Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Blacker than thou
The ANC held out for as long as possible, but has finally had to publicly state what has been unsaid doctrine for the past decade - that the black population is first in line for restitution over other previously disadvantaged race groups. The argument stems from a view that the black population suffered worse at the hands of the apartheid regime than other groups. In theory, this is undoubtedly true, but in practice, a race-aligned policy of restitution sways far from the moral equivalence path, and is fraught with danger for the ANC.

The debate over "African-ness" has gained substantial social momentum over the past three years, as we as South Africans move beyond the first decade of freedom and into new waters as a joint society. This new policy answers a big question of the ANC's views on South African society, and it's not the answer that non-blacks were looking for. Coloured communities have long felt maligned by the ANC government since 1994, and this only confirms deep suspicions. The National Democratic Convention summed it up perfectly in a response statement by saying "It was a case of "being too black in the past and now being too white".

I find it very difficult to support the view that it is acceptable for the ANC to unite and use all race groups to successful vanquish apartheid and create racial equality, only to move back into a racial classification which favours certain groups that suffered under apartheid over another. This announcement simply has to alienate the South African population as a whole. It seems that whilst the coloured, Indian etc communities can call themselves South Africans, they share the same fate as whites in not being able to call themselves African in a continent where they may be in their third or fourth generation.

The ramifications are substantial, not least in voting blocs, but hopefully this will engage a social debate around the concept. This may be wishful thinking, as the Mbeki government has not exactly been forthcoming on opening social debates with the nation, but it is such a fundamental question for the next decade of South African politics, that it must happen. The fact that this is the ANC's policy does not preclude it from changing in future, and only robust debate will force this change.

You may argue that this my views here are incongruent with my support for affirmative action, but affirmative action looks to gain restitution for previously disadvantaged over previously advantaged - it does not sub-categorise race groups within those previously disadvantaged. This policy of the ANC does exactly the opposite, treating certain race groups, which all suffered under apartheid, differently.