Radicalisation and polarisation: the encroaching threat

SA needs critical mass to truly stand behind the Constitution.

The business community must not for one moment think that they or their enterprises are immune to the winds of radicalisation and polarisation blowing across South Africa right now. 

The wave of resurging black resentment of the status quo is manifesting on two fronts: a middle class rage and the anger of the poor and unemployed.

Most white people have witnessed the uprising in the squatter camps via television news bulletins from the comfort of their middle class homes. As David Kramer wrote – and Roger Lucey sang – in 1978:

“But nothing disturbs the suburbs’ quiet

Not the sirens or the news of a township riot

Knowing it all from the distance of headlines

I express my opinion

With a mouthful of dry wine.” 

The black discontent has now moved from the distance of headlines to all of our doorsteps. It’s unfolding and ramifications will most definitely have an impact on all our lives, our economy and how we do business. It is bound to influence the governing ANC’s decision-making, especially because it is rather nervous about next year’s local election and the general election of 2019.

I have made the argument many times that much of the anger should be aimed at the way the ANC had governed the country since 1994; that we would not have had this rise in political temperature if it had governed with vision, clarity and energy and without corruption, wasting of resources, empire building and nepotism.

Our universities, for example, would have been very different places if the education of the majority of the black youth had not been so criminally neglected.

But that obvious point is lost on many in the populist frenzy and feverous impatience of our new political environment. Besides, the constant reminders of white privilege and the growing inequality – and persistent white arrogance and racism – are just too provocative.

Robert Mugabe, who arrived in South Africa on Wednesday, is a case in point. He remains “the Great African Liberator” in the eyes of millions because he acted decisively against the white minority. The fact that he has destroyed his country’s economy, that he and his family became mega-rich, that he oppressed his opposition, stole an election and drove a quarter of his population out of his country does not weigh all that heavily with many angry black people.

The realisation that the quest to overcome the bitter legacy of apartheid history has failed, understandably makes people feel hopeless and powerless. White schadenfreude (pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others) simply reinforces this. Militancy is the next step.

In our present political climate Julius Malema’s EFF cannot but thrive. Cheap populism is the currency of the day, and Malema and his cohorts are in their element. We can expect even more reckless opportunism from them in the months ahead.

When he urged his supporters to destroy monuments and statues to everything and anything from before 1994, Malema and his ilk must have known that he was pushing the buttons of the white right wing; that he was giving oxygen to a dormant group of racists and white nationalists.

But perhaps that was exactly what they wanted. They probably can’t wait for the first bloody racial clash. The EFF can only benefit from further polarisation. It will further drown out the voices of reason from all sides. 

The present national restlessness is bound to be exacerbated by the fracturing of the trade union movement and the predictable militant demands that competition between warring unions will bring.

We need to urgently strengthen the middle ground. And we all know by now that we cannot expect strong leadership from President Jacob Zuma and his party hierarchy.

The best-developed and proven leadership in the country today is in the business community. I’m not only talking about the handful of senior captains of industry, but leadership throughout the whole private sector and throughout the whole country, black and white. 

Hope is the commodity we need most now. Hope that we’re not descending into conflict and instability; hope that Project New South Africa is still on track; hope that the future is indeed going to be better than the past.

With the country appearing to fall apart around us, business leadership, working with faith communities and civil society activists, can help bring that hope back with big and small initiatives to reassure citizens that we’re not on a slippery slope to becoming a failing state at war with itself.

We need a critical mass of citizens who pledge allegiance to the constitution and will stand up to defend it, not as a piece of paper, but as a living pact on which we have been building our democracy.

That constitution, however, promises much more than the sanctity of property ownership and freedom of the individual.

May I remind you of its preamble?

We, the people of South Africa,

Recognise the injustices of our past;

Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land;

Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and

Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.

We therefore, through our freely elected representatives, adopt this Constitution as the supreme law of the Republic so as to: ­

  • Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;
  • Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law;
  • Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person; and
  • Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations.

To paraphrase Steve Biko: South Africans, you are on your own. Stop waiting for government or the politicians. 

To listen to the song, please click here.


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When the US defence force invaded Iraq and removed the dictator, Sadam Hussein, not much thought was given to the kind of society that would result; how harsh has the aftermath proved to be. Similarly, we South Africans strove to establish democracy. We were lauded (erroneously, in my opinion – but that is another debate) for our relatively bloodless transition. Yet, like Iraq, we have not paid sufficient attention to kind of society to which we aspired but are now finding to be a mirage. From the head of state – who consorts with miscreants and is himself not a role model in any way whatsoever – to all organs of our society, we find a nation in disarray. Oh, the odd columnist insists that our country is still the best (and, yes, of course the people, the weather, the topography, are the best). But we are led by a kleptocracy, a callous, selfish, parochial bunch that construct divisions between the races simply so that they are able to divide and rule. Playing the racial card, in every debate, has become the hallmark of this government. Furthermore, instead of diverting billions upon billions of rands to education, health, and welfare, money is allocated to arms deals and e-tolling systems because the returns for the corruptibles are immediate and extremely rewarding. We are not on the slippery path; we have, indeed, fallen off the cliff. It is merely a matter of time before we lie shattered below the precipice.

I hope you’re wrong but I believe you are right. It took longer for SA to do the lemming trick, but that’s because it had a stronger base than other African nations before the rot set in.

Too late max. You campaigned to give them the vote and this is how they repay you. Surely you must have known this would be the outcome of African nationalism.

The fundamental level of addressing the “poverty” mindset is at home in the family and through proper nurturing and education. Parents are a child’s first teachers. Poverty is not a lack of money: it is rather a mindset that does not realize one’s own potential. There is a huge download of potential in every human being. It does not require money to teach a child to be attentive about the world around them. Nurturing is about helping a child to develop their innate gifts and abilities in order for them to be fully independent and to live fulfilled lives and to contribute to the whole. Each individual has their own way of learning. A very helpful book is this one:
Education is not about “schooling”.
“Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.” ~ Albert Einstein
Businesses can contribute only by allowing the family to fulfill its proper role in society, which is to nurture the child.
Family is the smallest unit of society. Every business is made up of individuals that come from a family. If family is fulfilling it original purpose then every other level of society will have a better chance to thrive.

Max, you are right, but what exactly do you want me (a white male in my 50’s with a small business with 4 staff members, me included) to do? I voted for justice, I pay my taxes. I stick to the law, I donate money to worthy causes. I try to help previously disadvantaged (it cost me almost R1m in two disastrous attempts where the recipients just wanted to count the money). I work very hard. I have two kids at university who got there because of hard work and excellent marks. I am not a racists. I do not begrudge anybody success. What exactly will make the masses happy? I, for the life of me, do not understand what I’m supposed to do. Would giving away everything I own do the trick, or will that still be too little? It is extremely difficult to deal with people who seem to be better at breaking down, than building up; better at short term consumption than long term wealth creation. The way I see it, I own a house and have a few R’s in the bank because I educated myself, worked hard and saved over a lifetime to have what I have. What have I done wrong to warrant the rage of the black middle class and the anger of the poor? Perhaps you make to much of the rage and anger, and too little of the propensity of a large part of the South African citizenry to demand what they did not work for. I, for one, am willing to assist in any way I can, but all I ask for in return is that the ones with the rage and anger put the effort in to make the country work for all its citizens.

Max has a way with words. Heck, I even followed the guy. As I got older and wiser it more dawned on me, Max says wonderful things. Reality on on the other hand tells a different story.

How does bad parents deal with naughty kids? Rather, what is a sign of bad parenting when kids throw tantrums? Some parents, would in order to stop the kids from crying, give into their demands just to make them stop. Eventually the child gets a “learned behaviour” that if they throw a tantrum, they get what they want. And these parents keep giving, basically held ransom by the child’s destructive behaviour.

Maxs’ advise, like the typical left wing “do-gooder” idealists, is to appease the naughty child. Don’t say no to the child, and in heavens name, don’t upset the child. Appease, appease, appease. sweety?

And like you say, when will it ever be enough? The question is never, because appeasing people, is to create a sense of entitlement. Max knows when the naughty kid don’t get their way, the kid will get angry. In this case, the day you stop giving, these hooligans with their sense of entitlement will go into a range. A black rage.

The day when Max puts down his head for eternal rest, it will be us that have to clean up his idealistic utopian nightmare. It’s going implode on itself with a clear trajectory.

Honoris writes along the lines of my immediate thoughts after reading this article, namely that the bloodless transition into democracy caught everyone by surprise, most notably the white people of our country who were shrouded in guilt and fully expected something more to take place. When all expected resistance internally never materialised and punishment to be dished out to the white minority never occurred, we all breathed a huge sigh of relief and boldly stood united as proud South Africans riding on this wave and showing the world ‘this is how it is done’. In the euphoria of ending apartheid and under the initial management of President Mandela, the first 10 years of democracy appeared to be the showcase of what SA history could have been like. Then the first creaking signs of politics ‘Africa style’ started to show. Why would we expect so many years of apartheid division to be so easily wiped out? It was tough for an inexperienced government and then made worse by poor leadership succession that has culminated in the dismal situation we have today. We have not yet run the full transformation course and there are still many deeply buried issues that will make themselves heard, usually in violent form first as those most disillusioned believe bloodletting to be the only way to cleanse. Lets hope it can be avoided with reason. Africa’s style of government is unlikely to ever mirror what Europe (and us white people living here) would like to see happen. The people get the government they vote for and if the majority vote to keep the current leadership in place then we will have to each manage our little piece of South Africa as best we can and hopefully under the correct moral ideology.

“Hopefully under the correct moral ideology” ….This is AFRICA pal this continent is bereft of moral ideology in any way shape or form, it’s nothing more than a taxi rank of bad drivers and now the great South Africa Final Solution UHURU is just getting going ala Zimbabwe.
I note that Max neglected to mention the genocide carried out by Mugabe and Korean pals just after he took power from Iam Smith.

Sky News just aired a video of the removal of Rhodes’ statue at UCT. Even as it is being winched up, “students” (ha-ha) and EFF members are toyi-toying round it, pouring buckets of “something” on the head and screaming mindlessly. Sheer savagery and barbarism, and now it has the world’s attention – much good that will do! [I would have posted this under the Rhodes’ statue thread, but MW have closed comments on that]

At this time of the year, Jews celebrate Passover, commemorating the freedom from slavery in Egypt. The Torah recounts how the Jews were destined to wander the desert for 40 years, to free their MINDS of slavery, now that they were physically free. The people of South Africa are free, they just don not believe it. Bring on 2034

Max, you start the article by referring to “…middle class rage…”. What black middle class rage are you talking about exactly? Surely these are people who have benefited from our democracy?

A black middle class was formed at the expense of the white middle class.

The black middle class grow, and the white middle class shrink. The only way for socialists to show equality, is to bring everyone down to their level.

The Constitution and the principles of the Constitution are worth protecting, even fighting for. It was the Constitution that made the transition possible, and is what keeps us from the abyss that unchecked polarisation could create. But the Constitution, tolerance, mutual respect, fairness and pluralism are much less emotive or rousing issues than those being stirred up by the current populist polarisation. In the face of populist extremism and rhetoric, who will rally the soft spoken majority that believe in the Constitution?

To add to Honoris: The removal of strong leaders although they were inhumane dictators in Iraq /Libiya have left a leadership vacuum that has manifested itself into ISIS who now get willing recruits from the Global disgruntled rebellious youth. Currently we are suffering a similar leadership vacuum in SA with similar local results.

Firstly, I believe the “rage of the black working class” is a myth perpetrated by some reporters as an emotive subject to write about and get self-seeking readership. All the black middle class people I know are too busy making ends meet and getting a career and definitely don’t hold the ruling anc in high esteem. People often see things in terms of blacks v whites on mass media commentary, which is downright stupidly illogical and definitely dangerous. The average working citizen and sensible, practical people of all colours who make up the great majority of people who count, like in the workplace, do get on well together in their daily lives and must carry on making a special effort in setting the example for getting on, without meaningless nonsense like statue defacing and moronic self-seeking populist politicians interfering. The politicians, particularly the anc guttersnipes misruling the anc gutterment, are self-seeking scum seeking any distraction from their gross thievery and incompetence, and who feel nothing for anyone except themselves. We must not confuse the good silent majority of black and white people in SA with these swine. The good blacks and whites in SA are the ones who count, not the politicians and the looneys.

Unfortunately Max, most of what you say is probably true.
But there is another take, a take that surely comes long before all you say as salient as that may be.
There is little doubt the kingdom of man has been the most destructive and harmful force this planet has known and he has been especially harmful to his own kind. The strong and powerful, whoever and wherever they are have dominated – too often in the most inhumane and cruel way and that seems unlikely to change soon.
The real deep routed problem must surely be the numbers game; man is breeding irresponsibly and far too fast. Economies, and by implication social order, will just never keep up. WHO told us many years ago that planet earth had reached saturation point.
Why is this problem being so overlooked – too explosive politically/religiously perhaps?!
The Lemmings had it right though why they chose to go jump in the lake rather than control their birth rate is a question for nature.
We will never get on top of our socio-economic problems until we curb man’s basic insatiable desires. We breed ourselves into contempt of everything good this wonderful planet has given us!
Many of those who live the so called ‘good life’ have earned it as much by controlling their number of offspring as anything else!
Until all of us get this message we are surely headed for a fall – the numbers will be depleted and we will start all over again, if indeed there is anything left of the planet by then.

It’s actually very simple. Several countries have followed the right path to “economic tolerance”. The government need to lay the foundation in which business thrives. Then jobs will be created and the economy will prosper. No country can remain on the path that S.A. is taking currently. There are millions upon millions of unemployed South Africans and this has been the case for over twenty years , no matter what the government says. The government really has no political will to sort the problem out. Maybe it suits them to say all and do little. The unemployment situation will cause more “dis-harmony” leading to revolution!!

– I have a comparison to make that I could not help noticing: I grew up in SA, but immigrated to Canada 25 years ago. I love my adoptive country, but fear that the current wave of polarization; fear of the other; & break down of democratic processes are turning Canada into a self-destructing, war-mongering, imperialist pariah. So, how can what is taking place in Canada be compared to the current SA situation?

In Canada, we keep waiting for our political leaders to turn the ship around, and use the Constitution as the guiding light to steer us out of the growing inequity and break down within our social & government systems. Hell may freeze over first! People from every strata of society wring their hands in frustration, or simply ‘check out’, but save for a few, most don’t seem to connect themselves into being part of the solution. Our current government is working as fast as possible to dismantle the hard won protections of rights & freedoms; privacy; environmental protection – basically anything that gets in the way of corporate growth & oil extraction.

South Africa neglected to recognize the need to properly educate their youth of colour – setting up predictable patterns of resentment & systems dysfunction (for eg. how can a lawyer with inferior primary education be expected to perform at the level of his/her white peers? There has to be a grace period for catch up, and a concerted effort to bridge the gaps in the system if things are to heal). Even when the ANC came into power, not enough priority was given to educating and investing in people. Educated people are so much less vulnerable to the likes of Malema & co. So too in Canada, we are massively divesting in public education. Our media dumbs down the questions & simply neglects to cover news that is not in the corporate interest. Public policy is eroded through lack of enforcement & government neglect (& malice).

The bottom line is this: though at first it is hard to see the comparison, both countries are allowing their democracy to be eroded through corruption; lack of vision; & short term political gain. So who or what is driving this? I believe that when we lose sight of who and what we are (the Constitution being our human attempt to articulate this. The education system being the mechanism for propelling this wisdom into the future), we get lost as a nation. Instead of finding ways to reengage ALL of our fellow citizens in the wisdom of our past so that we can critically think our way into the future, we buy into the short term fear mongering that feeds our own personal fears, and so we too become complicit in supporting systems that rely on domination and exploitation. Only when we do as the likes of Ghandi; Jesus; St Francis; Julian of Norwich etc taught: that every living thing is interconnected and has value, and therefore needs to be treated with respect & care, will we ever be truly on a path to healing & sustainability. –

End of comments.




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