Little America at the tip of Africa

In this interview, two South African authors have a conversation about important issues affecting the country, the USA and society generally. They both grew up in and around Johannesburg and, thanks to the internet, discovered each other’s work a few years ago. Ilana Mercer lives in Washington State, in the north-western corner of America.

ILANA MERCER: There’s an elephant in the courtroom in which Oscar Pistorius is being tried for the murder of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. It is the unidirectional, black-on-black and black-on-white violent crime in South Africa. The fear of being butchered was likely behind the blade runner’s irrational, irresponsible actions. I had hoped that Pistorius would speak up. For all his privilege, Pistorius knows the rapacity and invincibility of the criminal class in his country. Like every other Afrikaner, he knew in his gut what infiltrating gangs would do to a legless Boer. The world is praising the proceedings in that court. However, “making sport of a caged animal that has confessed” is how a South African reader described this courtroom Colosseum. What do you think?

DAN ROODT: I largely agree with that. One of the columnists on our site described the trial as a “canned hunt and a legal travesty.” Most people watching it probably do not know that only 8 percent of murder cases in South Africa result in a conviction, so killers have a 92 percent chance of literally getting away with murder! South Africa is both the murder and especially the rape capital of the world. Usually the statistics are massaged in such a way that only murder proper, called “first-degree murder” in the United States, is included in the absolute number of murders. But if one also counts other homicides with a lesser culpability, we are the world champions, even above India’s 43,000 homicides. But, of course, India has over 1 billion people, whereas we have just over 50 million. Even for first-degree murder, we have more of those per year (16,000) than the U.S. (14,000), which has six times our population.

Regarding the court procedures, Pistorius is spending a lot of money on his legal team, and the state is using an experienced Afrikaner prosecutor, Gerrie Nel. However, there has been large-scale affirmative action applied to the appointment of judges, so that many of them lack the knowledge of the law and the experience to do their job properly. In many cases, black offenders, especially, get off very lightly and in practice do not serve more than 10 years for first-degree murder.

The government is also applying pressure on lawyers to apply affirmative action in their own ranks as most of the top-level senior lawyers, or advocates, as we call them, are still white. They are preferred by the big-spending corporate clients in civil cases, especially. A lawyer friend of mine recently told me of one tedious corporate court case in Pretoria that has lasted 10 years and consumed $5 million in legal fees, also swallowing up her whole life. Ironically, even the president, Jacob Zuma – who has had more than 500 charges of corruption against him and was also accused of rape in December 2005 – used white Afrikaner lawyers to get him off, using their technical knowledge of the law and court procedures.

There is also rampant corruption in the criminal justice system, with policemen and petty court officials being bribed to make documents and evidence disappear, so the kind of televised court-room soap opera of the Pistorius trial is not at all representative of the vicissitudes of the average trial.

Unlike in the U.S., South Africa does not collect crime statistics broken down by race anymore, but we know that the vast majority of prison inmates serving time for violent crime are black. White offenders – which include white-collar crimes like fraud or insider trading – only constitute 1.8 percent of the prison population, while whites make up under 10 percent of the total population. A recent reliable survey showed that whites are disproportionately victims of house robberies, constituting about 50 percent of the victims, while the perpetrators are almost invariably black.

The image of South African blacks disseminated by the global media is of a population of kindhearted, forgiving people like Mandela, whereas the reality demonstrates something entirely different. There is something inexplicably sadistic about murders and assaults by black perpetrators on their white victims in South Africa, which often include lengthy and dehumanizing torture sessions, mutilation of bodies, sexual violence, and so on. Often the victims are children, including toddlers and babies. Every week we read about farm murders in the press where the victims are normally elderly white farmers, regularly ambushed on a Sunday morning when they return from church attendance.

Order lIana Mercer’s brilliant polemical work, “Into the Cannibal’s Pot: Lessons for America from Post-Apartheid South Africa”

MERCER: The South African Constitution, naturally, sanctions the prosecution of individuals based on the things they say. Conversely, Americans are supposed to enjoy a constitutional right to speak freely. The freedom gap is, however, narrowing. The establishment – politicians, journalists, jurists, educators and academics; “conservatives” as much as liberals – trip over one another in a collectivist, concerted effort to ruin an “offender.” The latest individual to be crucified for committing America’s original sin – harboring impure racial thoughts – is Donald Sterling. You’ve written that, while “few people in the U.S. have had any direct experience of racism, they nevertheless discern racism in other people’s body language, in their use of euphemisms or in being patronized by others.” Explain how this “metaphysical racism” now works as an “engine of history.”

ROODT: Unfortunately, ever since the 1960s, South Africa has been influenced by America in a very bad way. Instead of looking to the U.S. for lessons in self-reliance, the right to self-defense, or how to finance start-up tech companies, we have simply imported your liberal, pathological political correctness. That includes the sensitivity around language and terms with a racial connotation. I cannot begin to tell you how many words there are in South Africa to describe people of various races including, of course, pejorative terms. I seem to recall that my generation was very sensitive to using some of those words, and there was a famous case in 1978 when the old government’s censors banned a satirical novel entitled “Magersfontein o Magersfontein!” for containing a piece of dialogue in which the word “kaffir” was used in an ironic way. This is our equivalent to what you call the “N-word” in the U.S. In print these days, most people here also refer to the “K-word,” as there is just such a taboo against using it. However, if you go to any school playground or university campus in South Africa, young whites are using it as a way of rebelling against the system. How long this will last, I do not know, because the government and mainstream, politically correct society are clamping down on it and even giving people suspended prison sentences for a first offense after being found guilty of using the “K-word.”

So in South Africa you can torture an elderly white lady and maybe get away with it, but you will be prosecuted for speech crime for using racial epithets. I would not be surprised if all telephone conversations will be monitored, NSA-style, at some point in the future to ensnare those who use so-called racist language.

When it comes to “metaphysical racism,” that is at a far more subtle level. Someone who first alerted me to this was the documentary filmmaker Craig Bodeker from Denver, Colorado, with his piece “A Conversation About Race.” Many people in the film say that “racism is everywhere,” surrounding us like sin or some invisible element. Also, in “A Conversation About Race,” I learned that some American blacks think that a compliment from a white could be a sign of racism. So either an insult or a compliment could be construed as racism.

In South Africa, some of the liberal commentators such as Steven Friedman who writes in the Johannesburg Business Day claim that blacks were damaged by apartheid and therefore cannot be expected to perform at the same level as whites. In the U.S., this claim is made about slavery, that the insidious effects of slavery are still present, which would explain the academic achievement gap, but also differences in wealth and income. Colonialism also comes into it, as far as other African countries are concerned. The fact that Africa has remained underdeveloped for so long is almost always blamed on colonialism, notwithstanding that it was colonialism that had introduced Africa to the wheel and to writing, not to forget science and technology!

Whereas about a decade ago, the British magazine The Economist had described Africa as “the hopeless continent,” it now sees Africa as a fast-growing continent, not very different from countries like China, Hong Kong or South Korea. Even Goldman Sachs thinks that Africa will soon be a developed continent competing on an even keel with Europe, North America or Asia.

The flipside of the new optimism about Africa, including South Africa, is that every failure or missed growth target is somehow backwardly rationalized in terms of racism, colonialism and apartheid. In short, “metaphysical racism.” So even when it comes to technology, the economy and education, there is always a cloud of racism somewhere that the developed world has to address by offering aid money or some form of expiatory confession from Western leaders.

I always wonder: If Africa is now standing on its own two feet and growing so fast, why do so many countries still need development aid? Why do South African blacks still need affirmative action, including racial quotas in sports?

ILANA MERCER: The dominant-party state that is South Africa is steeped not in an African creed but in an American one. One of your most astute observations has been that post-apartheid South Africa is very much a creature of the Anglosphere. In the U.S., centrally planned and enforced multiculturalism is twinned with open borders for Third World peoples. How has South Africa fallen in line?

DAN ROODT: Many people see South Africa as an experiment in multiculturalism and open borders. Almost robotically, we’ve adopted most of the American liberal precepts in a very naïve, knee-jerk fashion. Some people are even urging that we abolish borders completely, to allow any of the billion Africans north of our country to come and settle in South Africa, much like your government is doing vis-à-vis Central American dependents. However, our experience of the massive illegal immigration we have had since 1994 is that it increases intolerance, especially among the poor and the unemployed. Locals regularly kill foreigners, and we have had so-called xenophobic riots.

In some towns close to the border, the foreign population is about 80 percent. Foreigners have access to public health-care facilities, so many are “obstetrical tourists” who come here to have babies – “anchor babies,” as you call them in the U.S. Generally speaking, state hospitals are getting worse and worse, also as a result of being overburdened with foreign Africans.

Recently, there was a court decision that foreign children that have been orphaned or separated from their parents, for example in the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo, also qualify for free public education in South Africa. After Lawyers for Human Rights had sued for the privilege, the government did not oppose their petition to the court.

Open borders will lead to even more ethnic strife, and we may even import some of Africa’s civil wars as the belligerents pursue their combat in South Africa. In your country, it’s gang warfare.

MERCER: Under the Afrikaners, South Africa was a European-style nation-state – Christian and biracial, in the main. Under Mandela’s African National Congress, it has adopted multiculturalism, which subsumes an “American radicalism that aims at abolishing the nation-state and replacing it with a kind of global corporatism and welfarism,” to quote your work. South Africa is now an “Afro-Saxon” nation. Explain, please.

ROODT: Yes, I think those remarks of mine are borne out by what is happening in Europe right now. There is some kind of revival of the Western spirit going on in places like France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Italy, Austria and Hungary. It is something of a truism that Afrikaner nationalism in the 20th century was based on European-style ethnic nationalism. If you look at it more objectively and free of the moral hysteria and distorted accounts, apartheid or separate development was an attempt to impart European-style ethnic nationalism to South Africa’s African tribes. To some extent, it worked, and it still has an effect to this day. For example, there has been a resurgence of Zulu nationalism in South Africa, and to some extent the ANC under Jacob Zuma has become a vehicle for Zulu aspirations and advancement. With the difference that it is no longer limited to the old homeland of Kwazulu. The whole of South Africa has now become “one big Bantustan,” as the liberal commentator R.W. Johnson has characterized it.

But in other respects, South Africa has become a colony of the USA, culturally speaking. Blacks identify with African-American culture. You hear American rap music wafting from their cars, and they have adopted the same kind of victim’s discourse that you find in the USA. There is actually a Kenyan professor who teaches in the USA., as far as I know, Ali Mazrui, who coined the term, “Afro-Saxon” for the English-speaking blacks in Africa, the USA, the Caribbean, in Britain, and so on. In fact, they outnumber the original English-speaking population of England! The black elite in South Africa identifies with this global Afro-Saxon culture, and they see themselves as being an important part of it, using South Africa’s wealth and developed infrastructure to advance the Afro-Saxon cause.

Talking about the welfare state, one of the worst fears of the old apartheid theorists was that ultimately the productive, developed part of the economy would have to subsidize the unproductive, impoverished, undeveloped part, dragging both down into an equally distributed poverty. This is more or less what is happening in South Africa now as we have a welfare state for 50 million people, supported by only 2 million real taxpayers. The funny thing is that multiculturalism and affirmative action actually disguise this process completely, so that you can no longer really tell who the producers are and who the consumers of wealth are.

In the same way, knowledge and expertise also end up being distributed in such a way that you no longer know who really has it: Is it the person who does the job, or his secretary or assistant or deputy or whoever? The other day I heard that an ex-taxi driver was appointed to a top job in our central bank, but he is barely able to write an email and knows nothing about banking. Yet he has some outside white mentor or adviser who actually helps him do his job and is also his business associate. So everybody tries to exploit this made-in-America spoils system.

Unfortunately, the USA seems to be in imperial mode, and so it wants to export its multicultural model everywhere, including to Europe where there are still real nation-states in which people speak the same language, have a common history and identity and have not been transformed by immigration. You only have to come to South Africa to see the American model in its most extreme form, where race and political correctness dominate everything.

When it comes to issues of race and ethnicity, we have also imported the sensitivity around language and ideas that pertain in the USA. Once I actually quoted a black columnist complaining about the low scores in math recorded in black schools in Soweto. The next thing I was denounced as a racist. Even if you just try to defend your language and culture, or the right of free association, that is also seen as racist. Too much criticism of government corruption or affirmative action is likewise deemed racist.

Welcome to Little America at the tip of Africa.