Right of response: Max du Preez wants to shut down debate as it verges on insight - News24

Aug 30, 2018
30 August 2018 - Patriotic South Africans do not think this country is held together by flattering the elite's universal proclivity to scapegoat their own mistakes.

Gabriel Crouse

According to Cambridge historian Dominic Lieven, some of the most powerful instigators of race nationalism in Tsarist Russia were ethnic Germans (or racial Aryans). By flagellating their own "kind" and defending the Slav "other" from "offence", they won influence and wealth.

On a much smaller scale, Max du Preez seems to play the same game in his effort to discredit the Institute of Race Relation's (IRR) advocacy for non-arbitrary, robust property rights for all South Africans – an attack he makes on race-based lines.

For example, Du Preez writes, "The only thing [the IRR's advocacy] achieved was to seriously offend and annoy the government, the ruling party and most black (and a whole lot of white) citizens." Does he have any data to back up the claim? No. He simply speaks on behalf of "most black" citizens as if tens of millions of people are of one mind, which just happens to be his own.

The most common complaint I heard visiting over two dozen farms in KwaZulu-Natal from black people was that land itself is not a job provider and jobs are the top priority. Other recurring themes were allegations of corruption in the department of land reform; demanding bribes; distributing expropriated land through nepotism; withholding grants from non-partisan hopefuls; and refusing to defend property rights of the vulnerable. Black people have been effective targets of expropriation without compensation, as reported by Aninka Claassens, myself, and Setume Stone to name but three.

I submit that the black victims of expropriation without compensation and land reform corruption do not find it offensive or annoying that the IRR is one of the organisations that aims to make their complaints heard. I also submit that these individuals' preference for a policy framework that engenders growth rather than further redistribution of property along racial lines better represents the majority's view on the basis not of magical thinking but of scientific surveys. I refer back to surveys conducted by the IRR over the past decade, as well as by Markdata towards the end of last year.

To be sure, South Africans are not of one mind. No doubt, many state officials are seriously annoyed by reports of their own failure. Du Preez seems to be of the view that when one of our public servants is annoyed he will perform his public duty worse. My contrasting view is that annoying the powerful is one duty for civil society, the gadfly's last hope of steering the ox.

Du Preez, based on his own legacy of annoying the state, would agree in more lucid moments. But his view of the activist's duty is occluded on the land issue. Here are two possible reasons.

First, those who blame the Constitution's "lack of clarity", or its fundamental protection against arbitrary abuse of power, for the failure of land reform need a kind of logic to yoke this scapegoat. So, they frame the land debate in terms of collective black dignity and white guilt. These are key ingredients of race nationalism. They skew the fact that no race is a responsible moral agent and so cannot reasonably be held responsible, guilty or innocent. They skew the fact that black individuals express their dignity in varied ways often without any connection to agriculture.

To counter that failed land reform – like failures in SARS, Eskom, Prasa and Esidimeni – is not due to an epic clash of races but rather due to corrupt opportunism among powerful elites might strike Du Preez as nothing more than a veiled attack on black dignity. It is not. It is a criticism of state policy and we at the IRR respect the state by honestly criticising its policy rather than coddling its feelings as he would prefer.

Second, 23 million South Africans live on state-owned land without title deeds because the state is the largest land-hoarder in this country. This half of the country is easy to miss if one looks at South Africa through the cracked binoculars of social and mass media from a commercially elevated perch. This demographic has always been the softest target of abuse and the weakest source of annoyance to the powerful. #ButPeopleWithoutTwitterMatter.

The IRR has long directed its gaze at rural South Africa, finding the state's massive distribution of electricity and potable water in this domain remarkable when few others cared to notice. This had the IRR branded as a "mouthpiece" of the ANC quite recently. Now Du Preez would have you believe the IRR is blindly offensive to the state's leaders. All this because Grain SA and the state recently agreed on some proposals for which the IRR has consistently argued, like "[i]nitiating production on 4 000 farms currently in government possession to unlock commercial value". 

Even as Grain SA took a step forward, it implied the reverse. "Initiating production" is a mesmerising phrase, eliding the reason for uninitiated production on 4 000 farms for years and, in some cases, decades. This begs the question of whether a problem can be solved first and identified later.

Du Preez wants to shut down the debate just as it verges on insight. Instead of debate, he would prefer a global race-clash where he bravely fights for the "other". If South Africa is tossed out of the AGOA trade agreement, Du Preez would have you believe this is white supremacist spite for which the IRR is guilty by association: "[T]he IRR should be blamed if Trump scraps the AGOA agreement". He conveniently overlooks the fact that Obama's administration nearly expelled South Africa from AGOA – a rules-based treaty whose strictures Obama, not Frans Cronje, signed and enforced in 2015. Du Preez must either think a rule is unbroken until it is reported or that the IRR manipulated Obama in a white supremacist long-game. Both are absurd.

Patriotic South Africans do not think this country is held together by flattering the elite's universal proclivity to scapegoat their own mistakes. The march to freedom from the state's domination of the rural and urban property markets will be long, it will not be easy, and it will not go unnoticed.

- Gabriel Crouse is an associate at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), a liberal think tank that promotes political and economic freedom. 


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