Competence, not colour, the key to progress for all - Post

Feb 01, 2023
Andile Mngxitama made headlines recently when he raised the alarm that South Africa might soon - shock, horror! - have a white president again if a coalition of opposition parties takes over from the ANC in 2024.
Competence, not colour, the key to progress for all - Post

Martin van Staden

Andile Mngxitama made headlines recently when he raised the alarm that South Africa might soon - shock, horror! - have a white president again if a coalition of opposition parties takes over from the ANC in 2024.

Few South Africans care for such theatrics. The South African Institute of Race Relations IRR has been conducting opinion polling for more than a decade, confirming year upon year that relations between South Africans of different races are, on the whole, friendly and honourable.

This is so despite the best efforts of some commentators to create the impression of widespread racial hostility. Some commentators even try to generate such hostility anew for their own political or reputational purposes.

The IRR's latest survey, conducted in September and October 2022, shows that 73% of black, 86% of coloured, 83% of Indian, and 89% of white South Africans agree South Africans of different races need one another for progress, and that there should be full opportunity for people of all skin colours.

Additionally, 61% of black, 63% of coloured, 80% of Indian and 76% of white South Africans agree that politicians' constant talk of racism and colonialism amounts to nothing more than diverting attention from their the politicians' own failures in office.

The survey had a 5% margin of error. IRR survey samples are demographically representative in terms of race, socioeconomic status, language, age and geographic location.

Six hundred and seven South Africans participated in the 2022 survey. South Africans clearly care little about the skin colour of political leaders, only that they are competent to do the job.

Mngxitama is right, of course South Africa could soon have a white president ... or a coloured president, or an Indian president. Having individuals from racial minority groups participate in governance should not be and to most South Africans, is not a concern in a mature constitutional democracy.

Both the US and now the UK have had heads of governments from racial minorities. South Africans rightly care about competence, not colour. Experience in South Africa, Africa, and across the world has shown conclusively that competence and incompetence come in all colours.

It is not due to the pigment in the skins of Jacob Zuma or Carl Niehaus that they have been incapable of getting basic things right. What matters is the merits of the particular individual concerned: their value system, their integrity and their leadership qualities.

This is what South Africans care about. Despite the repeal of the Population Registration Act in 1991, a handful of political parties seek to capitalise on racial essentialism. The National Party has long since disappeared.

But the African ANC, which used to be at the forefront of the Struggle for nonracialism, the ANC Youth Leagueinexile known as the EFF, and the ratsandmice Black First, Land First, have replaced the Nats as South Africa's racegrifters of note.

While there can be no doubt that poverty and race do correlate to a large degree although there is no longer a causal relationship between the two nonracial policy would benefit all South Africans, in particular the poor.

Indeed, it is precisely racial policy that landed us in this malaise in the first place. For while it is often presented as such, the Struggle against apartheid was not a struggle against "white rule".

It was not against the fact that JG Strijdom, Hendrik Verwoerd or John Vorster were white that people rose up. It was because these "leaders" and their administrations engaged in widespread human rights abuses, most pertinently including depriving millions of their ability to participate in the governance of their own country.

The Nats implemented economic policies that denied property rights and job opportunities to South Africans on the basis of their skin colour. Poverty was a predictable result. Social mobility is exceedingly difficult in circumstances of collectivised property and an education system designed to "prepare" people only for menial labour.

The promise of the transition was that South Africa would move away from racialism and libertydestroying regulation, which is why the Constitution repeatedly refers to the values of freedom, equality and human dignity as the foundations of the new South Africa.

The Struggle against apartheid was a struggle against injustice, a lack of freedom, and racial oppression a struggle of substance rather than appearances.

The IRR's Index of Race Law racelaw. co.za shows that the ANC government has adopted no fewer than 116 racial laws since 1994, betraying the Struggle and the values of the Constitution.

In practice, the laws stifle economic growth and dynamism, deter much needed foreign investment, and signal that South Africa will continue to racially regiment itself for as long as the racegrifters have access to power.

It is heartening that Mngxitama suspects a coalition of opposition parties will displace the ANC in 2024. Whether the coalition chooses a black leader, a white leader, a coloured leader or an Indian leader, what is necessary is for it to unite around a reform package that will take South Africa away from race law and policy and toward a dispensation that foregrounds constitutional values and clean, effective governance.

The package must inevitably be one of nonracialism, respect for the rule of law and a market economy undergirded by strong private property rights.

Van Staden is deputy head of policy research at the Institute of Race Relations.

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