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Denis Beckett

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

AA, BEE: A New Racism that Boomerangs

I stiffened the sinews, clenched my teeth and tackled the 134 comments addressed to two recent columns. One was by me: “if today’s fashion is ‘give the job to the black oke!’ tomorrow’s fashion will be ‘bring back the whiteys!’ “. The other was Frans Cronje on Politicsweb saying much the same thing, though better researched: “the cliché of South Africa’s future and irony of its recent past [is] that affirmative action disempowered its greatest proponents while empowering its most fervent critics.”

I expected wading through these 134 comments to be sewer-repair work, clothes pegs on the nose. How nice to discover that no, comment-lines are not only populated by bile-and-imbecility merchants, there are real people with sincerity and ideas, exploring ways out of decline, in to respect and confidence.

I’d had a wrong idea, I confess, but I claim that it’s not an irrational wrong idea to have. The last few times I’ve checked Moneyweb’s comment lines I’ve been struck by racist scorn (two-way, I add, though sometimes I see bilious black responses as almost forgivable in retaliation to bilious white derision.)

Racist insults are like squashy turds on a footpath; when they recur a few times you cease to notice the nice flowers and upright plants; you get a yecch impression of the footpath. I’d become quite deterred from writing this column, loath to be linked to Neanderthals looking for put-downs.

But now, finding all those real people, I take heart and I also redefine. I declare that henceforth this column is for those people, the ones interested in discussing ways towards a strong, sound country. It is not at all for the delectation of the scorn brigade. Bigots who burn for excuses to whack the blacks can feel free to scoot away. A click or two should deliver them a more congenial home, with the same initials daarby. And for the funnymen yearning to scrawl their witty and entertaining “Yawn” over any place that requires time out from spleen-venting for brain-using, here’s a friendly tip: this column hereby becomes yawn, yawn, all the way. Wander away now, and stay awake.

Let’s now go through some aspects of this proposition that Frans and I have – rather uncannily and with nil consultation – presented to you simultaneously. We each say in essence that the new racism, whether defined as AA or BEE or BBBEE or what, boomerangs. It damages the cause it is meant to help.

Thereafter I suppose we part a little. Frans argues that the whiteys benefit but I’m cautious about that. Yes, it does mean the whiteys, or non-Africans in general, again becoming artificially favoured in the job queues. But that isn’t really “benefit”; it is just another perverse twist in the racism tango, sowing the seeds of the next pile of disillusion and reversal. And while Afrikaners who used to wield rubber stamps are overjoyed to have been pushed into starting their own mini-businesses, they are as un-beneficially affect by the collapsing civil service as anyone else.

I’d say that no one benefits from BEE, except short term. Sudden fortunes must be fun. But we know where sudden fortunes end. We also see lots of evidence now of the pains they cause even while they ride high. The new mansion and the new supercar get an ashen taste when your peers are sniggering behind your back.

Proposition One, for today: I put it to you seriously that there is no real beneficiary from the new racism, and there is a categorical loser; the regular humble South African who needs a growing economy. That person – child or granny or parent, worker or work-needer or grant-receiver – loses because of the iron law that for your economy to select its players on grounds other than ability to hone its cutting edge is sabotage.

Even when you focus solely on choosing the best person for the job, you get it wrong half the time. A policy that condemns a nation to restrict the candidate pool is a policy that’s betting on the other side. That’s why you hear of BRIC, Brazil, Russia, India and China as the up-and-coming. It’d be BRICSA if our nation was not being stabbed in the back by its own government. Basic net effect: we enter an era where central decisions affecting SA’s life are made by people who have no intention of being in SA while the consequences of those decisions play out.

That’s bad news, not for “blacks”, not for “whites”, bad news for people who want to live here permanently and peacefully. That’s why I thump this tub. We’ll get nowhere while BEE is a race war. We start getting somewhere when we agree that we all want an unchained economy, and when no one fears it’s un-black to say so.

Proposition Two is: the enemy is distortion; the enemy is not people’s colours.

Reading these single-digit IQs shrieking abuse — “go back to swinging in your tree” and the ilk – I wonder what death-wish is at work. People right here in Africa get hysterically hostile to everything about Africa; does that add up? You can see their frustration. They see BEE appointments meaning jobs not done, half-done, done wrong. They see people with half their service and a third of their capability being promoted above them. At the office they must put on shit-eating grins, it’s not surprising that they turn to vitriol under the anonymity of the internet.


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