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Denis Beckett

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

We must move beyond race, or we’re doomed

The worst, the deepest, the most indefensible sin that a columnist can commit is to say “I told you so”. It should be in the contract: “I told you so” means instant beheading.

Unless you use the dreary phrase “as I said in my column of nineteenvoetsek…” For that you get water-torture first.

You now know that I am about to say “I told you so”. And I claim Beginner’s Exemption because I don’t believe (!?) I’ve ever done this thing before.

As I said in piles of nineteenvoetsek columns: when we started to thrust melanined people into roles that they wouldn’t fill if they didn’t have the melanin, we guaranteed that melanin would later become a handicap.

Let me say that in plain Seffricenglish: if today’s fashion is “give the job to the black oke!”, tomorrow’s fashion will be “bring back the whiteys!”

Tomorrow is upon us, it seems to me. Not that the ship of state has switched course yet. It’s still drifting in the same wrong direction but only momentum is taking it there. The engine-room has shut down. People who deeply believed that freedom unleashed a 900% bigger pool of managers and engineers to make us a 900% richer country, now confront what they could not confront before: what we actually get is holes in the road, broken robots, reduced activity and personal tragedy.

Thus, the debate welcomely changes. We get towards a better basis, certainly from the pro-transformation side.

Indications? Here you go:

* THE new mantra, spreading like a rescue-blanket. It goes “there must be a balance between the demographic need and the need for capacity”, and it is now on the radio whenever a mayor/MEC/minister explains why their department dysfunctions. Fifteen years ago you’d be shot (as in the big word for “ostracised”) for talking like that. The doctrine said that transformation raised capacity. Since then, “capacity” has become a one-word code for “sorry, no output here; new staff, not yet trained”.

The “balance” mantra is a staging post towards the inevitable next step, which is when the idea of “a demographic need” disappears in favour of a human need, for everyone’s prospects to be ceiling-free and staircase-supported, with no selective escalator rides.

* WE’RE past the point that we could ask “might SA go the route of Africa?” We know we’re on “the route of Africa”, that once seemed so vital to avoid. What’s funny is to see it in the twin clich├ęs, pot-holes and robots, a.k.a. traffic lights. For half a century those things have symbolised African states failing. For the last state to let them go wrong seems like a bad script, over-obvious. But so it goes, and manhole covers walk away and tap-water acquires creepy-crawlies and hospitals run out of swabs and airplanes run out of pilots and the no-nevers are here and happening.

So now it’s not as if alarms and warning notes are just whitey being grouchy. It becomes clear that there is a problem, and that switching Van der Merwe for Tshabalala is not a comprehensive answer.


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