Sometimes now really is different from just the other day. Just the other day, the growth promise for SA in the year after Jacob Zuma was 2% or 3%; now we’re in a technical recession. Just the other day, President Cyril Ramaphosa said that Expropriation without Compensation (EWC) would boost the economy; now his stimulus package leaves that out. Just the other day, Julius Malema said that if his party of “Fighters” did not get their own way on land there would be “slaughter”; now Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma shoulders that kind of false leverage-ultimatum.
Just the other day, the EWC Act would have been passed in September, now we wait. And while we wait social justice reservists rise up to insist that, amid the change, one thing remains the same – we need EWC for justice’s sake. I refer to Saul Musker’s exemplary argument made last week in Daily Maverick, where he speaks as one of the white “automatically advantaged” who demand EWC.
Musker was rolling on from his attack on AfriForum before that, which I had checked, in brief, like this: Musker averred that AfriForum’s presentation was made in ignorance of the injustices of the 1913 Land Act, a set-up for later calling Ernst Roets’ speech “apartheid denialism”. Using a quote, I showed that Musker was wrong about Roets’ speech, which exclicitly condemned the Act. Then Musker replied that the general tone of AfriForum’s submission was so “provocative, so arrogant and hostile that one could hardly remember” what was actually said. Well, I think one’s self-justification is quite telling.
In another instance, I demanded that individual white land thieves should be discovered, named and shamed immediately. Musker replied that I wrote this “sarcastically”. Musker is big on tone, concluding his second attack on Roets and myself thus: “The point is tone matters.” Sure, the pity is Musker is tone deaf. The IRR pays me to drive around the countryside and one of the things I look for are cases of land theft. If Musker knows private white (or any colour) land thieves he should reach out to me with his tip-off immediately. The call goes out to everyone. Not a joke. Try me.
Musker’s most breathtaking move was, having admitted his own selective memory on the matter, to ramify his allegation of historical inaccuracy in AfriForum’s submission to the level of full-on apartheid and holocaust denialism. That is about as heavy as you can get, but Musker didn’t have the space to quote, analyse, detail and refute Roets’ particular historical inaccuracies in his comeback. Musker needed to make room to report on more important things like talking up his own privilege and reporting what unnamed randoms said about Musker on Twitter. (A lesson in tone: that last bit was sarcasm.)
Ag, it’s the lowest form of wit and where does this all get us? Not far beyond two egos competing for kudos, I think. But then I look for tomorrow and think again. An MP in Parliament called to halt debate and go down a path to civil war. Musker still defends that in the name of white privilege, saying the MP acted “maturely’ and “to expect black South Africans” to do any different is “to ignore their humanity”. Egos aside, this is serious stuff. Musker not only believes black people should abandon civility, he believes “(t)here is only one way forward for young white South Africans like me. We must fight the resurgence of racism and white nationalism both at home and abroad”.
In light of this stay-in-your-lane social identity dogma, endless descriptions of Roets’ tone as “hysterical”, grounded in white “paranoia, fear and fragility”, are necessary and proper to defend Filtane. Just imagine, without the likes of Musker to klap Roets, Filtane’s very humanity would be at stake. This view is not just pitifully narrow, it is dangerously popular among people who talk up their own white privilege.
Musker demonstrates how this race-based self-exaggeration goes wrong. By shadow-boxing white nationalism only rather than challenging the core ideology of race nationalism per se, he leaves himself with only one thing to do and not enough of it. To hit his word count he has to reinvent Roets’ speech and call it ‘apartheid denialism’, thus lining up a prominent South African in faux-white nationalist stance to knock right down. He forgets the bit where Roets said that apartheid was an injustice that must be dealt with because, eina, of his feelings. Then, by tackling a figment of his own imagination, he gets to play-act the toughest nostalgic fantasy of my fellow woke white youth. Anachronistically he gets to be the white hero in a white nationalist state who defended the armed struggle for freedom. At the very least, he gets the bravura feeling of it all – and don’t forget that, to Musker and company, the point is feelings and tone matter.
Back in reality this is not a courageous position. It is extremely unlikely that Musker will ever be held back by his attempt to defend a call for civil war. And his courage drops as soon as that equation changes. His view logically entails (he mistakenly said “suggests”) that all white people should be taxed or fined for being white. In his comeback he reaffirmed his commitment to this logic. He claimed that a person should be deprived of his livelihood and home just in case he “benefited from it inappropriately”. Now “it” could mean land or apartheid more generally, so could it be that Musker only thinks farmers deserve EWC? No. Musker went on to entail all whites, since all white people continue to enjoy automatic advantages on his view, which is obviously unjust.
So by Musker’s own twin criteria – to benefit inappropriately is to deserve EWC, and to be white is to benefit inappropriately – the state should enact EWC on all white people. This can be done through white-fines or white-taxes on low-wealth income earners and for the rest straight property EWC.
To Musker, something about all-white EWC just doesn’t feel right. When other people get this feeling it is white ‘paranoia, fear and fragility’, but when Musker gets it, it wafts along with the aroma of selflessness. He says all-white EWC would be “divisive and counterproductive”. Precisely the problem with EWC on land is that it is divisive and counterproductive, too, according to the IRR among many others. So if Musker wants to maintain the distinction between farmer EWC and all-white EWC on a factual basis he better explain how the former is going to grow the economy, boost the rand, raise food production and strengthen the financial sector upon which our social safety net depends. He also better explain how the personal interest stories that emerge from EWC evoke a nice feeling of unity. And finally he should remember that demanding an end to debate and embarking on the road to civil war, as well as defending such a demand, are divisive and counterproductive, too.
And just for a second he should consider how divisive and counterproductive it is to believe he has ‘automatic advantages’ over all black people. For example, it might lead him to suppose that when Roets complains he is merely pretending to be ‘fragile’, while Filtane is so fragile that Roets’ speech almost extinguished his humanity. It might lead Musker to such condescension – and it did, twice.
Musker and I certainly engage fellow citizens who happen to be black differently. I suspect we engage the broader statistics differently, too. When I read the headline ‘Race is no longer a proxy for dis/advantage‘ under the name of my esteemed colleague John Kane-Berman, I think that’s good and energising news, if it’s true. Musker might welcome the news, too, but he would have to admit he has an incentive to want it not to be true. Without his own automatic white privilege to publicly whittle away, Musker would lose what he himself described as his fundamental purpose, the ‘one way forward’ for him and the white subsection of our generation.
For most South Africans, the basis of power has patently changed and keeps changing. While the tone of the land debate has cooled, the EFF has eaten Ramaphosa’s lunch in the process. There is an election around the corner, the ANC’s efforts to outflank the EFF on the topic of punishing arbitrary individuals for the original sin of whiteness might redouble. Whether or not it is the most likely one, there is a plausible scenario in which all South Africans’ wealth will be generically secured by the whim of the state rather than the rule of law. The unofficial slogan will be white is wrong and might is right. Black or white, people who chant that slogan loudest will be able to succour the state for their own benefit. In such a South Africa, most South Africans will suffer and justice will not be done.
To resist this does not feel great. It means endlessly explaining that opposition to EWC does not entail opposition to effective land reform, but the very opposite. It means engaging with people whose primary concern is to strike the purest “tone” of sympathy for “black pain” without any regard for condescension or consequence. And it means knowing that half our fellow citizens who live on state-owned land might well stay that way for another generation partly because it suits a few of the most advantaged citizens, black and white, to pick on marginalised farmers better than grabbing the behemoth-state by its horns.
Here’s what would feel worse: giving up. DM
Gabriel Crouse is an Associate at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), a liberal think tank that promotes political and economic freedom