A major crusader failing is they seldom look back to their last crusade to see how it turned out. During my several South Africa visits, up to three months on one occasion, during its apartheid era, I lectured at nearly all of its universities. I had the opportunity to meet formally and informally with just about every group: blacks, coloureds, Indians, English and Afrikaner. On the eve of one visit, I was invited to address a mixed audience of about a thousand or so people to discuss my impressions of South Africa. I frankly told them that South Africans deserved one another. Nobody was interested in liberty. Afrikaner whites thought they were ordained to control the lives of others. British white liberals thought the same thing but in a more benevolent way. For their part, blacks just wanted to change the color of the dictator.
Some thought my prognostication a bit harsh but fast-forward to today and you'll hear a similar concern echoed from an unlikely quarter. South Africa's Nobel Laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu recently told the nation's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, referring the African National Congress' (ANC) human rights violations, "I didn't struggle in order to remove one set of those who thought they were tin gods, to replace them with others who are tempted to think they are."
Under apartheid South Africa had the Population Registration Act that classified its citizens by race. Today, the ANC, South Africa's ruling party wants racial classification but they call it affirmative action. The ANC's vision of race, job qualifications and employment is, as one of its officials put it, "It is imperative to get rid of merit as the overriding principle in the employment of public servants." Pushing costly, inefficient employment policy is absurd in the face of South Africa's 30 percent unemployment rate. Another part of ANC policy is income redistribution "to compensate the victims of apartheid." That's another costly burden for a sagging economy that has seen per capita income decline significantly since 1989.
Even though South Africa is in the financial doldrums, it is nonetheless the continent's political and economic bright spot. Virtually every other African nation that broke the yokes of colonialism are poorer and its citizens enjoy fewer human rights than when they were colonies of European nations. According to World Bank reports, between 1965 and 1987 every black African nation, with exceptions of Botswana, Mauritius, Cameroon and Senegal, experienced negative growths rates approaching three percent per year. The countries that escaped that plight are the very countries that eschewed socialism, military dictatorships and gross human rights abuses.
If South Africa goes the way of her neighbors to the north, it will be nothing less than a catastrophe for the continent. The reason is that South Africa has been a major provider of electrical power, agricultural products, transportation and other essentials for her neighbors, and, even during the days of apartheid, an asylum for black political refuges from the north.
We've seen ethnic wars and genocide in Burundi/Rwanda, Uganda, Nigeria, Liberia, Chad, Sudan and elsewhere. The same is not impossible in South Africa, not between whites and blacks, but between two major black groups, the Zulus and Xhosa.
Loads of Americans, from civil rights organizations and college students to politicians, were involved in the anti-apartheid movement. One wonders how much they care about what happens in South Africa after apartheid. I've always argued that getting rid of apartheid wasn't nearly as important as deciding what was going to replace it. There are things worse than apartheid. If one needs current evidence, just look at Yugoslavia.
Walter E. Williams
April 16, 1999
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