. As a former leader of the largest truly multi-racial party Mr Maimane’s comments and inferences in his letter are alarming yet telling to white South Africans and other minorities.

    In addition to the valid stated reservations by Michael, Maimane reveals himself as agreeable to the ANC’s discriminatory policies and validates the IRR’s pre-election warning that the DA then was ANC-lite. It’s further revealing that the DA under Maimane would never have challenged discrimination by the majority and that the DA’s recent rejection of race would have been inconceivable thus condemning minorities and especially whites to second-class citizen status until by some imaginary yardstick all would be measured to be financially equal.

    Of greatest concern is that as a politically moderate and obviously decent individual Maimane clearly shares the ANC/EFF’s vilifying of white tenacity after three decades of economic discrimination and also their position on the expected place of the rapidly diminishing white population in a future South Africa and by extension that of minorities reinforcing yet again that these groups need to contemplate their political and economic future which as has been debated boils down to acceptance, mitigation, self-determination or emigration.

    Fortunately for those South Africans, minorities and majority, who reject race and embrace multi-culturalism the DA has inadvertently determined the basis of an alternative political dispensation. In the face of relentless majority commitment to discrimination, the DA may have to accept that non-racialism will ever only have limited appeal and that it may have to champion geographical self-determination where its sensible position on race can be complimented by responsible debate and direction on this highly emotive but increasingly realistic alternative.

    Either way the DA has its work cut-out for it in trying to sell the concept of non-racialism, particularly as political parties and institutions still appear to be preoccupied with the concept of a multi-racial future leaving most South Africans to accept this as gospel and to be consumed and distracted by the symptoms and manifestations of discrimination i.e. loyalist cadre deployment that has snowballed into rampant crime and corruption and hate speech that villifies whites and promotes farm attacks and arson.

    In essence as Maimane eludes to, unless whites emigrate, whatever they do will never be enough to to elevate them and their offspring to equal citizens – particularly don’t they dare appear to be financially self-reliant or successful. This requires by extension further clarity from Maimane who should as possible solution to his stated views at least recognise self-determination for whites and those whose rejection of race is antithetical to his declared new political direction.

    President Ramaphosa’s silence on BEE and anti-white rhetoric is more disappointing than Maimane’s commentary. He knows too well the ravages of anti-merit cadre deployment. He himself was a victim of a loyalist hijacked state organ and subjected to unfounded allegations. He is laying bare the ravages of cadre corruption. By ending discrimination and reinstating merit he can fasttrack his good governance strategy. Minorities however have no choice but to judge him, Maimane and others by their publically declared positions and judging by that a future multi-racial South Africa looks far from being promising.

    Thanks to the DA, IRR, Afriforum, responsible media and academia and others who have successfully mitigated some of the ANC’s discriminatory and divisive policy direction. Mr Maimane’s letter indicates that their hard work is far from over.

  9. So in case anyone really did miss Maimane’s lack of self-awareness, just look at the titles of two of his recent Open Letters that he really should have kept as shut as they are dense.
    > Open letter to white South Africans
    Pretty provocative title, and well, divisive along racial lines. Surely, our brave and fearless leader knows better than this? Why, yes. He does. He just lacks the self-awareness to know that he knows better than this.

    Title 2, also by Maimane:
    > Choose reconciliation over the politics of race and division

    • Strangely enough, we have. We are not as divided by race or ethnic background as the politicians would like to have us believe. Most of us share the same concerns and the same values. We just want to be left alone to earn our keep, and rest assured that government won’t treat us all like they treated the tribe that owns the land where the Mbombela Stadium was built.

  10. Please ask Maimane to explain why 12 000 or more schools were destroyed during lockdown? Please ask him to explain the motivation for such destructive behaviour & by whom, what they intended to achieve, at whose cost & finally what possible positive(s) can be taken from this preposterous action?

    Are there any real benefactors of this hooliganism?

    • Don’t ask Maimane to explain that. Leave him on the legacy media platforms where nobody reads what he writes. He’s busy finding racism in people with enough privilege to get paid to walk dogs. And spare a thought for his poor wife, she has to put up with his preaching all day.

  11. The sooner both black and white citizens understand that where black is not white and white is not black, there’s a difference. there will always be racial differences and cultural differences in the different race and cultural groups, the sooner we all grow up and accept these differences in each other, the sooner we will be able to live and let live, accepting and respect people of different races and cultures for what, and who they are, instead of bickering about our divergence in race and culture. Grow up, respect one another for who they are! We are all made by the same God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, creator of heaven and earth, along with everything that is in them.

  12. Why is it that when it suits people they use percentage and when it does not suit them numbers . In 25 years 2 percent of the black nation spent 90 percent of the taxes collected if this had not been this way millions of blacks would have had a better life . Please note not percentage also keep in mind that if one of our presidents introduced a system where a maximum of 2 children per family was allowed for a period of 20 years what a great future all of us would have give it some thought .Also don’t sit in England
    and judge people and how they think this is a very complexed society

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