Resource-ism, not racism, lies behind SA’s race talk

Last week Saturday I wrote a tweet that went along these lines of: "The same people who say 'why must everything be about race' are the same people who said nothing during apartheid." I continued the conversation on Sunday and asked why we still talk about race. Subsequently a few blogs were written by several people around the issue.

But I wanted to deal with the fact that what we refer to when we talk about race is usually inequality. The ownership of money, the economy and land is overwhelmingly white in South Africa. The majority of private land – more than 80% – and the most prestigious real estate are in white hands. A lot of the land was taken away from black people using forced removals and the 1913 Land Act, which gave 13% of the country's land to 67.3% of the population, giving the rest to white people. People want to feel that they are in control of their country. As Mark Twain put it, "Buy land, they've stopped making it." Yet it's hard to buy it when you don't &ndash and you seemingly never will – have the money to buy it.

According to Statistics South Africa, in 1995, the average white household was earning four times as much as the average black household. In 2000 the average white household was earning six times more than the average black household. Those people who like to say that the ANC is anti-white are surely mistaken. If anything, the ANC has been very good for white people because, if they made four times more than black people in 1995 and six times more than them in 2013, their income has grown. 

White people can't say the ANC won't let them make money.

You also can't blame white people for being resourceful and making money. But can we blame government for not making the effort to ensure that black people too are creating wealth and employment? The government's greatest flaw has been encouraging BEE while being outrageously silent on entrepreneurship, which is what will grow this country.

In top management positions of companies, 73.6% are held by white people, males mostly, while blacks make up 12.7%, Indians 6.8% and coloureds 4.6%. Yet again, this is about access and resources. White per capita income in 2008 was R75 297, coloured was R16 527, R51 457 for Asians and R9 790 for blacks. While a white person makes R100 a black person makes R13.

Adjusted to inflation levels to the year 2000, blacks still don't make as much money per capita as whites did in 1917. Whites made R13 069 per capita in 1917. In the year 2008, blacks were only making R9 790. These stats are courtesy of Trends in South African Income Distribution and Poverty since the Fall of Apartheid.

The issue is not about racism anymore, but that's how it comes across because resources are still divided along racial lines in South Africa. It is about resource-ism. Who has the easiest access to resources, who has the greatest means and who benefits the most from them? This is what is causing the greatest unease in South Africa. We talk about the past because the past has a direct correlation to resource-ism and access to those resources.

What we need to do as a country is embark on a very deliberate effort to ensure that we combat resource-ism. We can do that by ensuring that more people have opportunity and access. We have to learn from what the Broederbond began in 1918, which ensured that Afrikaners had a piece of the South African economy as it was then controlled by the English.

There was anger because Afrikaners believed they still held the position of second-class citizens in the country of their birth. In 1921, the Broederbond became a secret organisation – so secret that the all-male membership was not even allowed to talk to their wives about it. In fact, when new members were brought in, the following threat was said as part of the swearing-in ceremony: "He who betrays the Bond will be destroyed by the Bond. The Bond never forgets. Its vengeance is swift and sure."

It had members from all spheres of Afrikaner life including the church, politics, academia and more. There was no classism, there was a great deal of focus on education, and it was keenly interested in helping other poor Afrikaners to buy land and set up businesses.

South African need a movement whose sole aim is to ensure that all South Africans have a piece of the South African economic pie, including land. But this group of individuals has to ensure that it has members whose interest sits with the progress of the country and its people. The individuals who are part of this group should not be based on race but on whoever has the best implementable ideas. This group should to be outside government with the intention of influencing government policy. It should be politically agnostic because we cannot depend on politics alone to solve our problems.

The Broederbond was able to help build companies in South Africa that still stand today and are listed on the JSE. Apart from its sexist and racist ways, the Broederbond has a number of lessons that we can learn from, where private citizens stand up to make things happen.

The group's objectives would be to reduce poverty by creating industries that South Africans can own. Help them own land, push an education agenda, work on proposals that will propel South Africa into the top 10 economic powers of the world in the next 40 years. That would be its task.  This is how we would end resource-sim – by working together towards a common goal. It should not be about whites feeling that the government and blacks are taking from them, despite the fact that evidence suggests nothing of the sort. South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white. Now let's make everyone feel like they belong here by including them in the country's plans. We have failed to make the poor feel like they belong here. But it is not too late for us.


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