What is the Cut Off Date for Inequality?

By Mandisi Majavu · 13 Oct 2011

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Recently, Tokyo Sexwale, the Human Settlements Minister, announced that free housing for the poor has to have a “cut off date.” He argued that it is unsustainable to provide free housing to the poor “for a long time.” This is a far cry from the Freedom Charter’s spirit, which champions the principle that “All people shall have the right to live where they choose, to be decently housed and to bring up their families in comfort and security.” 

The post-apartheid state has become what Fanon warned against - a postcolonial government that governs with total disregard for the new social relations that black people of this country fought for. When black people came out in huge numbers to vote in 1994, they did so because they wanted to do away with white supremacist institutions; they wanted to change history. They wanted social revolution, not social evolution. That is what we were promised when we came out to vote in 1994. What we are living through at the moment is a ‘fragile travesty’ of what we fought for. Post-apartheid South Africa is going through a social evolution of the worst kind.

White privilege is still very much intact; and it self-perpetuates itself in different guises with plausible deniability. That is the logic of whiteness after all. Apart from the fact that whiteness is predictable, it is oppressive, and quite frankly boring. I use the term whiteness to refer to the system that allows whites to occupy most of the top positions in South African institutions, i.e., universities and private companies. 

Economically, the post-apartheid government is powerless. And, in reality, big capital rules. That is partly why companies such as Anglo American Corporation, Old Mutual and South African Breweries were allowed to list on the London Stock Exchange. Moeletsi Mbeki recently pointed out, “This is proving to be one of the largest removal of capital gains, with the dividends being paid into another stock exchange.” So what is our government going to do about that?  

We can reasonably assume that there is no “cut off date” for the South African companies that have their primary listing on the London Stock Exchange. Yet we constantly hear that there ought to be “cut off dates” for reforms like affirmative action and free housing.

When post-apartheid social movements point out that many black people in this country live in poverty and therefore there ought to be a cut off date on that too, the government sends out its goon squads to beat people into silence. There have been instances where these half-crazed, functionally illiterate goon squads have actually killed people. The case of Andries Tatane comes to mind. Abahlali baseMjondolo in Durban have intimate knowledge of how far these goon squads are prepared to go when in action. 

Other government critics that cannot be dealt with through the use of violence are dismissed as being too dull to understand the intricate logic of the National Democratic Revolution (NDR). Apart from the reforms based social evolution that is currently taking place, the NDR has yet to disrupt the workings of fundamental historical forces. 

Frantz Fanon wrote that postcolonial revolutions ought to give birth to new men and women. Are we to believe that BEE types such as Tokyo Sexwale, the founder of Mvelaphanda Holdings, are the embodiment of the new man Fanon was talking about? There is nothing new about BEE types or tenderpreneurs for that matter. White capital, BEE types and tenderpreneurs are all members of the same family. They play similar social roles; they exist to unashamedly exploit decent and honest working people, and to abuse society’s resources to serve their goals, which can be reduced to simply making maximum profit. 

Many black people fought against these social roles during the apartheid regime, and they are still resisting them today. This is what post-apartheid social movements are partly fighting against. However, we are told that there is a ‘born free generation’ that supposedly has different aspirations. It is not clear how this born free generation has different aspirations when they are also expected to fill in social roles in institutions that require them to interact in old ways, albeit slightly different. As Al Sharpton said of the U.S., “We’ve gotten to an era where people are much more subtle and more manicured. Jim Crow is now James Crow, Jr, Esquire.”

What further complicates the issue in South Africa is that the people who are politically in charge are black people. Social movements such as Abahlali baseMjondolo point out, however, that the roots of social problems in South Africa are oppressive social institutions, and not individuals. They argue that it is ‘better to destroy’ the set of institutions that compels social actors to oversee an oppressive system. “Nothing good can be done on a rotten terrain,” according to Abahlali.

The other interesting point about the post-apartheid South African society is that it is a society that has different societal institutions that are pulling in different directions. For instance, the ANC views itself as a revolutionary movement that is engaged in the NDR project while, on the other hand, it is implementing neoliberal policies that are hurting the poor. Consequently, a large number of black people are unemployed, and many people live in poverty. The ANC Youth League is calling for nationalizations of economic institutions. The communist party and trade unions are in bed with the government. The white party, the Democratic Alliance, exists to preserve white privilege. And we supposedly also live in a non-sexist society where, ironically, violence against women is a national sport. 

Also, as it has been said before, South Africa is a country with two economies: one developed and the other under-developed. Through social movements, people from the latter economy are organizing themselves to fight for a just and equitable society. It is starting to dawn on people that the NDR has reached its “sell by” date. It is possible that this is the thinking behind what the media refers to as municipal revolts.

Majavu is the Book Reviews Editor of Interface: A Journal For and About Social Movements. He is a PhD candidate at the University of Auckland, New Zealand.

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Lee Cahill
12 Oct

I'm Bored Too...

Although the writer makes some good points, frankly, I'm bored with commentators who lazily revert to terms such as 'whiteness' to explain complex socio-economic relationships that are deeply rooted in class divisions and the capitalist system, and which aren't merely a symptom of the legacy of apartheid. After all, as he points out, the ranks of the economic and political elite have been opened up post-1994 to allow in many people of colour, but the majority of ordinary working people and the country's vast number of poor people haven't benefitted from this in any way.

Most of all, I'm bored with the 'bad whites' / 'good blacks' debate and I'd like to see a little more intellectual rigor when dealing with issues such as those raised in this piece.

For instance, the writer points out the 'disconnect' between the ANC's view of itself and its neoliberal policies, but still clings to the notion that access to wealth is something that's defined by race and not by greater structural inequalities which the present (majority black) government is not only perpetuating, but entrenching.

Not only am I bored with this kind of rhetoric, I'm ANGRY. Personally, I'm tired of doing the 'guilty white person dance', no matter what my own history, beliefs and present situation might be.

I want to see greater social and economic justice across the board, not only in SA, but all around the world - and I devote a lot of time to trying to make that happen. In return, I expect one thing: to be judged on the content of my character and not by the colour of my skin. Isn't that what trying to build a truly equal, non-racist democracy should be about?

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12 Oct

White Females Should Vacate Privilege Positions Asap

"I use the term whiteness to refer to the system that allows whites to occupy most of the top positions in South African institutions, i.e., universities and private companies."

I could not agree more that something very serious is amiss.

Especially white females such as Prof. Samantha Vice and Dr. Sally Matthews et al that are diligently promoting so-called

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Lee Cahill
12 Oct

Dispelling Some Myths

With regard to my comment above, may I be so bold as to post a link to a feature by economist, Mike Schusler, which was published on Moneyweb today? It's entitled 'SA

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Lee Cahill
12 Oct

The Emperor Has No Clothes

@TheDrake "According to Samantha Vice et al you are, due to your whiteness and the undue advances or privileges associated with whiteness, in no position to insist on anything."

Yup, sadly, that seems to be the gist of it. All of which means - and let's put it plainly - that we've simply exchanged one form of domination for another; one form of authoritarianism for another. Perhaps it's time we opened our eyes and acknowledged that the emperor we calll democracy has no clothes ...

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12 Oct


@ Lee Cahill.

Thank you for the link.

I respect your views and that of Mike Sch

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Michael Music
13 Oct

Equal, In Fact, So Let Us Realize This

I am white. Except for some small trace of asiatic around my eyes, most would not know that I am descended from Cherokee American Indian Tribe. I am 54.

When growing up, I soon realized that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the most logical, true, the most intelligent man on the planet. His speeches, full of logical arguments, and plain examples, I hope, became the backbone of my logical structure. In observing cases of wrong thinking, most popular in mass media, I realized that the entire model that society was supposed to buy, was a model of "domination". True Democracy was actually NOT encouraged. We were taught to follow a "Leader" who was to be "above" us, in one way or another. In truth, even though my I.Q. was "tested" up to as high as 170, I have found that I learn from everyone, from each one, if only I respect them, if only I listen and observe.

When the Taliban in Afghanistan declared that there will now be no more female doctors, they suddenly had a health emergency: half their doctors could now not work. So they backed off slightly, and said that women could treat women. Still stupid, but more effective rule. They had gone to less than half effective, overnight, by stupid decree.

Same thing happens when we choose the "leadership" model: less input to solve any and every problem. Now you talk about the lack of housing. Apply my view here. Real estate exists to be sold, because some King or his man says "I claim this land in the name of the King!" Now it can be divided and sold. If instead we said "The people of this entire land claim this land for themselves" then the people can divide it among themselves as they mutually agree. Check your history, how was the land originally "patented"? If it was first declared by some King to be real estate, nullify that, get the people together, and declare your land to belong to all of you, not derived from some colonialist nor native king.

Peace to you.

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Michael Music
13 Oct

Electrification, Worldwide

Buckminster Fuller (scientist, inventor, worldian) said in his book "Critical Path"--1969-- that the world must construct a world wide high voltage electrical grid. First, across the Bering Straight, across Eurasia, then down Africa, down South America. I want to pay Africa to put up solar cells, so I can party all night.

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14 Oct

Cut Off Date

Stop generalising about Whites.... there are many that voted against Apartheid and have been sidelined throughout history....
I find your article very racist.... There is no point in going backwards but to move forward keeping the good intact... if we dont, we will end up like Zimbabwe....

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Red regards
31 Oct

Whiteness? Capitalism? No Black Elites?

Majavu is quite right that for most Africans - as well as most Coloureds and Indians - the national liberation struggle was left incomplete. He is also quite correct to stress that race remains an essential feature of SA inequality, and to lambaste the ANC for its active role in creating inequality and assaulting the broad working class.

However, I think elements of his analysis of what this implies - and what caused this - is less convincing.

The author (like most people who throw around terms like "whiteness") conflates two meanings of whiteness: whiteness as white race with a certain appearance, descent, history etc, and whiteness as white privilege. (Unless there is this conflation, it is impossible to make the argument that ALL whites are privileged relative to ALL blacks).

Now, you can be white without white privilege in SA today. There are whites who are so desperately poor that they qualify for the very free RDP housing that Majavu fears will be removed. The recent allocations in Kagiso evidence this.

You can be white without wanting making claims FOR white privilege. The phenomena of "whiteness studies" in universities is pretty much precisely that - it is a predominantly white movement.

But I don't want to dwell on this essentially liberal movement, but point out the whites like Bunting, Slovo, Turner, Aggett who gave their lives to fight against racial supremacy.

Third, you can have enormous privileges without being white. Sexwale, so decried in this paper, is immensely wealthy - indeed, far wealthier than 99% of whites in South Africa. What "privilege" do these whites have relative to the billionnaire Sexwale?

To speak of SA as based on white privileges, in which all whites share, to the detriment of all blacks, cannot account for this - however, a simple idea - class - can do so with ease.

The privileges that many whites have due to the apartheid history - which is NOT to say all whites have privileges - are mediated by class, gender etc. Likewise, the position of many blacks is also mediated by class, gender etc

Majvau writes as if the "top positions in South African institutions" are equal to the "top position" in "universities and private companies." This is linked to his assertion that "Economically, the post-apartheid government is powerless. And, in reality, big capital rules."

The problem with this line of narrow thinking about power and "top institutions" is that the state machinery is entirely ignored as a source of power - and, indeed, of black (elite) privileges given that the state is essentially captured by an African elite, which wields vast economic, military and bureaucratic power.

We have no sense at all from Majavu's piece that
a) the state accounts for 40% of SA GDP
b) is the largest single employer
c) owns almost all the universities (which are therefore under de facto and de jure African - elite - control)
d) is heavily involved with the private sector through PPPs
e) wields an army, police and bureaucracy
f) key politicians are also major capitalists
g) through law can bring in the very measures like AA and BEE that Majavu wants retained

Now, if measures like BEE, AA and housing policy had no effect on blacks, then there is no need to worry about cut-off dates for BEE, AA etc. But Majavu does worry - admitting in this way that they have an impact precsiely because they are backed by state power.

And who wields that state power? If, as Majavu claims, the DA is "the white party" that "exists to preserve white privilege," the fact must be faced that no "white party" has any possibility of state power.

Given Majavu's interest in Albert's "participatory economics" theory (influenced by anarchism) it is remarkable that the analysis here ignores the independent power of the state - and therefore, the Black elite that dominates almost all "top positions" in this most crucial of "South African institutions". This bureaucratic/ managerial elite is (for Albert) a "coordinator class" that can dethrone capital - only though to create a new elite.

This black elite has remarkable amounts of power - certainly it is not an instrument of white privilege or runs by whites - but if so, then we can't operate through a simple analysis that views ALL blacks as oppressed and ALL whites as privileged....

Who rules South Africa? A black state elite allied to a white corporate elite. Who benefits? A black middle class and a white middle class. Who loses? First and foremost the African, Coloured and Indian working class. Second, a significant part of the white working class.

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