A rainbow nation or a sectarian nation?
South Africa’s former Apartheid regime was not a sectarian nation but rather a systematic socio-political system which effectively led to the presence of several nations built up on top of one another in a hierarchical fashion, all within the confines of a single state. Today, the suppression of the Palestinian nation by “Israel” and the suppression of Kashmiri Muslims by India are in fact even more brutal than Apartheid, having taken the model of a ‘nation within a nation’, all within the confines of a single state much further than even South Africa once did.
In 1994, most of the world welcomed South Africa’s generally peaceful transition from Apartheid to what was termed the rainbow nation. Under the leadership of the freed prisoner of conscience Nelson Mandela, South Africa entered a new era of equality that has also been referred to as majority rule in a hybrid parliamentary/presidential democracy.
On paper, South Africa remains this rainbow nation living under Mandela’s 1997 Constitution, but on the ground things are quite different. Most crucially, many South Africans of all races and classes have highly different views on the state of the nation in 2018. Because of this, international observers must avoid the temptation to paint various sectors in a diverse society as ideological or political monoliths as not only does this paint an inaccurate picture of the realities on the ground, but it could serve to inflame a domestic situation in South Africa that has already been the victim of too much foreign interference.
The current discussions about the health of Mandela’s rainbow nation revolve around the recent passage by the South African Parliament of a land transfer bill whose aim is to transfer farmland privately owned by white farmers to black farmers. In essence, the bill seeks to do with land distribution what Malaysian style and post-1994 South African style affirmative action quotas have done in respect of attempting to redistribute important positions of employment from minority groups to the racial majority. The bill was initially proposed by the far-left Economic Freedom Fighters party (EFF) before being adopted by the governing centre-left African National Congress (ANC). Before continuing to explore the present situation in South Africa, it becomes crucial to understand the varying approaches to a post-colonial multiracial nation using the examples of 20th and 21st century Malaysia and Singapore.
Malaysia and Singapore – Affirmative Action, Multiracialism and Mahathir Mohamad
As of 2018, Malaysia is moving away from what is largely seen as a failed affirmative action system whereby minority groups, including Han Chinese were positively discriminated against in favour of the Malay majority. The current Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad worked to reform Malaysia’s affirmative action policy dubbed the New Economic Policy (unrelated to the Leninist Soviet policy of the same name) when he first become Prime Minister in 1981. Mahathir’s policies led to an economic boom in the south east Asian nation. Upton returning to power this year, Mahathir now leads a coalition that includes the pro-multiracial (aka anti-quota) Democratic Action Party which favours a Singapore style multiracial nation where affirmative action is replaced with a push towards both equality of opportunity and an enhanced equality in terms of education and economic prospects for all Malaysians irrespective of one’s ethnic background.
For Mahathir, the current cabinet has broken many long standing taboos as the country has its first Han Chinese Finance Minister since 1974 in the form of Lim Guan Eng, while the country also has its first ever non-Malay/non-Muslim Attorney General in the form of Malaysian Indian Tommy Thomas, a man who also happens to be a Christian.
For Malaysia under Mahathir, a rainbow nation has meant tearing down the walls created by affirmative action quotas and replacing them with a methodology of multiracialism that has brought a history changing level of success to multicultural Singapore.
While both Malaysia and Singapore are multiracial societies as South Africa is, there are key differences between southern Africa more widely and south east Asia. Many non-Malays in Malaysia arrived on a basis of being welcomed to the region over 500 years ago, while in the 19th and 20th centuries, many non-Malays came to the region as a result of involuntary or semi-involuntary migration within the framework of British imperial rule.
South Africa’s departure from the south east Asian multiracial experience
In South Africa, the white population are descendants of colonists although, the Boer/Afrikaner population arrived in southern Africa in the 17th century while Anglophile white South Africans tended to arrive much later, generally beginning in the 19th century and into the 20th century. Partly owing to the fact that the Apartheid system reinforced a clear discriminatory hierarchy between the descendants of colonists and the wider indigenous population, the feelings of separation between the white and black South African population tend to be more magnified than the multiracial populations of Singapore and Malaysia. That being said, tensions in the 1960s did lead to race riots in both south east Asian nations and were furthermore the primary cause of Singapore being expelled from Malaysia and becoming an independent republic in 1965, owing to the different approach taken to racial harmonisation by Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew vis-a-vis Malaysia’s Tunku Abdul Rahman.
Yet while multiracialism in Singapore has been a categorical success while Malaysia’s most prosperous years have been under the leadership of Mahathir who has always leaned towards a more multiracial model (and does so today more than ever before), South Africa’s leaders are heading in a decidedly different direction.
The real situation
For many black South Africans, land transfers are a key component of ending the lingering economic disparities between the races that are seen as a legacy of both imperialism and Apartheid. Some white South Africans see a redistribution of excess (key word) land, along with certain economic incentives for cooperation with the new land re-distribution initiative and a mature implementation of the process, as something that was both inevitable and tolerable. For others, it is a step towards a radical attempt to inversely disenfranchise people on a model far more extreme than existing affirmative action quotas which are reminiscent of Malaysia’s New Economic Policy.
Much of the situation has been compounded by the Zimbabwean example of land re-distribution which many international observers view as ineffective and which many whites in South Africa and Zimbabwe alike viewed as brutal and economically ruinous. Other fears derive from the fact that the leader of South Africa’s leftist Economic Freedom Fighters Julius Malema is outspoken in his rhetoric against white farmers. During a recent interview with Turkey’s TRT world, Malema stated,
“We have not called for the killing of white people, at least for now”.
This language clearly stoked the deepest fears of the country’s white minority population.
Pragmatic win-win solutions
While admitting such things remains partly taboo, the fact remains that many white South Africans have a far greater connection to the countries of their ancestors than most Han Chinese or Indians/Tamils in Malaysia or Singapore do. This is due to both the nature of the migratory trends in each continent and also in more individual factors such as a willingness of white South Africans to remain in touch with relatives in Europe, Australia or the US that is far less common among the Chinese and Indian populations of Malaysia and Singapore who often have little if any meaningful connections to the People’s Republic of China or Republic of India.
Because of this and because of the willingness in recent years of the European Union in particular to take in refugees who have no familial connections with Europe, it would seem imperative for the EU and the wider Anglosphere (US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand) to offer a compromise solution where white South Africans wishing to settle in Europe, North America or Oceania can do so on a voluntary basis. Far from being unique to this situation, I have always criticised Russia for making it overly difficult for ethno-lingustic Russian refugees outside of the Russian Federation from settling in modern Russia in a totally free and fair manner. This is especially true as Russians displaced in countries like Latvia, Georgia, Ukraine and elsewhere have it much worse than do even the most disparaged white South Africans of the 21st century.
Furthermore, at a time when China is working on implementing a scheme to allow overseas Chinese to live and work more easily in the People’s Republic due to an economic boom that seeks to attract skilled individuals of Chinese background, it would be ludicrous for Europe and the Anglosphere not to offer something along these lines and more to the far smaller population of white South Africans who number just under 4.5 million in total.
While it is not clear how many white South Africans would take such an offer, it is clear that a significant number would, as many are currently lobbying foreign governments, particularly the US and Australia to implement such a programme, while in the US, many Americans have petitioned for the right of white South Africans to settle in their country.
Because of this, were a scheme such as this to be implemented, the most pragmatic solution would involve the South African government purchasing lands vacated by white South Africans who wish to relocate to other nations with familiar cultures and then giving this land to the most qualified black farmers.
As for the white South Africans who wish to stay, an even more novel win-win solution is required. For non-profitable or semi-profitable farms, South Africa’s government should work on development schemes with China to turn these farms into profitable entities. Then the shares in these farms should be evenly distributed to the white deed holders and black agricultural workers and entrepreneurs who can work with the foreign investors to make the farms generate a profit on cutting edge sustainable models.
In respect of profitable farms, the South African government should help such businesses go public and then purchase shares in the newly formed listed corporations for poor black South Africans in a win-win model that would see the government subsidise already profitable farms in order to become even more successful. At this stage, a portion of the dividends of these companies would be paid to members of the black population who could then take their capital and invest in new enterprises of their choosing, whether in the agricultural sector or elsewhere.
Over time, the tax revenue generated through these parallel schemes could put money back into the coffers of the government and could then be re-invested into much needed social programmes and policing efforts in order to bring more peace and prosperity to the nation.
Every country must take a different road to economic and social harmony. The fact that land redistribution is a question in South Africa at all, means that the rainbow nation has the potential to both shine more brightly than before or descend into sectarian chaos.
Win-win solutions which allow for the free movement of white South Africans who want to move to a new country, while allowing for remaining whites and blacks to cooperate in multinational shareholding schemes which will in time benefit all of the nation, can help to restore South Africa to the status of a functional and peaceful rainbow nation.
While these proposals could never be implemented over night, the alternative of hostile moves among a mutually discontented population are far worse. Complex situations require original problem solving solutions. South Africa could help develop a new model for peace and reconciliation that builds on the optimism of Mandela rather than the pessimism that many South Africans of all races display in 2018.