By Thabo Mbeki
The Sociology of Public Discourse Series first appeared in the journal ANC Today in 2005. We are republishing the series on this Page every Monday once more to promote a respect for the observance of the truth and facts as a fundamental cornerstone of the integrity of public discourse in our country.
DESPITE WHAT Nelson Mandela said in 1964, to which we referred last week, and regardless of everything we have done especially since 1994, the rightwing reaches and preaches the extraordinary conclusion that the struggle for non-racialism is nothing more than reverse black racism that echoes the sustained effort of colonialism and apartheid to establish and entrench white minority domination.
To give a veneer of intellectual sophistication to this thesis, the journalist, Anthony Johnson, described F.W. de Klerk’s reversion to the apartheid concept of “group rights” (see below), as representing a “liberal mindset”, which strives for “unity by celebrating and accommodating diversity”. (A March 2, 2005 editorial in “Beeld” joins Johnson in praise of the de Klerk thesis, and says, “the ruling party would do well to take note of former president F.W. de Klerk’s criticism of the obsession with race…”)
He contrasted this with the statement made by NNP Secretary General, Daryl Swanepoel, calling on all South Africans to join the ANC, regardless of race and colour, characterising the NNP statement as representing an “authoritarian mindset”, which tries to “enforce unity through conformity, centralisation and exclusion”. (“Cape Times”, March 8, 2005).
(Consistent with Johnson’s views, the same “Beeld” editorial to which we referred in the preceding paragraph warmly endorsed what it described as de Klerk’s “tough words” directed against the NNP, which he had accused of ” ‘flirt(ing) comfortably with the ANC’ for personal gain, rather than insisting on the minority rights that are guaranteed in the Constitution.”)
The rightwing feels emboldened and compelled to tell the barefaced lie that “much of apartheid’s edifice has been abolished”, to quote Helen Zille, regardless of the pervasive legacy of apartheid in all parts of our country and all spheres of human activity, which is visible to the naked eye.
The determined rightwing attempt to deny the persistence of the racist legacy thus constitutes one of the defining features of the sociology of the public discourse in our country. This necessitates that the rightwing should, as often as possible, strive to de-legitimise our movement’s ideas intended to create a non-racial society, presenting them as being unacceptable attempts to “play the race card”.
Because of our history and its contemporary outcomes, the right wing, in all its shades, groups itself around this central objective. Thus we find that all and sundry, from the DA, to F.W. de Klerk and Helen Suzman, from Hermann Giliomee to Max du Preez, from “Die Burger”, to the “Citizen” and the Institute of Race Relations, and many others in between, both black and white, are very determined to de-legitimise the struggle to create a non-racial South Africa. Naturally, this hostile offensive must and does include the principal force in our country that bears the historic responsibility to lead this struggle, the ANC.
To give philosophical legitimacy and respectability to the ideas it advances to set the national agenda, centrally about “the race question”, which Mteto Nyati said represented “(the white elite’s) real interest to protect its wealth and lifestyle”, (ANC TODAY Vol 5 No 3), the rightwing relies fundamentally on the neo-conservative precepts explained by Piereson.
These are about “strengthening the system of private enterprise and (ensuring) limited government, understanding that a defense of capitalism requires also a defense of the deeper cultural assumptions that gave meaning and order to a commercial (free market) civilisation.”
In this context, the rightwing in our country argues for a fundamentalist individualism and a doctrine of meritocracy. These positions were originally propagated principally by British philosophers, who correctly supported the historical evolution from feudalism to capitalism.
Applied to our situation with our specific history of the systemic and conscious disempowerment of the black majority, the superimposition of the neo-conservative/neo-liberal doctrines of fundamentalist individualism and meritocracy on what we have to do, cannot but ensure the protection of the privileged and exclusive “wealth and lifestyle” that white South Africa attained as a result of 350 years of colonialism and apartheid.
ANC National Assembly MP, Ben Turok, participated in the debate of the President’s State of the Nation Address this year. Directly relevant to the foregoing, he said:
“The market favours the strong, so the disadvantaged need supporting institutions. This is where there is a role for the state, and this is why we have broad based economic empowerment, policies on labour intensive methods, new institutions for micro-credit, cooperatives and the rest of our new legislation. If we do not use these mechanisms we shall have white economic domination forever.”
Strangely but perfectly easy to understand, another tendency within the rightwing continues to argue for the corrupted version of “group rights” that the NP argued for during the process of negotiations that led to the democratic victory of 1994. This latter group, former “true blue” members of the NP, also accuses our movement of “playing the race card” to marginalize and dis-empower the national minorities.
By this means, it seeks to hide its real intention to protect the “wealth and lifestyle” of its erstwhile constituency by pretending that its “solution of the national question” is more consistent with the noble goal of national reconciliation than the “racist” approach of our movement.
It also advances the notion that our efforts to achieve the fundamental social transformation of our country, relying on the democratic mandate we have repeatedly received in the free and fair elections we have held during our first decade of liberation, are illegitimate in a democracy.
It therefore argues that our democratically elected government should enter into negotiations with the national minorities as “groups”, to determine the content of the national agenda, regardless of the fact that the overwhelming majority of the electorate, including voters who belong to the national minorities, gave us a mandate to govern.
One of the most significant outcomes of the 2004 General Elections was that the ANC emerged as the representative of the majority of the Coloured and Indian sections of our population, adding to its overwhelming African support. It also won greater White voter support than in the past. The ANC can therefore quite legitimately claim that it is the principal political representative certainly of the African, Coloured and Indian sections of our population.
Audi alteram partem – “let the other side be heard as well”:
“Majoritarianism, the idea that the numerical majority of a population should have the final say in determining the outcome of a decision. From the time of classical Greek philosophers through the 18th century, including the founders of the United States such as James Madison, majoritarianism has had a pejorative connotation. (Britannica)
“Majoritarianism is a traditional political philosophy or agenda that asserts that a majority (sometimes categorized by religion, language, social class, or some other identifying factor) of the population is entitled to a certain degree of primacy in society, and has the right to make decisions that affect the society.
“Competing understandings of democracy vie for our attention and support. One understanding identifies democracy as the right of majorities to rule. This has the advantage of simplicity and gains further support from the frequent employment of majority-rule voting. Another understanding is more complex but far more adequate. It insists that political systems be organized on the basis of an abstract principle of political morality: political equality. It allows opportunities for majority rule voting and direct popular participation to play important roles in working democracies, but it asserts that legitimate democracies are those that respect minority rights and promote fair and inclusive deliberation.”
“… majority rule is flawed in a way that other “aggregative” conceptions often are. Like utilitarianism, majoritarianism looks at social decisions as aggregation problems in which everyone counts for one and nobody counts for more than one. Majority rule says that the loss for the few is justified by the fact that the winners are greater in number. But why should the minority accept this way of looking at it? Perhaps under a system of “minorities rule” in which all groups have their turns to rule in shifting and unstable governing coalitions, the (distributive) fairness criterion is satisfied since theoretically, everyone gets a fair turn to be in the majority. In actual politics, there can be consistent losers – “discrete and insular minorities” – who are entitled to the protections afforded by basic rights. Fairness requires that institutions should speak to the vulnerable perspective of minorities and not simply lump them in with everyone else. Fairness requires that we look at the justifiability of a political system distributively and not merely aggregatively, as Jeremy Waldron himself has argued with great eloquence.36 http://www.bu.edu/law/journals-archive/bulr/documents/macedo.pdf
Despite this reality, derived from our open democratic process, there are some in our country, such as former President F.W. de Klerk, who propagate the entirely false thesis that the ANC and the Government represent only the African majority. On this basis they argue that the supposedly “Africans only” Government should participate in a new CODESA with the “national minorities”, who allegedly feel marginalized, to define what should be done to achieve the related goals of non-racialism and national reconciliation.
The protagonists of “a new CODESA” do not have the courage to explain that what they really have in mind is to oblige our movement and Government to negotiate with “the Whites”, to put in place national programmes focused on at least slowing down the de-racialisation of our country, and therefore achieving the preservation of as much white privilege as possible.
Among other things, they would never be able to explain how the delegations of the “national minorities” would be elected. For instance, given the outcome of the 2004 General Elections, the right wingers who claim to speak for the national minorities would have to explain why the ANC should not represent the Coloured and Indian sections of our population in the “new CODESA” they are proposing.
The unrelenting attempt to banish discussion of “the race question” from the public discourse was eloquently stated in a March 2, 2005 “Cape Argus” editorial entitled “We have to talk about this”.
It said: “When the new South Africa was formally declared in 1994, we were, perhaps understandably, misled by euphoria and relief into thinking that the new had actually come into being.
“We did not, then, properly understand the challenge that confronted us, and the challenge was to repair a damaged society. In many remarkable ways, we succeeded…
“But we have failed in one, crucial aspect: we have failed to debunk the apartheid mythology of race. And we have failed to debunk it because, quite simply, we have decided to keep it alive. We preserved it because we thought that it was the only way to reverse its effects, and there’s every reason, today, to believe we were wrong.
“Race consciousness has not been higher in these 10 years than it is today, and within it resides all manner of untested, unspoken and unhelpful prejudices and fallacies…
“We all have histories, a sum of influences that make us think and act differently, but we will embark on a damning parody of the apartheid we celebrate defeating, if we continue to emphasise the superstition of racial difference.
“It’s a handy superstition, but it’s not doing much to transform society, and it’s doing a lot to sow division and suspicion… The national leadership needs to confront the challenge we put off a decade ago of figuring out how we really are going to repair the damage done in the name of skin colour.” We must admit that it is not very often that in our public discourse, we hear such a clear message emanating from the voice represented by this “Cape Argus” editorial, part of what Mteto Nyati described as “the systemic structures behind the (seemingly) random events” that characterise the national battle of ideas.
Any honest person who reads the “Cape Argus” editorial cannot but be moved by the sincerity of its tone and its intent. At the same time, we cannot avoid remarking on its obvious seeming innocence, informed by the illusion that some in our country entertained and encouraged, that the peaceful elections of 1994 meant that, “the new had actually come into being.”
On countless occasions since those elections, we argued that the legacy of the past was too deeply entrenched for “the new to have come into being” in 1994. We said it needed time and the cooperation of all South Africans to bring the new into being.
We said that national reconciliation and social transformation were two sides of the same coin, which had to be pursued together and simultaneously, with neither being possible without the other. We called for adherence by all our people to a new patriotism.
Many in our society contested what we said about the stubborn reality of the racist legacy, claiming, as Helen Zille has just done that “much of apartheid’s edifice has been abolished”. Many among these viewed racism exclusively in terms of ideas carried in the heads and spoken through the mouths of what they determined was but a small minority of our people.
Convinced that “the new South Africa” now offered equal opportunities to all our citizens, they refused to focus their minds on the structural socio-economic manifestation of racism, which continues to exist, regardless of the progress we may have achieved with regard to the intellectual or, at times, rhetorical repudiation of the ideas of racism by our people, black and white.
They also refused to recognise the reality that on the macro-plane of human consciousness, it was in any case impossible to eradicate racism in a decade. This reality has now forced itself onto the national agenda around such urgent and critical issues as the transformation of the judiciary and our schools.
Among other things, the debate about the transformation of the judiciary will also have to address the perverse and malignant interpretations of the doctrines of the separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary, which seek to translate these concepts into a structural antagonism, or an antagonistic contradiction between the executive and the judiciary.
Less dangerously for the future of our democracy, this also finds expression in a supposed structural antagonism between the executive and the media.
All this also constitutes part of the sociology of the public discourse in our country. Accordingly, it must be discussed freely, as part of the process of ensuring that our democracy creates the space for a thousand schools of thought to contend.
This debate should not be shut down through the use of the dishonest device that such debate threatens the independence of either the judiciary or the media. These assertions have also served as part of the sociology of our public discourse, intended to insulate some institutions from the public discourse and public accountability, as holy cows, to give them the possibility to confront the democratic order, unchallenged, in the interest of those who felt that democracy deprived them of privileges to which they were accustomed.
Those of our compatriots persuaded to the point of view that in the light of the 1994 elections, “the new had actually come into being”, saw our demands and programmes, such as affirmative action and black economic empowerment, as being nothing more than the re-introduction of a racist social engineering approach that had been “abolished”.
It is out of all this, which continues to form part of the national discourse, that the determination was made by these that to pursue the goal of demographic “representativity” was to “re-racialise” our country. Yet what this representativity is about, is striving to accomplish the goal stated in the “Cape Argus”, “to repair the damage done in the name of skin colour.”
Our movement has a duty to continue its historic and long-standing struggle for the socio-economic liberation from poverty and underdevelopment of the black people in general and the African people in particular.
At the same time, we must truly respect the outcome spelt out in the Freedom Charter and our National Constitution, that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, united in their diversity, as well the policy directive, that we must achieve, simultaneously, both national reconciliation and social transformation.
To achieve these objectives, our movement has to remain loyal to the objective to eradicate the legacy of 350 years of colonialism and apartheid. To solve this problem we must first acknowledge that it exists. To address it, requires that, in the first instance, we must not entertain the illusion that “the new came into being in 1994”.
All this must form part of the public discourse that moves all our people, regardless of their respective histories, to act together to bring the new into being. If we do this, we will in time arrive at the situation when the damage done in the name of skin colour will have been repaired.
Our movement cannot allow the perception to prevail according to which the struggle to create a non-racial society carries a false public (media) image that it is but a struggle to re-introduce a racial order that has been abolished. It dare not abandon the struggle to set the national agenda, either through timidity or complacency, believing that it is sufficient merely to win elections.
Contrary to what Itumeleng Mahabane predicted, the progressive movement must practically demonstrate that it has the resolve to wage the protracted struggle for fundamental social transformation as well as the ideas supporting such change, that James Piereson said the US neo-conservatives had engaged in, to redefine the US political agenda.
As they have done throughout our long struggle, all our cadres and supporters must constantly strive to understand the sociology of the public discourse, and therefore the battle of ideas.
They must do everything to ensure that our movement remains “the leading party of ideas”, to guarantee that the genuinely democratic movement of our country continues to set the national agenda, understanding that “politics is only superficially about personalities: it is the implementation of ideas through power.”
We have entitled this concluding article of the Series on the Public Discourse in our country “A vitoria a çerta” – Victory is Certain! Like the heading of last week’s article, “A luta continua” – The Struggle Continues – we have borrowed the title of this week’s article from the most enduring slogan of the sister liberation movements that defeated Portuguese colonialism on our continent, which was – “A luta continua: a vitoria e çerta!”
We quoted Mteto Nyati in the Part VIII article published in Vol 5 No 9 stating that, “Africa’s renewal has never been a priority for SA’s white elite.”
This was starkly demonstrated in the statement made by the political leader of the rightwing in our country, Tony Leon, when he addressed the “Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe” faction in the European Parliament, on March 2, 2005.
This supposedly African political leader made bold to say that the EU should “tie future progress in trade negotiations between EU and African countries to political progress on Zimbabwe.”
In other words, this supposedly African political leader travelled all the way from South Africa to Western Europe to argue for the further marginalisation and impoverishment of the hundreds of millions of the peoples of Africa, who are engaged in a desperate struggle to open the markets of the developed North to their products.
Because of a racist fixation about Zimbabwe, which has absolutely nothing to do with genuine concern for the fate of the people of Zimbabwe, this supposedly African leader was even prepared to oppose the welcome efforts of the most prominent political and other leaders of the West to open the markets of the West to African products.
He travelled from Africa to Europe to argue that even these Western leaders are wrong to accept the concerns of hundreds of millions of Africans, without political preconditions. He argued that instead, they should impose collective punishment on these masses because of whatever might be happening in one African country out of 53, Zimbabwe.
Fortunately, this supposedly African political leader will fail in his mission to recruit European opinion to the cause of our national, South African, right wing, against the interests of the peoples of Africa, as well as our own. Even the most rightwing among the European politicians understands that the victory of the conservative cause cannot be secured at the cost of the impoverishment of almost a billion Africans.
Blinded by its racist origins and current pursuits, our domestic right wing, as represented by the DA, cannot understand this most basic humane imperative. It cannot comprehend the crass and ugly immorality of criminally exploiting the hunger of millions to advance the ideological objectives of the right wing.
The total liberation of Africa has always been a fundamental objective of our movement, the ANC. Even from the middle of the 19th century, the emerging African intelligentsia, as represented by patriots such as Tiyo Soga, defined our liberation within the context of the unity of free Africa.
The immediate antecedents of our liberation movement, the ANC, such as the emergence of the Ethiopian Christian movement in our country – the indigenous response to the conversion of the masses of our people to Christianity – were centred on the aspiration towards African emancipation and unity. The anthem, “Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrika”, gave voice to this objective.
As we conclude this Series, which discusses our national ideological challenges, using slogans inherited from liberation struggles elsewhere on our continent, we seek to make the statement that we will continue to engage the national battle of ideas, fully conscious of the reality that ours is also a struggle for the emancipation of the peoples of Africa as a whole. As we continue that struggle, we are proud and inspired to reiterate the noble words – God bless Africa!”
(My emphasis in red, my notes in blue italic)