Verwoerd would be pleased — apartheid is alive and well


Published in the Business day: 2012/05/07 07:44:35 AM

At SA’s core is a new elite living in their heavily guarded own areas, and while many of them are black, Indian or coloured, most are living very white lives, as lampooned in the term "coconut"
AT THE turn of the century R, I was asked to contribute a chapter about Hendrik Verwoerd to a book about South African leaders who had made SA’s century. A furore ensued in the former National Party press, since I had taken the rather unconventional view that he was SA’s dictator for almost two decades.

Technically this was not true, of course, but my argument was that to determine who ruled SA in his time, the 1950s and 1960s, one should look at the totality of the population. So, while there was democratic government among whites, it was a deci-democracy, for only one-tenth of SA’s people.

Black people were ruled in their townships and colonial reserves by officials appointed by the state. At the top of the state apparatus was the governor-general of the Union of SA, who theoretically had the power to sack the lowliest black official. These powers were delegated to the minister of native affairs in the white Cabinet. That’s dictatorship, maybe a sort of technocratic one, but ask any black person what that meant on the ground.

The incumbent as minister of native affairs, until he became prime minister, was Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd. Upon taking the reins as National Party head, he took a tight grip on native affairs in order to implement his then revolutionary ideas about separate states for black people. When SA became a republic, the prime minister took the place of the governor-general as the person with the last say over black people’s lives. The de facto dictatorship continued.

Verwoerd was assassinated, but by then he had grown into a kind of superhuman hero for the white establishment.

He had worked out the solution, based on the new US ideology of human rights, for the perennial South African problem: what to do about the blacks.

Later, the Afrikaner Broederbond, the only body to which Verwoerd really reported, put it all very succinctly in a secret document, summed up by the slogan, "Capitalism for whites, Socialism for blacks".

In the rising homelands, the sham Myanma r-like democracy would always ensure that control was left with a pro-white elite to be created by subsidies from the central state. For whites, sanctions-busting in order to aid South African companies, was resolutely aimed at building up especially firms dominated by Broederbonders or their friends. Of course, these were dedicated to the principles of capitalism.

The Broederbond, now the Afrikanerbond, seems to be — and one doesn’t know for sure, since it’s still too secretive — a much changed organisation, loyal to the new SA. But one has to say that its basic schema has played out to perfection. Verwoerd is definitely not turning in his grave.

The homelands have been a failure, but apartheid has been a great success.

At SA’s core is a new elite living in their heavily guarded own areas, and while many of them are black, Indian or coloured, most are living very white lives, as lampooned in the term "coconut".

Meanwhile, the lumpen proletariat, the subalterns, the masses, are trapped in often miserable townships and shack cities, where many have become dependent on the meagre handouts of the state.

The capitalist core is doing better than it ever has, with former state-aided global corporations in the vanguard. This elite is among those who have weathered the global financial crisis the best, while the rest were among those who have come out of it the worst, a million of them losing their jobs.

At the root of this lumpen-crisis, to coin a term, is the failure of the socialist part of the formula, as it was bound to be, because socialism has failed in most other countries too. In SA, it was because those officials who might have made it a success, and helped to build a strong state, were laid off en masse, or emigrated of their own accord.

They were replaced with untrained non-whites with a survivalist mind-set, following the same racist categorisation that the likes of Verwoerd had installed.

But another key part of the failure is ideological — also the reason why the lumpen-crisis will be with us for another while, perhaps even several decades. Verwoerd’s other legacy was a fascist state, run secretively under laws smothering the free circulation of ideas and debate. Again, the biggest losers were black intellectuals, already robbed, as they were, of a proper schooling.

While in other countries free debate and free information allowed Marxist-Leninist dogmas to be systematically broken down until even their proponents ended up reluctantly endorsing capitalism, most South Africans had to make do with a much vulgarised version, based on sloganeering and continuously misinterpreted complexes of ideas.

The result is phenomena such as the brief career of former African National Congress (ANC) Youth League leader Julius Malema, who grew up on ANC slogans.

Because exile is no longer an option for people such as him, who might have been exposed to the self-deconstruction of socialism, or at least more democratic variants of leftist thought, the continued sloganeering of the ANC is all they have.

It’s all a grave tragedy, actually, because youths being youths, they want to take ideas at face value, such as those of the Freedom Charter. It’s very hard to acquire the skills for the doublethink the adult ANC practises, of a Marxist-Leninist township mask covering a capitalist suburban soul.

It needs a cognitive dissonance that can make you physically ill, initially.

But there is no escape. After the trauma of apartheid, the townships are not going to vote readily for any party in which whites are perceived to dominate. And the ANC and the unions will stick to their nostalgic liberationism, because that is the devil the townshippers know and because education and state media are kept so poor that they won’t be exposed to new ideas in a hurry.

The same ills that destroyed other Marxist-Leninist countries is destroying the state and its subjects in the townships, as is acknowledged in the ANC’s own documents. But as long as the globally centred capitalist core remains to fund it all, this dispensation can continue for some years to come.

The core is surrounded by homelands, with names such as Limpopo and the Eastern Cape, but also Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Congo and Lesotho, where socialist policies very similar to Verwoerd’s for the homelands have destroyed societies too.

The central state, SA, supplies subsidies of various sorts through mechanisms such as the Southern African Customs Union, just as in apartheid times. The result is an unending supply of cheap labour, ultracompliant because most of it borders on the illegal.

Verwoerd’s ghost is still very much alive, and making apartheid work.

• Pienaar is a Business Day staffer

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