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Who is to blame for South Africa's failures? by Max du Preez (News24), 14 June 2016

14 June 2016

What exactly has gone wrong since 1994? What was done and not done, and who did or did not do it, that has left South Africa in the mess it is in in 2016?

More to the point: in what measure should we blame our failures and threatening instability on our history before 1994 and on the white minority, and how much blame should we place on bad governance, corruption and a lack of vision by the elected governments since 1994?

I think it is important for South Africans to urgently seek answers to these questions. If we’re not brutally honest about this, the new dispensation we have to prepare now will only lead to more problems.

At the moment this debate is dominated by two extremes: everything is the fault of apartheid, white racism, white privilege and white monopoly capitalism; or of a pathetic ANC, black economic empowerment, affirmative action, corruption and cadre deployment.

'White supremacist capitalist patriarchy'

On Sunday I read in City Press that the #Fallist leader Thenjiwe Mswane had stated that “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy” lay at the base of all black South Africans’ problems.

Later on Sunday I watched two student activists on Dennis Davis’ programme, Judge for Yourself, stating more or less the same. When Davis asked why they didn’t show the same anger at the terrible education system for black youngsters (Davis called it a crime against humanity), they mumbled stuff about school education needing to be decolonised.

On Thursday last week I was part of a public debate on radicalisation where a rather shaken clergyman told us that he had just attended a reconciliation workshop where a prominent youth leader had declared that the only solution remaining was that white South Africans should be killed.

Also last week, EFF leader Julius Malema said it was his priority to “crush” white privilege. The ANC itself, under a lot of pressure before the local elections, are resorting more and more to blaming apartheid, “white capitalists” and white intransigence for all our ills.

Many in the white establishment, especially those in the AfriForum and Solidarity camps and of course the majority on social media, point the finger at “black incompetence”. Apartheid has been buried a long time ago – actually, Afrikaners and whites are the real victims now, they say.

The price that black South Africans paid

It is my impression that far too few whites really understand how centuries of colonial rule and decades of apartheid fundamentally disrupted the natural development and progression of black communities. They have no comprehension of the price that black South Africans paid for many generations’ worth of exclusion from the economy and from tertiary education. Too many whites can’t acknowledge their own privilege. Some influential right wingers like Steve Hofmeyr even declare that blacks were the real architects of apartheid.

There is a recognised phenomenon in world history that the second or third generation of an oppressed group is angrier than those who had experienced the oppression themselves. That is true of Afrikaners after the Anglo-Boer War and of Jews after the Holocaust, for example. This is now also true of young black South Africans.

A Nicaraguan-born American psychologist, Martha Cabrera, launched a “spiritual reconstruction” campaign in Nicaragua some years ago after that nation had experienced a brutal dictatorship, a civil war and several natural disasters.

She became frustrated that her team wasn’t making much progress and that people remained apathetic, aggressive, directionless, had a negative self-image and were prone to violence and crime.

Cabrera eventually found that Nicaraguans were “multiply wounded, multiply traumatised” after what they had gone through over generations and that this was the explanation for the social ills.

ANC failed to build a new nation

I have little doubt that Cabrera would have reached a similar conclusion in South Africa if she had come to work here after 1994. The impact of white domination and apartheid on black South Africans’ lives and minds won’t disappear in my lifetime.

But the ANC fully comprehended the legacies of colonialism and apartheid when they took power in 1994. Its task was exactly to build a new, vibrant nation on the ruins of apartheid where everybody would have equal opportunities and inequality would be reduced as a matter of great urgency.

The disastrous education system offered to most black youngsters over the last two decades is the most obvious example that the ANC has failed this task in dramatic fashion.

The widespread corruption, state capture, enrichment and abuse of resources that we read about every day are other pointers to the governing party’s failure. And the time for fake powerlessness in the face of a tiny minority of less than nine percent of the nation is well over.

Let’s start honestly contemplating what went wrong the last two decades. And then fix it.