There are many evils that can be charged to the account of the late twentieth- century phenomenon that is commonly called political correctness. One of these is the growing inability to perceive certain historical figures, events, and institutions with anything worthy of being called perspective. In the last century alone, movements and organizations committed to the political philosophy of Marxist-Leninism murdered the bodies of over one hundred million people and the spirits of millions more whom they forced into the dreary, hopeless, slave like existence that passed for life in the police states that flew the red flag. Yet to this day it is far safer for someone in academic or media circles to praise a Communist government, to dismiss the fear of Communism as irrational paranoia, and to say that the Americans were the aggressors in the Cold War, than it is for someone in those same circles to say anything that could be construed as a defense of General Franco of Spain or General Pinochet of Chile even though there was far more freedom and prosperity for the average citizen under either of their regimes than in any Communist country and the number of people tortured and killed by their regimes was far lower than that of any Communist country. Any attempt to put both Communism and the anti-Communist regimes of Franco and Pinochet in perspective is likely to be met with widespread denunciation and accusations that one is engaging in apologetics for “human rights” abuses.
Virtually anything having to do with Africa is similarly protected from perspective by political correctness.
Take the slave trade for example. We know all about it, don’t we? The bad guys, the white Europeans, in the age of exploration came to Africa, where they began to capture and enslave black people, who they shipped overseas to Europe and the European settlements in the Americas, where they were oppressed as drudge labourers.
Suppose, however, we were to broaden our perspective on African slavery by including within our picture of it the fact that slavery existed on the African continent long before European ships arrived on her west coast, that African slavery had begun with African tribes going to war with one another and enslaving each other, that the Arabs had conducted a trade in African slaves centuries prior to Europe’s getting involved, and that one of the consequences of modern European expansionism, colonialism, and imperialism was that the imperial powers ended and outlawed the slave trade in the nineteenth century, and abolished slavery in the territory under their control? Suppose we were to broaden our perspective even further by pointing out that since the end of World War II, which had accomplished a geopolitical realignment around the two new superpowers of the USA and USSR, who forced the old imperial powers to withdraw, slavery has begun anew in parts of Africa where it had been abolished by Britain, France, and the Dutch.? Suppose we were to point out, as Professor Bruce Charlton recently did (1), that due to liberal immigration and multiculturalism slavery has been reintroduced into the birthplace of abolitionism and is largely being ignored by the leftists who promote multiculturalism in contradiction to their professed opposition to slavery in all forms?
From that broader perspective it no longer appears to be a simple Manichean morality tale of evil whites and pure, innocent, oppressed blacks does it?
There is probably no element of African history that is more lacking in perspective than that of apartheid. Apartheid is the word in the Afrikaans language that refers, as its sound would suggest to English speakers, the state of being apart or separate. In 1948, when the Nationalist Party came to power in South Africa, it adopted this term to designate its policy of racial segregation.
The government of South Africa picked a particularly poor time to institute this policy. World War II was over, the revelations of the atrocities of Nazi Germany had given racialism a bad name, the anti-colonial, anti-imperial era was beginning under the supervision of the new progressive superpowers, the Communists were at work trying to fan the flames of anti-racist sentiment into the fire of revolution, and in the United States, now the leading power of the liberal, democratic, West, the Civil Rights movement would soon be underway, which would lead to the Civil Rights Bill of 1964, the model for subsequent anti-discrimination legislation such as the 1968 Race Relations Bill in the UK and the 1977 Canadian Human Rights Act. The way the tides of opinion were moving, it was inevitable that apartheid would receive widespread condemnation. Interestingly, the one country that understood perfectly well where the Afrikaners were coming from, itself achieved its independence as a country that same year. After the Six Days War in 1967, Israel and South Africa forged a close alliance, signing the Israel-South Africa Agreement in 1975. Today, enemies of the Jewish state liken the measures she has taken to preserve her existence in the face of the constant threat of Arab and Muslim terrorism to apartheid. Her defenders reject the comparison as a calumny, perhaps because they, unlike the country they are defending, lack perspective on apartheid.
It is fitting, therefore, that of those essays with which I am familiar, the one which in my opinion best put apartheid into perspective, appeared in an extremely pro-Israeli publication. The author of the essay was British writer and historian Paul Johnson. In an article that appeared in the September 1985 issue of the American neoconservative monthly journal Commentary, (2) Johnson took the United States to task for the economic boycott of South Africa then underway. It was a “cruel absurdity”, he declared, for the richest country in the world to “deliberately set about destroying the economy of what is in some respects still a developing nation.” (3) The United States had nothing to gain from doing so and much to lose. The only explanation for this absurdity, Johnson argued, was that “assumption that the South African regime is a unique moral evil, whose wickedness is so great that the necessity for its destruction transcends all the rules governing relations between states and, indeed, the dictates of elementary common sense.”
He then proceeded to demolish that assumption by pointing out that South Africa, far from being unique, is “in many fundamental respects…a typical African country.” He gave six examples, the first four of which are 1) that like other African states it was undergoing a population explosion, 2) like other large African states its racial problems were particularly complex and not just a matter of black and white, 3) “population pressure on the land is driving people into the towns, and especially into the big cities”, and 4) like in other African states this creates problems for the government to which the response is typical:
So governments respond with what has become the curse of Africa—social engineering. People are treated not as individual human beings but as atomized units and shoveled around like concrete or gravel. Movement control is imposed. Every African has to have a grubby little pass-book or some other begrimed document which tells him where he is allowed to work or live. South Africa has had pass-laws of a kind since the 18th century. They have now spread all over the African continent, and where the pass-book comes the bulldozer is never far behind. Virtually all African governments use them to demolish unauthorized settlements. Hundreds of thousands of wretched people are made homeless without warning by governments terrified of being overwhelmed by lawless multitudes. In the black African countries bordering on the Sahara, the authorities fight desperately to repel nomadic desert dwellers driven south by drought. When the police fail, punitive columns of troops are sent in. (4)
The fifth example Johnson gave was that South Africa, like all African states, conducts its social engineering on a racial basis. He wrote:
All African states are racist. Almost without exception, and with varying degrees of animosity, they discriminate against someone: Jews, or whites, or Asians, or non-Muslim religious groups, or disfavored tribes. There is no such thing as a genuinely multiracial society in the whole of Africa…African countries vary in the extent to which their practice of discrimination is formalized or entrenched in law codes and official philosophies. Most have political theories of a sort, cooked up in the political-science or sociology departments of local universities. Tanzania has a sinister totalitarian doctrine called Ujaama. Ghana has Consciencism. There is Zambian Humanism, Négritude in Senegal, and, in Zaire, a social creed called Mobutuism, after the reigning dictator. All these government theories reflect the appetites of the ruling racial groups… Apartheid is not a concept which divides the Republic from the rest of Africa: on the contrary, it is the local expression of the African ideological personality. (5)
This, it should be noted, has changed since the change in power from the Afrikaner National Party to the African National Congress in 1994. Not only does the ANC, despite the false image of the “rainbow nation” generated by a deceitful media, practice discrimination against the white South Africans who are currently being eliminated in a Zimbabwesque manner, the ANC is not even representative of all South Africa blacks, being historically a primarily Xhosa organization, (6) although its current leader, Jacob Zuma, comes from the rival Zulu people.
The sixth way, in which Johnson said that South Africa was typical of Africa was in the way it had suffered “at the hands of its politically minded intellectuals”.
Having demonstrated that in all of these negative things Nationalist South Africa was a typical, rather than unique, African state, Johnson then identified four ways in which it stood out by differing from other African states. The first two of these were its wealth, “South Africa has by far the richest and most varied range of natural resources of any African country”, and the fact that it had used that wealth to build a modern economy, the only one of its kind in Africa. The third was that blacks were better off in white-governed South Africa than any other country in Africa. Here another extended quote from Johnson is in order:
Except for the Ivory Coast, Kenya, and Malawi, all the black African states have experienced falls in real incomes per capita since independence. But only in South Africa have the real incomes of blacks risen very substantially in the last quarter-century. In mining, black wages have tripled in real terms in the last decade and are still rising…This helps to account for the fact that there are more black-owned cars in South Africa than there are private cars in the whole of the Soviet Union. The Republic is the first and so far the only African country to produce a large black middle class. In South Africa the education available to blacks is poor compared to what the whites get, and that is one of the biggest grievances the black communities harbor; but it is good compared to what is available elsewhere on the continent…Thanks to mining, again, this modest but rising prosperity is not confined to blacks born in South Africa. About half of South Africa’s black miners come from abroad, chiefly from Mozambique, Malawi, Lesotho, Swaziland, and Botswana…The security fences South Africa is now rather anxiously erecting are designed to keep intended immigrants out, not—like the Berlin Wall—to keep people in. (7)
The fourth way in which Nationalist South Africa differed from other African countries is that was “in many respects a free country.” Johnson explained that:
Every other African country has become, or is in the process of becoming, a one-party state. None of them subscribes in practice, or in most cases even in theory, to the separation of powers. Both the rule of law and democracy are subject in South Africa to important qualifications. But it is the only African country where they exist at all. The emergency and security powers enjoyed by the South African government are so wide and draconian that they almost make us forget that the judiciary is independent—very much so—and that even non-whites can get justice against the state, something they are most unlikely to secure anywhere else on the continent. The courts are cluttered with black litigants suing the police, the prison authorities, or other government agencies, or appealing against sentences. (8)
To summarize, the things which the anti-apartheid movement most objected to in Nationalist South Africa – its official racial discrimination, its heavy handed government policing, etc., were all features that the South African government shared with all other African governments, that were not uniquely South African, per se, but rather were typically African. It made no sense, therefore, to single South Africa out for condemnation. The only difference was that in South Africa the governing group was white whereas in all other African countries – now that Ian Smith’s government had fallen and Rhodesia was being turned into Zimbabwe – it was black. Since the conditions for blacks were improving in Nationalist South Africa, to the point that they had an immigration problem from the rest of the continent, whereas they were rapidly declining in the rest of Africa, it made even less sense to condemn South Africa.
Since the ANCs rise to power in 1994, conditions in South Africa have deteriorated for blacks and whites alike. What was a first world country when governed by the Afrikaners is becoming a third world country, in which the white South Africans face genocide and the black South Africans face the deterioration of the rule and protection of law, a failing economy, and a decline into the conditions present everywhere else in Africa. Those South Africans who can, black and white alike, are now fleeing the country, while under Afrikaner rule they were struggling to get in.
What is apparent out of all of this is that South Africa was a better place to live, for blacks and whites alike, from 1948 to 1994, than either any other country in Africa was at the time or than South Africa itself has been ever since.
This does not mean, of course, either that the policy of apartheid made the difference between South Africa then and South Africa now, or that apartheid is somehow justified by all of this. What made the difference between South Africa then and South Africa now is that South Africa then, the prosperous, Western, country, was largely an expression of the Afrikaner people who built the country, established its institutions, and wrote its laws. As such an expression, the country of South Africa was a country that Afrikaners, other African whites, and African blacks all wished to participate in. Apartheid, of course, prevented the other people living in South Africa, other than non-Afrikaner whites, from full participation, and that is wherein its injustice lies. The difficulty is that apart from apartheid, that South Africa would probably have been impossible to create.
All of which must be taken into consideration if we are to even approach perspective, when it comes to apartheid and the whole South African situation.
(2) Commentary has been published since 1945 when it was founded by the American Jewish Committee as a replacement for the Contemporary Jewish Record. Its first editor was Eliot Cohen, who was succeeded by Norman Podhoretz in 1960. It was during Podhoretz’s editorship that the journal ostensibly moved to the right, when Podhoretz, initially a Cold War liberal Democrat, grew disgusted with the pro-Soviet, pro-Palestinian, New Left in the 1970s and realigned himself and his publication with the American conservative movement. Hence the label “neoconservative”, which in an American context generally refers to a member of the “New York Intellectuals” who moved from the left to the right in the 1970s and who is usually belligerently militaristic. Commentary gradually became independent of the American Jewish Committee. Its current editor is John Podhoretz, son of Norman Podhoretz, and it remains extremely, to the point of being obnoxiously so, pro-Israel.
(3) Paul Johnson, “The Race for South Africa”, Commentary, September, 1985. https://www.commentarymagazine.com/articles/the-race-for-south-africa/ (if you wish to view this, you will have to part with some shekels, I am afraid, either a subscription price or the purchase price of the article)
(6) See Ilana Mercer’s Into the Cannibal’s Pot: Lessons For America From Post-Apartheid South Africa (Seattle: Stairway Press, 2011) for more information about this.
(7) Johnson, op cit.