Learning from South Africa: the Root of the Problem

Learning from South Africa: the Root of the Problem. By Hannes Wessels.

As leader of a pariah nation, [Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith] repeatedly pointed out that liberal democracy was a sophisticated political process that could not be simply foisted upon a native people steeped in a totally different culture that accepted of a form of rule where the king, or chief was unelected, unaccountable and where there were no written laws.

He rejected the accusation that he was a ‘racist supremacist’ driven by a desire to protect ‘while privilege’ and tried to explain that all that was needed was time for Africans to be absorbed willingly into a system that they would support once it was better understood. His pleas for patience and understanding fell on resolutely deaf ears and the rest is history. …

[Helen Zille, former Democratic Alliance Leader and Western Cape Premier, recently] made precisely the same point in her defense of Jacob Zuma. He, and his leadership, she insists, had never understood, nor fully embraced the constitutional democracy they undertook to uphold. Zuma, in his mind and in the minds of many he governed, was a king in the Zulu tradition and all the spoils that accrue with the acquisition of power were his for the taking. The suggestion that he was ‘corrupt’ was an entirely European, ‘white supremacist’, colonialist view of his conduct. The transition from one form of governance to another had been too rapid leading to the rejection of the new in favour of the old.

Unfortunately, in the post-colonial world, the supposition has prevailed that Western democracy, with its proven success in Europe and North America is the best system that fits all polities, and it has been forbidden to suggest that any race or ethnic group might be, in any way challenged by adopting it.

This fundamental falsehood has scuppered any meaningful debate of the question and has proved a calamitous mistake in Africa, and it is proving thus in South Africa. There is no escaping the fact that the reaction to the forced introduction of European systems of governance on the continent has set the stage for more than 100 coups and entrenched a period of catastrophic misrule that may go down in history as the greatest man-made political disaster in history.

What cannot be ignored is tribal conflicts and rampant slavery predate the arrival of European settlers and the introduction of alien forms of governance has been done in the face of entrenched hostility that can be suppressed but not eliminated. As a result, South Africa, like most other African countries, is inherently unstable. It is the ultimate battleground for two utterly opposed systems of governance – democracy vs the absolute power of tyranny. …

Hint: It’s not poverty. Europe had well-functioning democracies over a century ago, while much poorer in absolute terms than South Africa is now.

While growing poverty lies at the root of the problem it does not tell all the story. Lawlessness breeds opportunism and not all the looters were thin and starving, many were well fed louts looting luxury goods; indeed, one eyewitness recognised an Old Boy of Kearsney College (the most expensive private school in SA) loading electronic equipment into the boot of his Mercedes Benz.

What is deeply troubling is the speed with which the violence spread and the obvious impotence of the law enforcement authorities in the face of angry mobs looking to liberate booze, food and televisions rather than Jacob Zuma.

Europe developed modern democracy and the classic liberal success stories. For the better part of a millennium, the average IQ in Europe rose (because rich people had more children who survived long enough to reproduce) and aggressiveness fell (because criminals were killed or locked away for most of their reproductive years). Then came the enlightenment, the technical revolution, modern democracies, etc.

This suggests that a sufficiently intelligent community is required for democracy and modernism.

Now that average IQ in the West has slipped significantly, maybe our democracies and modern way of life are under threat? Maybe we too will revert to older forms of societal organization. Sure been feeling like it recently.

hat-tip Stephen Neil