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Opinionista

Please, Helen Zille, stop the ‘worse-than-apartheid’ cadre-deployment dog-whistle tactic

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Matthew Blackman is a journalist and co-author of Rogues’ Gallery: An Irreverent History of Corruption in SA, and Spoilt Ballots: The Elections that Shaped SA. He has a PhD from the University of East Anglia.

Are Helen Zille’s comparisons of the ANC to apartheid’s ‘cadre deployment’ valid? Or is she simply comparing apples with oranges? More importantly, did the apartheid government actually do what she claims? And why does she seemingly ignore more obvious and less offensive comparisons? Are her comments an honest appraisal or a right-wing dog whistle?

One is always told one should never, never, never, compare anybody to Hitler. He is beyond the pale, too evil and too often the person most people latch on to while trying to prove some badly constructed analogy. To a large extent, this is of course true. And if Helen Zille would only take this advice about comparing things to apartheid and colonialism, the DA might attract some more voters. You can at least put me in this camp.

Of course, there is some irony in the above, in that the apartheid government could well be compared to Hitler. Certainly Hendrik Verwoerd, Nico Diederichs, Piet Meyer, John Vorster and PW Botha were all great supporters of Hitler and his dreams in the 1930s and 1940s. The comparison can be made, surely? But what of Zille’s recent comparison of the ANC to the National Party? Her exact words were: “The old NP ‘cadre deployment’ usually managed to build strong state-owned entities, a capable state, and led to significant industrialisation and economic growth. Quite the opposite under the ANC.”

Offensive though it might be, I am told by many people around me that Zille is making a perfectly valid comparison. To me when I first read it, it smacked of the Italian right-wingers who long for the reincarnation of Il Duce. “Mussolini,” the saying goes, “got the trains in Italy to run on time.” This is easily comparable to saying that apartheid “led to significant industrialisation and economic growth”, is it not? The Mussolini quote is, I was told by an old Italian, wholly untrue and has been variously debunked. Interestingly, it was also a comment regularly made in the US when Donald J Trump came to power.

Much like the Mussolini craving, Zille’s comment is not only morally and politically questionable, but factually incorrect. As the academic Jonathan Hyslop has shown, under apartheid the country and the government paid heavily for replacing bureaucrats in the 1940s, 50s and 60s with National Party supporters (ie cadre deployment).

The new officials placed in the senior positions of the civil service lacked the training and expertise of the people they had supplanted. This led to an all-too-familiar skills shortage, an issue that plagued the apartheid government. And when it packed the courts with its own judges, none of them brought the country justice or accountability. No government official was ever prosecuted during apartheid, while perfectly harmless intelligent men and women were thrown into jail for little to no reason, often without charge.

What is more, the quasi-fascist state that was apartheid was in fact deeply inefficient. It lost the fight in Angola, the economy tanked in the late 1970s, it lost control of the country in the 1980s and in fact was hopelessly outmanoeuvred by Cyril Ramaphosa during the negotiation process. As Jacob Dlamini has written about and shown, the competent apartheid bureaucrat is something of a myth.

It is true that for the first 30 years of apartheid rule the economy was booming. But the boom included many factors that had next to nothing to do with the government itself — it was riding an international economic wave. And the mines, where the money came from, were not under their control. The 80s and 90s tell another story. When the Nats jumped the sinking ship in 1994, the country had suffered three years of negative growth. This position was, however, turned around somewhat after they left. In fact, until 2008 the economy under the ANC was reacting well. There were of course signs, with the onset of load shedding and the continual issues with corruption, that many planks in our ship were rotten.

So, if a comparison is to be made it should be:

  1. When times were good, the ANC and the Nats did okay, despite being somewhat hamstrung by cadre deployment; and
  2. When times got tough they both did badly — the one jumped ship, the other stripped the ship of everything it had on it.

As one of the great South African historians, Cornelis de Kiewiet put it, South Africa has always “advanced politically by disasters and economically by windfalls”. And the simple truth is, we haven’t had an economic windfall in many a long age. This is certainly one of the main issues behind our current set of woes.

But getting back to comparisons, it is said comparisons should always in some manner trade on like-for-like, apples against apples and oranges against oranges. So, is comparing the National Party to the ANC really possible?

The apartheid government in 1966 admitted — in fact it boasted — that it had since 1948 spent only R4-million on housing for South Africa’s 16.3 million blacks, coloureds and Indians. At the same time, it had spent R216-million on housing for about 3.3 million whites.

The apartheid government provided services for a tiny proportion of our population. Add to this, the population providing all the hard labour in this service delivery were the very ones not benefiting from it. One might well be able to build things better when workers have no rights to citizenship, no rights to vote, no right to protest. The pharaohs did a pretty decent job in building those pyramids! Or more correctly, their slaves did the good job. But again, maybe this is not a “like-for-like” comparison. Apartheid and the land of the pharaohs were very different systems of government, although they did both live off the labour of the dispossessed. Perhaps a better comparison with apartheid is what happens in certain current Middle Eastern states.

Thankfully, apartheid no longer exists south of the Limpopo. And its systems and ways of working are simply not comparable to our current problems. The terrible and corrupt job done by the ANC is not operating under apartheid laws and apartheid ways of working. To compare the two is like comparing a bucket to a battleship.

The question is, why doesn’t Zille compare apples with apples? Why does she not compare us with countries with similar population sizes, similar democratic and economic systems, similar bills of rights, and with similar ethical racial concerns? France, Britain, Italy, Germany and South Korea (even the US) are all there ready for comparison.

And when we compare these to the way our country is run, then you really do see what an appallingly bad job the ANC is doing. Our education system is bordering on hopeless, we have no national health service, our police force is creaking at the seams, our National Prosecuting Authority is seemingly incapable of prosecuting anybody in authority, and tens of millions of people live in appalling conditions comparable only with the structures and facilities of the Middle Ages.

Sure, I hear those saying there are problems in the UK, France, the US and so on. But it would be a denial of the truth to claim the UK’s trains are like ours; that the French education system is similar to what we have; that US prosecutors are just like the NPA; and the constant flow of electricity into US, Asian and European homes is similar to our shoddy shedding. These are in many senses (but not all) incomparable. Even living in the slums of the US is quite different from living in a South African shanty town or on our cities’ pavements. The ANC’s attempt to better the lives of our people has been a complete disaster, a betrayal and in many ways amounts to the actions of the morally bankrupt. No one can, in all honesty, deny this.

So, with these comparisons readily available to Zille, why does she go back to the bad, flawed and morally repulsive comparison with apartheid? Well, the only thing that strikes me is that she is doing it to benefit her politics, which has now progressively (or regressively) become that of the white right.

She, for whatever curious psychopolitical reason, has given up on attracting black voters and has thrown, once and for all, her lot in with the progeny of apartheid — hence the comparisons. Her political soundbites are nothing more than a political dog whistle, calling all the racists back into the laager.

One assumes this can be the only reason why she likes, so regularly, to mention those Caucasian days when electricity managed, without fail, to reach 750,000 homes; when judges found in favour of their racist views rather than those of justice; when the apartheid government destroyed the economy; and when a state could murder the likes of Steve Biko with impunity.

Helen Zille, of all people, should know better. DM

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    • Ms Zille is the reason the DA is regarded as a ‘white’ party – which is not the actual case in my opinion – but she continues to disappoint erstwhile DA voters by her utterances. It is past time for her to remove herself from the political scene and retire graciously.
      I might reconsider my political allegiances then!!

  • Great article. Maybe Zille is trying to play the ANC at their own game – forever using Apartheid as their default fallback position when defending themselves against their gross betrayal of the South African public. To say that they are behaving exactly like the Nats is a barbed political point.

  • You cannot compare South Africa with UK, France, Germany etc. That is also an apples and oranges comparison. Firstly European vs African, white majority versus white minority, ex colonisers vs ex colony, hundreds of years of democracy vs 28 years of democracy. There is no other country like South Africa – but agreed pre and post 1994 comparisons just open old wounds – leave it out Helen!

  • Generally not a bad article, some comparisons cannot and should not be made, and I agree it’s wrong to do so. But your conclusion really is just a biased opinion and not supported by any facts or current DA policies: “Well, the only thing that strikes me is that she is doing it to benefit her politics, which has now progressively (or regressively) become that of the white right.”

    And as mentioned before, you definitely cannot compare Germany or France to SA either…
    Interesting question would be, whom can we be compared to?

    • A reply to your “interesting question” would be any country that is rebuiling after a tyrannical period of rule spanning many decades. In that period, the comparison must include the fact the masses have been disempowered and dehumanised for those decades and of course the fact that the economy was screwed by the oppresive government in question.
      With regard to the DA, there are ample examples of the current white leadership pining for apartheid once more.
      A great article, Matthew.

  • Dr Blackman’s essay is an emotional reaction to the comparison of a democratically elected but hopelessly inept and incompetent ANC to a morally repugnant but comparatively effective NP goverenment. Apartheid, Hitler, Mussolini, slave labour all calculated to cloud the issue.

    However, Blackman trumps his own ace, asking, “did the apartheid government actually do what she claims?” then stating ” the country and the government paid heavily for replacing bureaucrats in the 1940s, 50s and 60s with National Party supporters (ie cadre deployment)”. Surely, doctor, this validates her argument completely.

  • Matthew Blackman’s self righteousness has become a bit tiresome, as has his unrelenting attempts to suggest that SA has always been a corrupt place, starting with Jan van Riebeek, and that that the ANC today is just more of the same. Firstly this insistence that some things can just never be compared to must surely stop. The ever increasing list of no go zones must surely trouble the good doctor. Secondly, help us understand then what it is Zille et al all seem to miss. If you look at SA’s history, say since the start of the last century, there were periods of growth and expansion (harbours, roads, dams, buildings, power stations, etc) and periods not. And then also periods of active, clear regression (like during the SA War of 1899-1902), and during the past decade). What was happening during the growth periods? What can we learn from the approaches of past regimes as well as the current lot. Admitting that the ANC is rotten, and then saying ‘oh well the past government was too’ is just trite.

  • HHmmmm , Matthew. Turning the ” other party’s “comments back on themselves is a nice little barb to get the more superficially intellectual Africans Nationalising Corruption members to get worked up (much ado about nothing !!). The DA should, however, be using a more junior politician in their party to express these useful snippets for the “virginal saviours ” of our country. Maybe you have missed who the target audience actually is, or you are assuming that the real intellectuals ( and there are some seriously gifted ones) in the ANC really believe that the “apartheid” gibes are adding value to uniting RSA – naivete ??!!

  • Not sure what Zille said, have not seen her comments, but I can comment on the “cadre deployment” by the NP. I was a public servant during the NP’s reign and on the whole “Broederbonders” were preferred for top posts in the public service, though most of them were academically qualified.
    As a known supporter of the DA, in its different guises during the time of Van Zyl Slabbert and Helen Suzman and with a Doctorate in Transport Engineering, I was told by the then Chairman of the PSC that after serving 9 years as Deputy Director-General of Transport with a “promotable out of turn merit grading” that despite their recommendation I was turned down by the Cabinet for the DG post with the remark, “ons wil nie hierdie Engelsman he nie”. I was lucky however since the ANC got to hear about this and I was not ‘induced to retire ‘ when the new regime came into power.
    On the subject of the DA the current version disappoints me – when I compare it with the party, though with a different name, in the past. I think someone should tell Helen Zille that there is a well known saying “there is nothing as “ex” as an ex chairman” since I do not perceive a “practical South Africanism’ in its current makeup. Helen Suzman most definitely had this!

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