Opinionista Ghaleb Cachalia 24 August 2018

Race and Reason in South Africa

This is the vision I have for South Africa. It is an inclusive one. It also needs us to focus on fixing the engine that will drive economic growth. And when we achieve the requisite growth that pulls the majority of our people out of poverty and that delivers prosperity, we can address the various options at our disposal.

That race is a proxy for disadvantage is trotted out by many, time and time again. It’s a mantra that has become invested with qualities that appear to give it unassailable meaning and status.

But it needs to be confronted, precisely because the proponents of the mantra need to understand that disadvantage can be measured. Its prevalence is rooted in circumstance, and that circumstance needs to be evaluated to ascertain the level of redress required to allow the hitherto disadvantaged to access opportunity that allows scope for betterment.

No proxy is needed. Indeed, proponents of proxy on opposing ends of the political spectrum tend to say the same thing. Take, for example, defenders of racially defined affirmative action and the the defenders of racial profiling. One crowd denounces racial profiling and the other denounces affirmative action. And yet affirmative action and racial profiling are essentially the same. Both use race as a proxy; one, to identify beneficiaries for advancement, and the other, to identify who should be arrested.

No one would argue against compensating victims of specific and proven acts of racial discrimination. What many object to is the generalisation that stems from a person’s race. It’s when race becomes the decisive factor for benefit or discrimination that it becomes a problem. Indeed, as it was under apartheid.

And that problem is particularly acute in a racially riven society such as ours in South Africa. Unfortunately, the populist tendency to mouth the mantra and beat the drum of dispossession on racial grounds is prevalent. It has currency in the hard done-by breasts of victims, and in the aspirational reach of entitlement. It finds resonance across the board, from the EFF, though the ANC, through elements in the DA. It even touches the guilt of some on both the religious and the far-right champions of minorities.

This doesn’t make it right. It also flies in the face of the reconciliation project which aims to effect redress across the board so as to enable disadvantaged people within our newly found freedom, to gain access to opportunities in a manner that is fair.

This is the liberal mantra, and as mantras go, it is infinitely better than the race proxy mantra. It seeks to build a society that frees itself from the inequities of race, and resolves to build prosperity for the potential benefit of all who subscribe to the values of merit, work, risk, and reward. The other side of the coin is of course, compassion. Compassion, that provides a net for the indigent, and those who have fallen on hard times. Compassion, that allows people to have the space and wherewithal to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and start all over again.

This is the vision I have for South Africa. It is an inclusive one. It also needs us to focus on fixing the engine that will drive economic growth. I know of no better engine than capitalism to do this. And when we achieve the requisite growth that pulls the majority of our people out of poverty and that delivers prosperity, we can address the various options at our disposal, be they Scandinavian, Antipodean , European, Eastern or other. DM

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