Now it’s a streak. Seven times in seven years members of South Africa’s parliament have tried and failed to remove President Jacob Zuma by a vote of no confidence. On August 8, they failed again and he remains in power to continue poorly managing the struggling state.
The general explanation for South Africa’s woes is to fault the leadership, but also the inability of its citizens to pull themselves out of a situation created, or at least exacerbated, by generations under apartheid. This is like saying if it looks, walks and talks like a duck, it's actually an armadillo.
Yet if I claim it's a duck, the burden of proof is on me for proving it is not an armadillo. Happy to do so. South Africa has symptoms similar to those of Haiti, Jamaica and Nigeria which are also struggling to emerge from generations under apartheid. Oh, wait, no they're not... Maybe the problem is something else? Let’s find out.
In 1994, the Republic of South Africa held an election. It was the last internal election of the three-centuries-old white tribe of the Cape, who considered a political separation from the Xhosa and Zulu people natural and obvious, just as the political separation between Italy and France was natural and obvious.
The Afrikaners felt the fundamental theory of apartheid was that South Africa was several nations in one territory, a perfectly reasonable design for government. The assumption mirrors the Ottoman millet system, which made the Middle East functionally multicultural – compared with its modern rabid, murderous, irredentist nationalism (which progressives have done so much to sustain).
Anyway, in 1994, about two-thirds of white South Africans voted to dissolve the white polity, surrender their old republic, its constitution and flag and succumb to State Department pressure which had used every instrument short of invasion to depose the Nationalists and install the ANC. The votes were binding and final and old South Africa, like Rhodesia, is gone. However, those who voted, yes or no, are now voting with their feet.
There were two schools of thought on the election. The first predicted a transformation of the strife-ridden tip of Africa into a Rainbow Nation in which the unity of humanity would be displayed. Others thought it was a terrible idea to turn the last developed country in Africa over to a mafia of Communist mass murderers, predicting South Africa would soon mimic Haiti, Jamaica, Nigeria or Zimbabwe. Obviously, there was not much middle ground.
In general, the South African whites of British descent or affinity (early 20th-century South African writings often mentioned a conflict of races, but they meant the English and Boer) voted yes in 1994, because they subscribed to the first school. This, of course, is the party line of the international intellectual elite known as American progressives.
On the other side, the Afrikaners were divided. Some, called verligte or "enlightened," followed the internationalist party line and voted yes. The others, called verkrampte (I'm not sure about the precise translation, but it looks onomatopoeic) subscribed to the second school and voted no.
They were correct. But imagine how hard it would have been to correctly predict the result of a glorious victory of liberation in South Africa, and endorse the verkramptes and their bitter, bigoted cynical racism. The verkramptes made some people in the Donald Trump fan base look inclusive. It’s always tough being wrong, but it’s really tough having to admit others are right.
Few people, however, would say the Nationalist era was a period of ideal government. If the Nationalists had operated a good government, South Africa would still be a First World country today. It had nuclear weapons and nuclear power, as well as healthy arms and energy industries. No country on earth, not even the US, had the power to coerce the RSA back then.
But, like most bad governments it was weak and therefore brutal. Comparing Singapore to the old Broederbond Boerocracy, the difference between effective and ineffective authoritarian states becomes clear. A strong government executes firmly and decisively. A weak government is fickle and inconsistent, and needs to be much more vicious to achieve any level of security.
Looking back, the fate of the RSA was sealed after it flinched at the outcome of the Rivonia trial and refused to hang Nelson Mandela for crimes which everyone now agrees he committed. This one death probably would have prevented many others, on both sides of apartheid’s fence.
Are South Africa’s problems due to the inability of Africans to self-govern, or of “inequality” and universal human greed? Ask the same question for Haiti, Jamaica or Nigeria. Depending on what you answer, ask again why aren’t Finland, China, Croatia, Malaysia and New Zealand also afflicted? Maybe the propensity for greed isn’t quite that universal after all.
History shows that majority-rule democracy is probably not the best political design for a population of predominantly African descent. I’d also say majority-rule democracy is probably not the best political design for a population of predominantly European or Semitic descent, either. Does this make me more or less of a racist? Clearly, I should apply to the Waffen-SS. The Indian Raj was much more similar to Moghul India than the postcolonial democratic welfare state. It also worked a lot better – surprise!
And besides, "inequality" is so easy to deconstruct: What is the precise mechanism by which the presence of wealth in one's geographic proximity causes suffering and poverty? "Inequality" is simply code for support of a political movement that survives by extorting rich South Africans and using their money to buy votes from the poor. Mr Zuma talks about it as a threat of violence: the poor are envious, he says, and if they get more envious we may not be able to control them. Pay us off, we'll pay them off, and everything will be fine. How progressive indeed.
Most people think South Africa’s problems are a result of apartheid. No shame in that. They barely have time to learn the official excuses, let alone dig around for the actual story. But Occam has a simpler explanation: the trouble is actually the result of decolonialisation, which is the process by which the British, French and Belgian empires were confiscated by the US after WWII and transferred from colonial administration to a post-colonial aidocracy.
But I won’t hold my breath for aidocrats to take responsibility for the vast increases in suffering across South Africa and the rest of the continent. That wouldn’t be very progressive at all. Mr Zuma has friends in high places, so to speak.