Speech by Ernst Roets, Deputy CEO of AfriForum on 26 August 2016
at the Racism Dialogue, facilitated by the South African Human Rights Commission, in the Equitas Auditorium, University of the Free State.
The privilege of speaking last
The fact that I am the last speaker today has in fact afforded me a “privilege” in the sense that it gave me the opportunity to revise the speech that I have prepared, to respond to some of the statements that have been made by the other speakers. I am particularly concerned about the remarks made by the representative of SASCO, who spoke before me. We’ve heard figures being thrown around today that have been made up by politicians, but that have been disproven by researchers. One example is the allegation that somehow white people own 80% of the land in South Africa. That is simply not true. It is not supported by any research. It was made up by politicians operating within the camp of the ruling party, and it has been disproven by various academics. There is also much frustration about the supposed severe levels of white supremacy at this university. Yet, we are having this discussion on the campus of a university with a black vice-rector and a black rector and a black chancellor, in a municipal ward that has a black councillor, in a city with a black mayor in a province with a black premier, in a country with a black deputy-president and a black president. Despite this, we are somehow discussing how white people control everything.
(Disruption from the audience)
What we have heard today are statements that are filled with political rhetoric and that aren’t based on any evidence. So I am going to try to use as little political rhetoric as possible and base my arguments on as many proven facts and research as possible.
The biggest enemy of history and of truth
The author of The End of Racism, Dinesh D’Souza said that the topic of race, more than any other, creates taboos, and taboos are the enemy of history and of truth. Unfortunately, when we talk about race in South Africa, there are a lot of taboos – things that you simply cannot say, because if you say these things you might be misinterpreted and you might be labelled a racist. So I am going to make certain statements, knowing that I might be misinterpreted and consequentially also be labelled a racist. But I’m hoping that if that is the case and if I am accused of such things, that I will be able to respond and contextualise what I am about to say.
Criminalising racism and hate speech
I have written an article on the issue of criminalising racism and hate speech, entitled “Fifteen reasons why the ANC’s ‘racism’ bill is a bad idea”. I am not going to repeat all these reasons today, but allow me to briefly add five reasons to those that have already been mentioned in the introductory remarks to this discussion:
1. Racism is a social issue. Across the globe, it has always been a bad idea for governments to become involved in legislation aimed at the regulation of social issues. That is a symptom of totalitarianism, or rather a sign that we are treading down the path towards totalitarianism.
2. There is already a lot of legislation in place that deals with racism. The constitution states that the right to freedom of speech does not include hate speech and the rights to equality and human dignity are enshrined in sections 9 and 10. The Promotion of Equality and the Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act (PEPUDA) deals with hate speech and discrimination and points out that the incitement of any crime is already a crime in itself. Therefore, if I were to incite the commitment of a certain crime – such as assault, rape or murder – against a particular race, we would not need new legislation to deal with that, as that action in itself is already a crime.
3. We have seen – and we have once again heard it from the SASCO representative who spoke before me – that the ANC is an active role player in the debate on racism, and I might add that there is nothing wrong with the ANC being an active role player. However, in South Africa, the ruling party finds it very hard to differentiate between party and state. We have had meetings with the ANC, for example, only to find ourselves talking with government employees; and we have had meetings with government, only to find ourselves talking with ANC members who do not work for government. So if this proposed racism law is implemented, the ANC will effectively become simultaneously an active role player and a referee in the battle against racism.
4. Many individual examples of white racism have been thrown around today. Yet, I can make a list, and keep you busy for quite some time with individual examples of gross forms of racism towards white people by, amongst others, many people in the ruling party, including members of parliament and cabinet ministers. So call me sceptical or pessimistic, but I doubt that if we were to criminalise racism, as is proposed, that someone such as Lulu Xingwana, Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities, would be prosecuted for her statement on international television that the problem with white men is that they have a religion which preaches that women are their property and that their wives can be murdered at will. I am quite sure that legislation such as this will not be implemented consistently.
5. Apartheid was declared to be a crime against humanity in 1973. One of the main arguments put forward by the ANC to have apartheid declared a crime against humanity, was the Suppression of Communism Act of 1950, which declared the promotion of communism to be a punishable offence. The argument was that a law that leads to the prosecution of people if their political beliefs differ from those of the ruling elite, amounts to a crime against humanity. According to the ANC’s chief whip in parliament, this new legislation will lead to the prosecution of people who romanticise or idealise apartheid. I agree that apartheid should not be romanticised, for obvious reasons, but the moment we begin to argue that people should be prosecuted for their political beliefs, we are on a very dangerous slippery slope. We cannot simultaneously argue that apartheid was a crime against humanity because of the Suppression of Communism Act and also that in the new South Africa, people should be prosecuted for romanticising apartheid. We have to choose: We can say that apartheid is a crime against humanity and that this law is a bad idea, or we can say that apartheid was not a crime against humanity and that this law is in fact a good idea.
Democracy vs majoritarianism
In the discussions today, we’ve heard a lot of buzzwords and words that can have different interpretations, such as democracy, racism and whiteness. It is important to pay attention to the different definitions that people attribute to the word democracy. It is generally accepted that the difference between democracy and majoritarianism lies in the rule of law and the protection of minority rights. In a democracy, minorities should indeed not govern the country, but that they should still be included, respected and their rights must also be protected. If the protection of minority rights makes you uncomfortable, then you should seriously ask yourself whether you do in fact subscribe to the notion of democracy.
Racism is not our biggest problem
I know that what I am about to say might sound paradoxical, but I’m going to say it in any case. Firstly, racism is indeed a big problem. But racism is not South Africa’s biggest problem. It isn’t even one of South Africa’s biggest problems. Rather, it is a symptom of South Africa’s biggest problems. This is not simply my opinion, but the opinion of the vast majority of people living in South Africa. In a recent study, commissioned by the South African Institute for Race Relations, people were asked what they regarded as South Africa’s biggest unresolved problem. Only 4,7% indicated that it was racism and xenophobia. Other problems, such as unemployment and crime, were regarded as South Africa’s biggest problems. And at AfriForum, we are of the opinion that racism is a symptom of these problems. So, if we wish to address the problem of racism, which is the topic of today’s discussion, we would need to address the problems of unemployment – and by implication the education crisis, crime and political leadership. In doing so, we would also solve the problem of racism to a large degree.
Another interesting finding of that particular survey was that more white than black South Africans indicated that they experience racism. About 24,7% of white people indicated that they experience racism, as opposed to 20,6% of black people.
(Disruption from the audience)
I welcome your disagreement, but if you disagree, I would like for you to bring to me the research that disproves this, and then we can discuss who experiences the most racism.
Education, our biggest problem
South Africa’s biggest problem is its education crisis. Yes, we spoke about unemployment, but how do we solve that? Through education. South Africa’s problem is not so much unemployment, but rather employability. Why do I say this? 80% of South Africa’s schools are dysfunctional. We have an enormous education crisis. In the campus unrests at universities across the country since the beginning of this year, damage to property has already amounted to more than R460 million, but not one single student has been prosecuted for this, which indicates a much deeper problem.
(Disruption from the audience)
Thank you, your intolerance was noted.
On a list of 149 countries, South Africa came second last on its ability to educate young people in mathematics. Also, in a recent survey by the Solidarity Helping Hand, about three quarters of the math teachers at a math education conference said that the support that they got from government in the teaching of mathematics, was insufficient.
So if we talk about economic power being in the hands of white people, but we’re not addressing the education crisis, and we’re not allowing young black South Africans to have a better education, to be able to compete better, we are being myopic and populist and we’re not solving anything.
With reference to the previous speaker (from SASCO), if you were to preach among your followers that the solution for them would be to study harder, you would probably have less support, because your stance would be more realistic and less populist, and in the current political landscape in South Africa, we have seen that you need to be populist in order to get support, regardless of whether you are making sense or not. So, we can continue blaming the other race for everything that is wrong in this country, but that is not going to move us forward. If we don’t fix the education system, we’re not going to fix the country.
Race-based policies are not helping
Black Economic Empowerment and Affirmative Action are not solving the problem either. The vast majority of people in this country who are unemployed, are still black. This is a big problem, because there is growing frustration among young black South Africans who expected that the new South Africa would help them to compete on an equal level. These policies are only benefitting the politically connected and not the majority of people in this country.
Your definition of equality
It boils down to what your definition of equality is. It appears that we all have different definitions of what equality actually means. For example, are we talking about having equal starting lines, or are we talking about making sure that everyone reaches the finishing line at the same time? It might sound simple, but this creates a big difference in how we deal with inequality in South Africa. If your definition is that we should all reach the finishing line at the same time, the question then is: How do we achieve that? Do we say that the person who has reached the finishing line first, should be held back, until the slow runner catches up, and then let go so that they can cross the line at the same time? Or do we say that the slow runner should be developed with proper training (education) to make sure that they can actually compete on an equal level? It seems that the discourse in South Africa aims to have people reach the finishing line at the same time, but by putting restrictions on the faster runner, and not by providing proper training to the other runners to allow them to run at the same pace, provided that they work equally hard.
If this is your definition of equality, we might as well decide today that we are not going to pursue racial cohesion in this country. It is not possible to achieve racial cohesion while there are measures in place to prevent some people from reaching the finishing line before the others, and to categorise people into permanent categories based on the colour of their skin, with the aim of ensuring that different races receive different treatment. If we do this, we will never be able to achieve racial cohesion in this country. We therefore have to choose which goal to pursue: racial categorisation or racial cohesion.
From radical to liberal to racist
I would like to remind you that 62% of South Africans have indicated that, and I quote: “All this talk of racism and colonialism is an attempt by politicians to find excuses for their own failures.”
The honourable Judge of the Free State High Court who spoke before me quoted the black American economist, Thomas Sowell. I would like to provide you with a different quote from Thomas Sowell:
“If you have always believed that everyone should play by the same rules and be judged by the same standards, that would have gotten you labelled a radical 60 years ago, a liberal 30 years ago and a racist today.”
Ernst is the Deputy CEO of AfriForum
Follow Ernst on Twitter at @ernstroets