OPINION: If we're repeating history, focus on success
These words were spoken by Barry Hertzog, then prime minister of the Union of South Africa, in a speech given on November 7, 1935, in Springfield, in what is now the Free State.
It could well have been made today, and it would apply, as is, to much of the current political discourse in South Africa.
Back then, he was sounding a warning against the workings of a secret organisation called the Afrikaner Broederbond, which had as its aim to see “Afrikaans speaking Afrikanerdom reach its ultimate destiny of domination in South Africa”.
Details of the speech are carried in the book The Super Afrikaners by Ivor Wilkins and Hans Strydom, which was first published in 1978 and reprinted in 2017.
The book chronicles the formation of the apartheid state driven by the Broederbond. The powerful organisation came into being when three young Afrikaners, HJ Klopper, HW van der Merwe and DHC du Plessis, still in their teenage years, met on April 18, 1918, on a “koppie in Kensington, Johannesburg and pledged themselves to form an organisation to defend the Afrikaner and return him to his rightful place in South Africa”.
Reading through the book, one is struck by how the events of that era are mirrored in today’s South Africa.
It is mind boggling that a meeting of three teenagers could have such far reaching consequences. The three were incensed by General Louis Botha, the first prime minister of the union, who preached a policy of “forgive and forget” after the Afrikaner surrender in the Anglo-Boer War in May 1902.
They felt that the atrocities of the British government during the war were unforgivable. Four thousand Afrikaner men had died in the war and 26000 Afrikaner women and children perished in the British concentration camps, some due to starvation wrought by the scorched earth policy of the British.
They reeled from the subsequent “cultural oppression” that sought to “Anglicise the Afrikaner”. For instance, apparently Afrikaans “children were allowed to speak (Afrikaans) only three hours a week at school, otherwise they had to carry a placard proclaiming ‘I am a donkey, I spoke Dutch’.”
Botha was accused of ignoring “the interest of his own people (and) giving preference to the British”. Similar sentiments would be echoed nearly a century later about Nelson Mandela’s championing of reconciliation.
The policies of the Broederbond were slowly woven into society by highly organised and systematic infiltration of all the facets of life through social and economic organisations including schools, universities, churches, the public service, public broadcasting and entertainment.
Ironically, nearly 60 years following that day on the koppie, black South African youth would ignite the demise of apartheid when they protested against the imposition of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in schools in 1976.
Jan Smuts took over as prime minister in 1939 after successfully campaigning for South Africa to enter World War II on the side of the British. He received much international acclaim for the participation and was conferred the rank of field marshal by King George VI, who praised him for his “valuable services to the war effort”. However, this participation angered a lot of Afrikaners and eventually brought his downfall.
Smuts had been receiving regular warnings from his intelligence office about the threat of the Broederbond, including accounts of their activities, but failed to provide a decisive response, seemingly blinded by his personal international stardom.
He was stunned by the 1948 election results that saw his United Party defeated by the Nationalist Party and is said to have reacted by saying: “To think that I have been beaten by the Broederbond”.
Today, most black South Africans increasingly feel that South Africa’s negotiated settlement and reconciliation have not brought much benefit to their daily lives.
There seems to be a feeling on all sides that policies such as Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) only benefits ANC insiders and has done nothing to correct the wrongs of apartheid. This has seen increasing calls from the right for more aggressive action to take from whites what rightfully belongs to blacks.
Once again, all this is accompanied by calls from the left that dismiss the need for corrective action and suggest that B-BBEE should be scrapped and that we should simply focus on economic growth without any from of restorative justice or affirmative action.
The risks of repeating our awful history should be clear to all. Accusations that B-BBEE, in its current form, only enriches the connected elites, are puzzling.
No one denies that we have a problem of corruption in the government, or that preferential procurement has been abused, but it defies logic how anyone concludes that only the connected few benefit from B-BBEE as a whole.
Consider that the policy requires corporate companies to invest 1percent of their profits in community development, 3percent in the development of small businesses and 6percent of their payrolls in developing black people’s skills.
It would require complicit participation of the business community on a grand scale in nefarious schemes which would also have to ensure that all employment equity interventions, preferential procurement as well as B-BBBEE ownership schemes benefit only these elites. Revelations in the state capture saga have outlined the involvement of the business sector in corruption in the government.
That has to be dealt with as a problem in its own right, but cannot translate to the scrapping of the entire B-BBEE policy. It should also be considered that large elements of the business world joined in the fight against this corruption. This suggests that there exists a base from which we can all work to improve the construct and implementation of B-BBEE.
It is incumbent on the government and all of us to strive towards redress and transformation but also ensure that central to our purpose is equitable and inclusive participation of all South Africans.
Our history shows that ignoring the effects of the past on the one the hand, or, equality, exclusivity that seeks to benefit one race at the expense of others, are recipes for disaster.
The source of much anger with the pace of transformation is really rooted in frustration over the failure of our economy to create jobs.
The unemployment figures released by StatsSA on July 31, 2018, reveal that 6.1million (27.2percent) are unemployed, and of that, 4.1million have not been able to find work for more than a year.
The population of 57.7million people relies on 16.3million who are employed to feed them, house, clothe, provide education, health care, law and order, national security, etc. It is an unsustainable situation that we must all work together to solve.
Further details in the figures suggest that the root of the problem is education. Graduates have a lower-than-average unemployment rate of 6.9percent, while those without matric are at 31.9percent.
Large-scale mechanisation is necessary for a globally competitive economy and will mean that even if we attract large amounts of investments, the economy may not be able to absorb the excess of undereducated labour.
There are clearly no quick fixes to the problem.
Millions without adequate education are unable to find jobs and resort to starting businesses out of desperation. Unfortunately, most of these businesses may not be viable or fundable due to low levels of education.
This is borne out in the July 2018 report, SMME Access to Finance. It concluded that “SMMEs lack the knowledge needed to raise funding; low human capital and lack of skills are a barrier to access finance; finance readiness is a challenge for SMMEs”.
In addition to lessons from our own past, the fact of having achieved liberation late provides an opportunity to also benefit by the lessons of other countries in Africa. We should study them, avoid their errors and use what has worked.
Internationally too, examples abound of countries that successfully dealt problems similar to our won.
The late Lee Kuan Yew, founding father of post liberation Singapore, wrote an acclaimed book titled From Third World to First.
In it he details his administration’s policies and actions that overcame challenges of a racially divided, unequal and underdeveloped state with no natural resources and threats to its existence from its much larger neighbours.
Today, Singapore has the 10th highest per capita gross domestic product in the world at $61767 (R878424) (South Africa: $7524) with unemployment recorded at 2percent in March 2018.
I will dedicate my next five articles in this publication to reviewing different elements of the policies employed by Yew’s government, juxtaposing them with our own and examining lessons that we can learn.
Karabo Mashugane is the chief executive of 20/20 Insight - specialists in B-BBEE Advisory, Supplier Development and SME Financing.
The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.