The ANC has masterfully succeeded in elevating its own ideological premises, terminology and version of history to sacred cows that one questions at one’s peril. Should you become involved in a critical discussion, even in the most nuanced way possible, about the ANC’s policy of transformation or version of history, your arguments are ignored and you are simply denounced as a racist or advocate for colonialism or apartheid.
This tyranny of political correctness and intolerance against any viewpoint that differs from the ideological premises of the ruling order and political elite, is a serious threat to open and democratic debate.
The extent of this proven again by the hysterical reaction to Helen Zille’s now-infamous tweet over colonialism. The hefty reaction from the ANC and EFF ranks – as well as from the few remaining leftist Afrikaans commentators – was to be expected, since they are known for their intolerance against any point of view that deviates from their own and questions the ruling ideology.
What was less expected is that the sharpest response would come from the leadership of her own party, the DA. It is especially concerning, since it is an indication that the ANC has also now succeeded in even getting even their “opponents” to completely buy into their world view and aggressively defend it when it is questioned.
The DA leadership is apparently willing to sacrifice their own policy of an “open society” (that supposes a free flow of viewpoints and ideas) to the altar of short-term positioning and voter canvassing.
Contrary to what her critics try to argue, Zille never defended colonialism in her tweet. Her statement that the legacy of colonialism was not only negative clearly contains an acknowledgement of the negative consequences of colonialism. Her cardinal sin was that she dared to refer to the fact that technology and infrastructure development came into the country along with colonialism.
It is seemingly acceptable for the DA, ANC and EFF’s leadership that parliamentary sittings are held in buildings dating from the colonial era and that the executive authority functions from another colonial-era building – the Union Building – as long as it is not acknowledged that this infrastructure dates back to this time.
My view is that we must admit in a nuanced manner that infrastructure development took place during the colonial-era. This will of course result in me also being accused of trying to justify colonialism. Such an accusation would however have no credibility, given that as an Afrikaner I have more than enough reason to loathe British imperialism.
Afrikaners were not only been deprived of their political freedom, but more than 30 000 Afrikaner women and children also died in concentration camps during their battle against British imperialism. Afrikaners were some of Africa’s first freedom fighters. Indeed, their resistance to the British between 1899 and 1902 is often credited today with setting in motion the decline and later fall of the British Empire.
Despite my loathing of colonialism then it would be dishonest to pretend that no infrastructure development took place during this period.
The most concerning part of the critique of Zille is however that it is being driven by the narrative that white people are responsible for everything that went wrong and is still going wrong in the country. Should one admit that the pre-1994 brought about any form of development it would thus be an acknowledgement that white people did indeed, despite their errors, make a positive contribution to the building of what the country is today.
The DA leadership must thus be careful that they do not fall into the trap of criminalising white people and reducing them to second-class citizens. President Zuma has already falsely stated that all the country’s problems started with the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck (as if there was no violence between groups before Van Riebeeck’s arrival), while the EFF forwards the same narrative.
If the DA has now adopted this position they should openly admit this to their minority supporters.
To say that the contribution of racial minorities to the development of the country should be acknowledged is not to justify the negative effects of colonialism. Of course, minority groups in this country – as with almost all other groups in the world – have made serious mistakes in their past. I however refuse to let myself and the community of which I am part be subjected to the narrative that they are inherently evil.
However angrily some people may jump up and down over this, those who champion open discussion must not be afraid to argue that our history is not as simple as the dominant narrative seeks to portray. To for example indicate that the ANC’s alternative to apartheid during the Cold War was communism – a system that led to the death of some 100 million people around the world – or that there was infrastructure development during apartheid and colonialism, is in no way an attempt to deny or justify the violation of people’s dignity in these eras.
A more understandable point of view is that, even though Zille’s tweet was not factually incorrect, it was indeed thoughtless given the current political climate. The mere fact that there is truth to this statement, is an indication of how strongly anti-white sentiment already impairs open debate in the country. One may now not even say something that is factually indisputable, out of fear of being hounded by the guardians of the ruling order’s ideology.
Minorities – as well as all defenders of open debate – are therefore confronted by a new challenge to not let themselves be cowed or intimidated. It is now more important than ever before to ensure that alternative voices challenging the ruling ideology are heard. One comfort is that they will be taking their stance from the moral high ground, though they must be careful to not turn to the adopt the same sort of shallow and intolerant conversation style as their opponents.
My appeal to South Africa’s minorities is to take on the future with self-confidence, to promote mutual recognition and respect between communities and to not allow the anti-white racists and their political enablers to force them into silence.