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We all need to work together, black and white, in building social cohesion and financial independence for all

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Dr Thozamile Botha is a member of the Stalwarts and Veterans Group of the ANC. He has a PhD in Sociology from the University of Johannesburg.

Black and white South Africans have to come to grips with the reality and meaning of democracy, economic freedom and financial independence. For whites who benefited from racial capitalism, some magnanimity towards the reduction of the race-based inequality deficit might go a long way towards stabilising society.

The Afrikaner Africa Initiative between Afrikaners and the Thabo Mbeki Foundation is aimed at exploring the areas of cooperation between black African communities and Afrikaners. It identified a number of projects including economic development zones, rescuing struggling municipalities, upgrading the Lovedale Press in Alice, Eastern Cape, and promoting cultural projects. 

This initiative has triggered mixed reactions from both Afrikaner and black African communities. Some Afrikaans speakers feel that such an important initiative should not be the monopoly of white Afrikaners alone when there are millions of Afrikaans coloured people. In short, while accepting the need to recognise ethnic differences, some feel the scope of this project should not be circumscribed by ethnic identity. The argument goes on to suggest that the only reason anybody can justify the exclusion of coloured people from such a dialogue is either race or narrow ethnic identity.

The objectives of the Afrikaner Africa Initiative (AAI) and the Thabo Mbeki Foundation Dialogue were sealed in Cape Town in February 2021, and the outcome was praised by Afrikaans newspapers, Die Burger and Beeld. The two newspapers praised the outcome of the dialogue as bringing a “fresh breeze of hope to SA… in difficult times”.

First, this initiative sought to find an acceptable strategy towards the realisation of Nelson Mandela’s dream of a rainbow nation. Second, it seeks to put into practice the provision of section 235 of the Constitution that “the right of South African people as a whole to self-determination, as manifested in this Constitution, does not preclude, within the framework of this right, the recognition of the notion of the right to self-determination of any community sharing a common cultural and language heritage, within a territorial entity in the Republic or in any other way determined by national legislation”.

To put this in context, there is no legislation passed by Parliament so far to regulate the implementation of this provision, albeit this has been invoked in the case of Orania.

One of the encouraging pronouncements that was reported from the signed document was the statement that Afrikaners want to work with other communities to use “all available skills regarding infrastructure” to help struggling municipalities. This was an important and progressive step as it combines social upliftment, economic development and nation building. 

This underscores the view that this initiative by Afrikaners is not an attempt to deny the effects of the historical racial and class discriminatory practices of the apartheid era. On the contrary, it is about mobilising our national resources towards building this country for future generations. Its objective is to teach South Africans to learn from one another to do things together by forming a “volksbelegging” (people’s investment) or a “letsema” (cooperation) to give meaning to the concept of broad-based black economic empowerment which promotes sustainable development.

The AAI is founded on the principles of social cohesion and economic inclusivity across the colour line. JP Landman explained to a journalist how the “Stellenbosch mafia” accumulated its wealth, which convinced him that social capital is an asset that contributes to wealth creation. For example, Solidarity and AfriForum have been able to raise R75-million from their working-class communities by levying R100 monthly contributions from more than 500,000 members. This programme has enabled Afrikaners to build a university, a technical college, and to buy a centre to promote their culture and language. It should be noted that culture is an integral part of community building.

The principle of social capital being integral to wealth creation can also be attested to by the example of the project driven by black women in Philippi, Cape Town. In this case, the Homeless Dwellers Organisation saved money and asked a church for a donation of land it owned in Philippi. They named the project after apartheid victim Victoria Mxenge. The initiative was aimed at building houses for their families on the land. The women then approached some of the big construction companies to train their members in home building and to assist with the supply of building materials.

Some of the companies took it a step further by offering to train the women in brick manufacturing and bricklaying, roofing, daga-mixing and roof installation. Consequently, the project helped build more than 200 houses with paved roads and stormwater drainage for its community, without the help of men. This gave them assets worth hundreds of thousands of rand for each household, including infrastructure which they did not have before.

This is a good example of a “Vuk’ Uzenzele” initiative without waiting for government help. It is also a good example of social mobilisation for wealth creation, to uplift the poor, especially in the human settlements sector. It gives people land, development skills and access to funding, more empowering than making them rely on social grants.

However, because of the rigidity of state policies, the City of Cape Town was unable to proclaim this as a township establishment. As a result, the inhabitants have no title deeds, meaning their assets have no economic value from the perspective of the banks. The houses that people built with their own skills have been standing for more than 20 years without any major defects, albeit with less economic value because there are no title deeds.

The Victoria Mxenge community project is now faced with a problem of decaying infrastructure which needs repairs and because the area is not proclaimed a township, the municipality has been refusing to provide certain services including the maintenance of the infrastructure.

The AAI’s intention, among other initiatives, is to partner in these kinds of projects whose aim is to build sustainable communities. With the internal professional skills it possesses, it would help communities across colour lines to work together to promote the Vuk’ Uzenele culture.

There is more than enough evidence to show the economy is primarily based on a neoliberal framework emanating from the pre-1994 economic structure.

The agreement entered into by the Mbeki Foundation and the Afrikaner Africa Initiative in Cape Town was a product of tough discussions, which were not driven by any particular partisan structure or party-political interests. Like the Victoria Mxenge project, this initiative entails the transfer of skills and the desire to share resources between the rich and the poor to encourage local community action groups to help themselves. The AAI has deliberately avoided party politics in order to avoid divisive language like Fanie Brink has introduced into this debate in reference to the Cape Town dialogue.

Those of us who were part of the dialogue were under no illusion that the Afrikaner community is a monolithic group of like-minded people. The Afrikaners themselves were the first to acknowledge that they have diverse views on a number of issues including the call for “cultural autonomy”. However, they are united in their call for the promotion of their culture, language, and the establishment of institutions that support this in order to sustain these values, including primary and tertiary education institutions for the development of their mother tongue. The parties to the agreement avoided being bogged down in ideological differences which Brink is attempting to introduce to the discussion.

In contrast to the positive spirit expressed by the editorials of the two Afrikaans newspapers above, economist Fanie Brink believes that the only process by which the economy can be saved and the country rebuilt is through abolishing the “ANC government’s socialist ideology imposed by the doctrine of communism in the economy and the country, such as total intervention and regulation”; stopping the redistribution of all the assets and wealth of the country; drastically reducing the role of government in the economy to the creation of a political and economic environment conducive to the creation of economic growth by the private sector; stopping corruption; returning to a capitalist economic system as the only system that can create economic growth; and allowing prices to fulfil their vital function in the economy; guarantee and protect property rights.

The editorial of Die Burger and Beeld (6 March 2021) is correct in saying that in “South Africa with its history of conflict and the consequent mistrust, the ongoing dialogue will have to be a way of life”. It should be noted that nation building is not an antithesis of ethnic identity, nor does it prevent individual political or ideological affiliation. Instead, it is based on the principle of freedom of expression and respect for one another’s different views and cultures. These initiatives should be understood in the context of unity in diversity or of building a rainbow nation. It is regrettable that people like Brink have adopted a myopic approach to economic development which is still based on the “swart gevaar” of the apartheid era. This attitude can only help to create racial mistrust and delay social cohesion.

The ideological argument that Brink introduced to the discourse of community building is irrelevant to the issue of finding a common ground upon which the communities can be empowered. There is more than enough evidence to show the economy is primarily based on a neoliberal framework emanating from the pre-1994 economic structure.

The post-apartheid state has taken many steps towards mitigating the poverty gap between the rich and the poor, albeit constrained by the economic structure it inherited from racial capitalism. While the state’s interventions in the economy may be criticised from both the left, as lacking commitment to radical economic transformation, and from the right for pursuing communist ideology, it cannot be denied that it has made significant interventions on behalf of the poor over the past 27 years. It is sad that Brink, instead of making a positive contribution to the debate, seeks to pour cold water on it.

The major flaw in Brink’s argument is the refusal to recognise the damage the policy of racial capitalism inflicted on the economic structure which the current government inherited which resulted in historical inequalities.

The fact that blacks have been denied access to urban land and property rights for centuries is a matter that Afrikaners cannot afford to turn a blind eye to if they really want stability in the country.

For the whites who benefited from racial capitalism, some magnanimity towards the reduction of the race-based inequality deficit might go a long way towards stabilising society.

Instead of condemning the government for trying to address this problem, Brink and those who think like him should be asking for a meeting with the government and come with proposals on how best the land question, urban land in particular, can be resolved. Attacking the state will not drive the inequality issue away. The strategy of calling anything that seeks to promote and improve the quality of life of black people a “communist” agenda is sterile and smacks of the apartheid era’s failed attempts to discredit organisations opposed to the apartheid system.

It should further be noted that social reforms are essential, but not sufficient to correct the wealth inequality gap. Precisely because apartheid was based on racial capitalism, it is unrealistic to expect the effects of those policies to be remedied without political intervention.

The lifting of the racial barriers in the education system post-1994 was essential, but not sufficient for creating conditions of equality between the racial groups. For example, if a black student and a white student went to the same school or university, both graduated with engineering degrees, and got employed in equivalent positions earning the same salary, their potential wealth may not be the same as they belong to separate social economic hierarchies.

The black person who comes from a poor background, brought up by a single mother who inherited no assets, is not on par with a white colleague from a wealthy family. The black youth may have had to borrow money to complete their studies before being able to buy a house; they may have to settle the debt first, while their white colleague uses their income to ramp up their wealth.

Therefore, while the use of income as a form of social upliftment is essential, it is not sufficient to redress the wealth deficit created by racial capitalism. Brink misses this point.

By the time the black child enters the property market, the white child is getting ready to upgrade to the next level of the economic hierarchy. The black youth is only able to buy an entry-level house or to build a backyard cottage on their parents’ property. However, if the black youth can access a state housing subsidy and a piece of residential land with bulk infrastructure, they may be on the road to creating an asset. Without access to funding, it is almost impossible for the black youth to start investing in property.

Black and white South Africans have to come to grips with the reality and the real meaning of democracy, economic freedom and financial independence. Freedom and democracy mean hard work and sacrifice. Creating wealth comes with hard work, discipline and a good work ethic which entail sacrificing sleep, embarking on preparation and planning and dirtying one’s hands. Black people have to adopt the culture of self-reliance and not find excuses for nonperformance.

For the whites who benefited from racial capitalism, some magnanimity towards the reduction of the race-based inequality deficit might go a long way towards stabilising society. The newly announced rapid land release programme in the human settlements sector can potentially empower communities, provided they are willing to work together, are prepared to learn and develop a good work ethic. Similarly, without clear policy guidelines from the state on the implementation of the programme, this good idea will fall flat.

The home-building-industry value chain is one of the means towards achieving this goal, provided the state funding institutions are also on board. These institutions should think out of the box and encourage initiatives like the Victoria Mxenge project in Philippi, Cape Town, to encourage the youth to create the necessary business vehicles and incubate them.

This can be facilitated by community-based organisations which have the necessary skills and experience in the field, organisations such as Solidarity through the AAI project. Similarly, civil society institutions can also be empowered to take part in these community-empowerment initiatives with complete disregard for race barriers. DM

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  • Whilst there is a great deal of understanding about a desire to reverse the effects of loss of opportunity caused by apartheid it is both impractical and destructive. BEE and all other race based interventions are the single biggest cause for our loss of competitiveness in the world economy and the consequent loss of jobs. We have lost massive amounts of human capital, not just white, whilst politicians and academics create artificial barriers to human initiative, risk taking and wealth creation.
    Do not forget that white people came with a massive advantage of centuries of innovation, education and productive capacity to improve the quality of their lives and that this alone was sufficient for them to enjoy a better quality of life than indigenous populations. Focus on encouraging an economy based on the only proven way of improving the quality of life for the poor. Equality is a ridiculous objective, people in the same families are not born with the same IQ or character, both of which affect their ability to operate.
    Let us join hands to support our entrepreneurs of all colours and provide real hope for the poor in a growing economy.

  • When a person in this powerful position over simplifies the truth, ignores the destructiveness of BEE and ignores the fact that corruption has cost every single South African family the opportunity to have a roof over their heads, then it becomes clear to me why we are in the position we are in.
    This idea of reducing everyone to the lowest common denominator, instead of uplifting everyone in need, one step at a time, is our destruction.
    It is about three things only:
    Government to supply housing, transport, education, health and safety.
    Government to supply the private sector with the tools to promote jobs.
    Government to step away from everything else.
    I have never seen a person not fed or clothed in my church. I have seen people starving under my government.
    Colour has nothing to do with any argument, I will bring you tons of entrepreneurs who have made it from the “wrong side” without using BEE or their colour as an excuse to become beyond successful. I have seen wealthy apartheid families on the streets even though they came from “white privilege”. These are my opinions despite every bit of political drivel I have read above which I see as only making excuses for inadequate governments (sic)
    Start by giving EVERY South African land/housing (stop using race as an excuse not to give some South Africans land).
    Anyone who uses colour in a debate/argument/statement does not have a debate/argument/statement. It is like they couldn’t see the forest for the trees