Writing recently on EWN (DA at a crossroads: In search of political relevance on the cheap), Yonela Diko encapsulates vividly the past-its-sell-by-date, microwaved ethno-collectivism of South Africa’s darkest days under apartheid. 

Without any meaningful qualification or nuance, Diko launches a tirade against those people who dare to treat individuals as individuals, rather than mere outgrowths of ethnic group identity. The classically liberal value of judging people on the content of their character rather than the colour of their skin is denounced as something devious.

This is Verwoerdian ethno-collectivist claptrap of the highest order. Its denial of the individual worldview is telling and toxic, irrespective of its particular black or white racial and racist flavour.

Cascades down into the gutter 

To the ethno-collectivist, the ethnic group reigns supreme as the determiner of identity and agency. This supremacy, however it might be dressed up or envisioned – as Verwoerd’s delusional ‘good neighbourliness’ or Diko’s blatant racial animosity – almost inevitably cascades down into the gutter to become a denial of the individual, sacrificing people and their agency, hopes, ambitions, and existence to the tribal gods of ethnic arbitrariness. 

Diko’s stridency in assigning collective and absolute guilt to uncounted anonymous, faceless people through mere ethnic association is repugnant, and is a denial of the individual woman or man’s humanity.

Ironically, the ethno-collectivists, being obsessed with group identity, deny the ability of  people to have an identity of their own. Verwoerd’s and Diko’s ethnic determinism places you irrevocably within the confines of a group, and where occupiers of high office or influence gain almost absolute coercive power, statal or societal, over you. In this, we find an ominous echo of the notion (attributed to Stalin) that the collective sufficiently dehumanises its component individuals as to make vast injustices seem mundane.

But individual identity is not the only thing threatened by the ethno-collectivist – the very notions of innocence and guilt, the foundation of any reasonable justice or moral system, disappear if ethnic origin replaces individual agency. In the world of the ethno-collectivist, your guilt before moral or judicial law no longer depends on whether you, a specific person, committed a specific action, but on whether you are ethnically proximate enough to the person or persons who committed a crime to merit extreme associative guilt.

Horrible tokoloshe

Justice, the very thing Diko curiously holds up as some horrible tokoloshe for white people, is beaten to death by his own ethno-collectivism.

How is this rational? How is this moral? How is this useful?

There’s a creeping Verwoerdian aspect to our discourse these days. I fear that it is only a matter of time before the ethno-collectivists of all races find common ground in shared calls for the reintroduction of bantustans, and segregated entrances, bathrooms, beaches and buses. 

Ethno-collectivists, seemingly unable to look at you and see a person – a human being with individual worth and dignity – will ensure that the legacy of Verwoerd long outlives anyone who suffered under his policies.

[Yonela Diko. Picture: SUPPLIED Business Day]

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