McKaiser misses the point
Eusebius McKaiser asks a great question (Honest confrontation is needed): “What is it about our country that makes it a perfect place for Bell Pottinger’s race-baiting?” he asks. It’s a pity his answer doesn’t do justice to the question.
With “white monopoly capital” as the issue, McKaiser notes: “Bell Pottinger did not invent our racial mess. It worked out an unethical propaganda campaign that takes advantage of it.”
McKaiser proffers the persistence of racialised “structural injustices” as his answer to his own question. For him, it is the black face of poverty and unemployment, along with the whiteness of wealth, that make the no longer new South Africa “dangerously susceptible to propaganda and populism”. And yet, if poverty, unemployment and inequality were uniquely South African disfigurements, it would then indeed be appropriate to attribute these ills – as he does – to our failure to “deal with the racist legacies of colonialism and apartheid”.
The fact is that poverty, unemployment and inequality are worldwide features and, as such, are strongly suggestive of a common systemic causality, with different histories and traditions giving specificity to the national form in which the shared causality is manifested. But this is lost on McKaiser; he anachronistically still sees only colour, which used to be the specifically colonial and (more especially) apartheid form of South African society.
This is why he is unable to say anything about how these “structural injustices” could be changed. How, for instance, with 80% of the population being black African, can the working class (with its built-in low wages and high levels of unemployment) be anything other than black?
This is also why he says nothing about the structural changes that government has made by means of its absolute commitment to affirmative action, black economic empowerment and preferential procurement, and the many diverse forms these have taken since May 1994.
This is especially why he can’t acknowledge black privilege and can say nothing about the success of the government’s enforced policies that have created a large black middle class and a black elite – an elite whose wealth matches those of the white millionaires and billionaires.
These successes are both real and relative. They need to be measured in the context of systemic competitive struggles for power and privilege, in which dominance is never voluntarily and readily given away. This applies to all ruling classes everywhere, rather than being a feature unique to the white ruling class that lost its monopoly on political power in 1994.
McKaiser’s blindness extends beyond the reality of black wealth being the other side of black poverty, thus reflecting the systemic relationship between poverty and wealth worldwide, regardless of colour. He also fails to see that the rationale and legitimisation of what, in contemporary South Africa, is called “transformation” is dependent on painting poverty black and wealth white.
In the name of that transformation, we’ve created a still-capitalist post-apartheid South Africa in which “race” is, with some modifications, as important as it was under apartheid. Whether by accident or design – and probably with large dollops of both – the would-be black bourgeoisie and aspirant elite have had a vested interest in the perpetuation of apartheid’s racialisation of everything.
Hence the reproduction of the four apartheid-manufactured “races” in all official statistics, notwithstanding the repeal of the hated Population Registration Act and notwithstanding the non-apartheid definitions of the Employment Equity Act and related legislation.
Whether one is racially classified black, coloured, Indian or white (and all without legal definition) has importance for access to wealth, including education and work.
White wealth has also served as an essential sanction for corruption, with corruption being the most accessible way for would-be black capitalists to get the capital that apartheid denied them but that the new democracy now allows them. Moreover, faced with the failure of government policy to provide a better life for all, what could be a better blessing than the bogey of white wealth? White monopoly capital is neither a recent scapegoat nor a Bell Pottinger invention.
But we do owe Bell Pottinger our thanks. It has turned out to be more than a company that just sells lies for enormous profit, even though the spectre of white wealth long preceded its intervention. Bell Pottinger unintentionally caused us to reflect on our racism. The Democratic Alliance’s formal complaint against the company, lodged in Britain, resulted in a critical analysis and rejection of the term “white monopoly capital”. This has, in turn, made us much more aware of how a fertilised anti-white sentiment was being abused in our highly racialised – though constitutionally non-racial – country.
McKaiser asks a pertinent question by wanting to know more about the conditions we’ve created that are so ripe for Bell Pottinger’s mischief. It’s a pity his answer reproduces the very elements that give credibility to the notion of white monopoly capital. – Jef f Rudin
■ McKaiser correctly states that since 1994 insufficient progress has been made towards establishing an anti-racist society in South Africa.
But when this respected journalist analyses the effect of Bell Pottinger’s “white monopoly capital” propaganda, he falls into a similar trap that runs the risk of reinforcing divisions among us. By referring selectively to the role of “black South Africans” in the struggle against “the evil apartheid edifice”, he ignores the significant contribution made by white South Africans as well.
In so doing he perpetuates the same racist legacies of colonialism that we all urgently need to address, whether we are black or white. – Sherry McLean