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How to avoid a conflagration

Writer Christine Qunta says South Africa faces two big risks of a violent rupture between the races. Picture: Henk Kruger

Writer Christine Qunta says South Africa faces two big risks of a violent rupture between the races. Picture: Henk Kruger

Published May 8, 2016


Whites should voluntarily pay into a reparations fund, writes Christine Qunta.

The question of how to move power from those who hoard it to those who don’t have it without a violent rupture is one that should occupy all reasonable people in this country right now.

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Can a negotiated settlement, where the relations of power are not altered, be sustainable? I do not have the answer.

But what I do know is that the two biggest risks to this country arise from the manner of African accession to political power in 1994.

The first risk is the current levels of engineered inequality that condemns the majority of black people to the quiet violence of poverty. No human being should experience such a life, and these levels of poverty should keep everyone with a conscience awake at night.

The second risk is that a minority, whose loyalty to the country is at best uncertain, completely controls the economy.

These risks not only stand in the way of nationhood, but present a real danger to the future stability of the country. The notion that a racial conflagration in South Africa was avoided in 1994 is a fallacy. It was not avoided; it was merely postponed.

There are only two uncertainties: the when and the how. Such an eruption will be cathartic for Africans, but it will be chaotic, unfocused and will engulf us all regardless of race or class. It won’t present a solution. But avoiding such a conflagration is no longer the sole duty of Africans. I would go further and state that to expect more patience from Africans in the absence of any structural change is to normalise the abnormal.

But I do believe it can be avoided if urgent material steps are taken to deal with the risks. It is therefore in the interest of white South Africa to act, not in their short-term interest but in their long-term interest.

How to construct a new nation

Domination is addictive. It locks people into an unyielding cultural matrix. Ironically, it is this very addiction that will ultimately accelerate the destruction of such domination.

Let me be more specific and focus on those who own the means of production: white business. No business can flourish in the midst of social upheaval.

The replication and reinforcement of a colonial socio-economic infrastructure should be a massive red flag in the strategic and risk management plans of every South African business.

Yet what is obvious to the average person seems not to be so to people who in their businesses work on scenario planning and risk analysis. What they are doing is trying to navigate the 21st century with a 17th-century mindset.

That’s like crossing the USA on horseback when you have a Lear jet at your disposal, or sending a letter via mailship while your colleagues use email.

Certain key steps are essential for building a new nation. There is a role for both white and black South Africans in this. The first and most important is reparations.

Reparations fund

I believe reparations to be a precondition for the remaking of South Africa. Without it, there is no possibility of moving forward. Reparations are neither a favour nor a gesture of goodwill.

It is about justice. If we accept colonialism was a crime, then justice demands restitution be made.

And, no, paying tax is not restitution; it’s the duty of every citizen to pay income tax for services rendered. Nor is it the post-apartheid government’s duty to pay for crimes that it did not commit.

The ANC government did not dispossess the land from its people. It is therefore one of the absurdities of post-1994 South Africa that land restitution should be paid from tax revenues – taxes paid by black people too – instead of being used for other sorely needed areas such as health and housing.

A reparation fund should be formalised through legislation after consultation with all stakeholders.

The question is not whether it should be done or not, but rather the quantum and how it should be operated. South Africa has enough skilled professionals to calculate the price of land taken from Africans from 1652 and what that value would be in today’s terms.

The German government paid – and continues to pay – billions in reparations to the Israeli state and individual Jews for their slave labour and property unlawfully taken from them. The principle is therefore one established in law.

Ideally, white-owned companies and individuals will voluntarily offer to pay for a specific period a percentage of their profits and/or salaries.

In the absence of such voluntary contributions, there would probably be constitutional difficulties as the government would not be able to impose taxes on only one section of the population. The Reparation Fund should be controlled by an independent group comprising private- and public-sector stakeholders, including government, and run by skilled individuals.

The proceeds should target key and specific interventions that would help to pull the current but also next generation from the jaws of poverty.

Priority areas should thus be education, entrepreneurship, housing and land. To prevent the incompetence and self-serving conduct that has bedevilled so many public- and private-sector initiatives, legislation should be passed that would make such a dereliction of duty criminal and provide for fast-tracked prosecution.

Money from this fund can also be channelled to existing well-functioning development finance institutions such as the IDC and the Development Bank of Southern Africa.

As it would be voluntary, government can provide incentives for companies and individuals to contribute to such a fund. Incentives could include contributions to the fund being measured as an element in the generic scorecard in terms of the Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment Act of 2003.

n Qunta’s book 'Why We Are Not a Nation' will be launched at the University of Johannesburg on Tuesday, May 10, at 18.30

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