RW Johnson: Why Zuma’s ANC turning to racism, fuelling anti-white rhetoric

If South Africa possesses finer political analysts than RW “Bill” Johnson, I’ve yet to discover them. The former anti-Apartheid activist, Rhodes Scholar and Oxford Don was the first to highlight financial risks caused by President Jacob Zuma’s network of patronage. Last year’s masterful book “How Long Will SA Survive” predicted the country’s credit rating is fast heading for junk, to be followed with bankruptcy and eventually a bailout by the International Monetary Fund. That message is now being universally heeded, the credit rating becoming a rallying cry for reformers. He remains optimistic the nation will emerge stronger from these trials – but warns the next few years will be extremely turbulent, especially for everyone’s favourite target, the white sector of the population. Major reason, Johnson argues, is a ruling political party ill-equipped to cope with the vote-eroding path it has chosen, so has started to employ crude racist tactics to shore up sliding popularity. Another superb contribution to help us understand where the country is headed and why. This is republished with the permission of Mr Johnson and Politicsweb.co.za, where it first appeared. – Alec Hogg

South Africans have, for several months now, been enduring an exceptional torrent of accusations and counter-accusations of racism. Such accusations have, of course, provided much of the steady badinage of South African politics for twenty years, but even when seen against that background the recent period has been special.

Bill Johnson as his readers will best imagine him – framed by thousands of books in his personal library.

Penny Sparrow, a South Coast estate agent, provided a convenient initial focus with her virtually Neanderthal depictions of blacks as monkeys: what the French would call le racisme primaire. Thereafter all manner of essentially harmless folk have been caught up in the storm and have suffered penalties of one sort or another for a few words or sentiments a mite out of place – or not even that.

The situation has now become so ridiculous that when Helen Zille says how pleased she is by the heavy usage of Cape Town’s municipal libraries, she is accused of racism for having implied surprise that blacks read books.

On many university campuses there is a frankly anti-white frenzy. We have seen delighted declarations that “whiteness is burning” when valuable pictures are torched.

What to conclude from this? A first conclusion might be, for god’s sake avoid social media. Almost everybody who has found themselves in trouble has done so as a result of some unwise and trivial post on Twitter and Facebook. One only has to remember how her addiction to Twitter undermined Helen Zille’s leadership of the DA to see what a hostage to fortune such media constitute.

Why all the fuss over racism?

But what is this hyper-sensitivity about? The answer is not simple. For many years it has been commonplace that black commentators insist that “we must debate race”. On the face of it, there is little to debate. We all know that biologically speaking, no such thing as race exists. It is also common cause that black people have suffered badly from segregation and oppression by whites.

Nobody wishes to defend or exculpate apartheid. So what is the debate about? Usually, it seems, debate is just the wrong word: most often what seems to be meant is a further opportunity to rehearse all the multiple ways in which black South Africans still feel aggrieved. This is not a debate, nor even truly a conversation and very seldom is there anything new to say. It is also purely backward-looking.

All the heat and energy is about past grievances (student radicals frequently attack their opponents for the mistreatment of their parents or even grandparents): there seems to be little constructive thought about the future – or even much interest in it. The picture has been further clouded by attempts to reify “whiteness”, philosophically and sociologically a very dubious notion.

The key factor: ANC failure

The main new fact driving the current hypersensitivity is just that the ANC is visibly failing. No one is in any serious doubt now about this. It even passes the taxi driver test: take a taxi from OR Tambo and the driver will soon tell you that the ANC will soon lose power, either nationally or a least in Joburg. It’s literally on the street.

The ANC elites, anxiously aware of this, feel the cold whiff of change in the air. Hence Gwede Mantashe’s paranoid mutterings about the role of the US embassy in allegedly fostering regime change. It has now dawned on the ANC leadership, that far from being in place “until Jesus comes”, they could meet their Maker quite a lot sooner than that.

It is not clear, after, all, how the ANC’s claim to rule would survive the loss of Pretoria and/or Joburg. Hence, too, the much sharper focus now on the possibility of relegation to junk bond status. When I brought out my last book in May 2015 (How Long Will South Africa Survive? The Looming Crisis) the notion of such a relegation was rather recherché stuff.

The oddity was that although almost nobody was willing to review the book, its central ideas quickly passed into the main conversation. The possibility of relegation to junk bond status thus became the key symbolic test of whether ANC government had failed. The result, belatedly, was to make every ANC spokesman vow to avoid such a relegation at almost any cost.

The notion of ANC government as an evident failure triggered complex psychological reactions. Since this was South Africa’s first African government its imminent failure was seen as an enormous symbolic defeat for the black race by certain black intellectuals – first and foremost in their own eyes.

This in itself was almost unbearably painful, as can be seen in innumerable letters to the editor from black readers saying how personally humiliated and let down they feel by the government’s failure. Second, many black intellectuals were quick to imagine whites sitting on their verandahs of an evening, gin and tonic in hand, saying “I told you so” – an almost unbearable image.

Third, and for that very reason, this produced a renewed anti-white animus, a determination that, if the ship was to go down, at least the whites must go down with the ship too.

Julius Malema, with his usual unerring instinct, taunted the ANC with the thought that some whites were actually enjoying the prospect of a black government failing.

The hardening of opinion

There is a smidgeon of truth in this. It is undeniably true that under the weight of government incompetence and corruption, much white opinion has hardened. This is obvious in a host of ways and certainly to any reader of the PoliticsWeb comment section.

Nonetheless, the overwhelming majority of white South Africans still want their country to succeed, irrespective of politics. Yet at the same time there has always been a tiny fringe of white apologists for black racism – it will be hard to convince future generations how much of the damage was done by whites.

Frequently such folk will find sophistical arguments for the proposition that only whites can be racists, although ordinary common sense shows plainly enough that this is a disease that anyone can catch. Blacks and whites can both be racists in the same way that blacks and whites can both be fast food addicts, both be thieves, both be religious nuts and so on.

What seems to drive such folk, oddly, is a strong sense of collective guilt. They would all insist that their own treatment of black people has been blameless (so individually they are not guilty) but they believe that all white people should feel collective guilt about the past. This despite the fact that all the churches, the UN and no end of judicial eminences have declared that the doctrine of collective guilt – used by anti-Semites down the ages to justify their persecution of the Jews – is not only invalid but an offense against humanity.

The doctrine of collective guilt was invoked by the Nazis when they murdered whole communities in reprisal for the acts of a few resistants. It is a deeply inhuman and reactionary doctrine. So guilt can only be individual. No doubt we should all examine our own consciences, but that is far as one can go.

The history of non-racialism

When the ANC was in its pomp under Mandela, it was proudly non-racial and did not stoop to anti-white racism. The person who really reintroduced racism to South African public life was Thabo Mbeki who repeatedly conjured up loathsome visions of blacks as dirty, diseased, plundering and rapacious folk, an imagined white stereotype, though one which Mbeki himself found weirdly believable.

Mbeki relied more and more on “campaigns against racism” (read anti-white mobilizations), held a World Conference Against Racism and said this would be the guiding theme of his entire presidency. This was all very telling. With the Mandela magic gone, Mbeki felt paranoid and insecure and his first instinct was to fall back on anti-white racism.

Zuma was, at first, much better. With Mbeki’s defeat at Polokwane, anti-white racism faded from the scene. But as the cumulative weight of the ANC’s economic blunders became apparent, this has changed. When the ANC has to fight for survival its last card is racial nationalism: vote for us because we are black, vote against them because they are white.

This situation has been dramatically transformed by the emergence of the EFF. The ANC has always most feared attacks from its left and it can see Malema’s radical anti-white rhetoric gaining traction.

This panics it completely and its response is to attempt to ensure that, whatever else, it will not be outflanked on that theme. It must fight to ensure that racial nationalism works in its favour, and not in Malema’s. Thus whites find themselves on the wrong end of a Dutch auction on anti-white racism.

It must be unde