"Whiteness" isn't the cause of our current misfortunes - Politicsweb

28 January 2019 - Rainbowism isn’t a threat to the future of South Africa, but blaming one race group for all the country’s failings certainly is.

Marius Roodt 

Mamphela Ramphele takes issue with my assertion in a recent article that rainbowism is resilient despite the efforts of some. She even makes the extraordinary claim that ‘Rainbowism is dangerous to the future of South Africa’.

If we define rainbowism as an ideology that envisages a South Africa in which all this country’s people, no matter their race, get along and work together towards a common, prosperous future, it is difficult to see how rainbowism can be considered dangerous.

Dr Ramphele’s main issue appears to be that it seems she believes I do not think racism exists, or that it is not a problem. Of course racism exists in South Africa, but it is not the problem many people think it is. Similarly, for example, one can argue that global terrorism is on the decline (which it is) but still accept that terrorism occurs (as we saw recently in Nairobi).

Dr Ramphele points to the recent incident at Schweizer-Reneke and alleged discrimination in Model C schools as evidence of deep-seated white racism.

However, we do not have all the facts about what happened in Schweizer-Reneke. It is not clear that any racism took place, with at least one black parent coming to the defence of the teachers.

With regard to Model C schools, there is also little evidence that they are used by white parents to exclude black children, as Dr Ramphele asserts. Indeed, these former Model C schools are the key to a high-quality education for those who, in other circumstances, would not receive it.

As Dr Gillian Godsell of the Wits School of Governance points out, so-called Model C schools are not white enclaves, nor are they middle-class enclaves. They are also not sites of white recalcitrance, as Dr Ramphele would have us believe. Indeed, white learners account for less than half of all children in Model C schools. In 2014, at least 40% of learners at Model C schools were black. Overall, nearly 60% of children at Model C schools were not white (when taking into account coloured and Indian learners). This hardly reflects a segregated school system, with whites keeping Model C schools as sites of white supremacy.

Racism is simply not a major issue for most people. This is obviously not to say that racism does not exist, or that some people view themselves as superior to others on racial grounds, but it is not the most pressing issue we face today.

As I have written before, according to IRR research a minority of South Africans have personally experienced racism. Another IRR survey conducted last year also found that only seven percent of South Africans (and six percent of black South Africans) thought a government priority should be fighting racism. Voters believed that jobs and unemployment, the abuse of drugs, and crime should be the top priorities for the government.

A 2018 survey conducted under the auspices of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development and the Foundation for Human Rights made a similar finding – only one in ten (of 25 000 respondents) said they had personally experienced discrimination.

And being racist today has real social and other consequences. Ask Vicki Momberg or Adam Catzavelos.

Dr Ramphele seems to imply that many of South Africa’s problems, from failing education to poor town planning, can be laid at the door of white people. She argues that it is time to change the structures that perpetuate inequality.

Here she is right, but the failure of the structures that exist today is not the fault of white people. It is the fault of the government.

Dysfunctional township schools are not failing because of whites or whiteness, but because of failings of the government – and often because of the influence of the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (SADTU).

The failure of the government to build inclusive cities – instead of than providing new housing far from work opportunities – is also not the fault of whites.

Dr Ramphele has identified the problem as she perceives it, but she has not provided any solutions, except for vague references to whites and whiteness. The country today needs solutions to reach its potential and sustainably tackle unemployment and poverty.

Dr Ramphele is right that things need to change, structurally, but blaming whites and whiteness won’t fix anything. We need to create an environment that draws the investment to enable South Africa’s economy to grow at rates of six percent or higher. This is the only way we will dent our enormous unemployment and poverty rates. We can do this by cutting red tape, ending race-based legislation, freeing the labour market, and investing in infrastructure. We must also sell our loss-making state-owned enterprises. The fact that the government owns an airline does not make the life of a child living in the rural Eastern Cape better. The government must also retreat from threats to property rights. There is no doubt that land reform is necessary, but it must be done in an environment where property rights are secure.

Rainbowism isn’t a threat to the future of South Africa, but blaming one race group for all the country’s failings certainly is.

Marius Roodt is head of campaigns at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), a liberal think tank that promotes economic and political freedom. Stand with the IRR by clicking here or SMS your name to 32823 (SMSes cost R1, Ts and Cs apply).