First lady Michelle Obama is touring this writer’s birthplace, South Africa. “[Nelson] Mandela’s legacy in the battle for South African democracy,” wrote one rapt reporter, who followed the FLOTUS around Johannesburg, “defines much of Obama’s visit.” It was only natural that “her next stop” would be “the Apartheid Museum, which chronicles the rise and fall of white rule.”
Apartheid was a contemptible caste system. Forgotten, however, in the recriminations over apartheid are the facts as they are documented in my just-released book, “Into the Cannibal’s Pot: Lessons For America From Post-Apartheid South Africa.”
The Museum of Apartheid Mrs. Obama and the first daughters graced with their presence will have emphasized that, “Everything that goes wrong in the new South Africa is a legacy of apartheid.”
Is not the violence in the rest of Africa blamed on colonialism?
“It’s a legacy that has gone on for almost 40 years,” I write (citing an exacerbated Jim Peron, an American expatriate, whose idealism drove him to decamp to post-apartheid South Africa). “Every time something goes wrong (and that happens constantly), the same litany of excuses is recited. ‘We inherited this problem from the corrupt apartheid regime.’”
There’s one pesky problem with this particular blame game: South Africa’s flourishing criminal class consists mainly of youngsters who’ve come of age and blossomed under black rule.
“Had the sainted Mandela ascended to power in the 1960s instead of languishing on Robben Island and in Pollsmoor Prison [Mrs. Obama's destinations in Cape Town], he would have nationalized the South African economy and banned private enterprise. That’s what the ANC’s Charter called for in 1955. That’s what South Africa’s black-ruled neighbors to the north did.”
Except for Rhodesia before Robert Mugabe, minority-ruled South Africa, with all its problems, offered Africans more than any other country on the Dark Continent.
Patterns of migration have always functioned as clues to social reality. Then as now, “black migration patterns into South Africa far exceeded black migration patterns out of South Africa.” Granted, entering African migrants were not “voting with their feet” for apartheid, but they were certainly voting for law and order and a livelihood.
In the “first 23 years of apartheid, between 1948 and 1981, the South African economy grew at a rate of 4.5 percent.” Of course, in the famous words attributed to both Disraeli and Mark Twain, there are lies, damned lies and statistics. Duly, Marxists put the high-growth rate down to exploitation.
However, when “exploitation” was replaced with “liberation” – and Africans broke free of the colonial yoke to gain political independence – they promptly established planned economies, in whose shadow nothing could grow, plunging their respective countries into despair and destitution.
To the liberal West, Kenneth Kaunda and Julius Nyerere were the faces of black liberation, but both leaders cut a swathe of destruction through the rural economies of their respective countries, Zambia and Tanzania.
While South Africa is not quite a one-party state, it is a dominant-party state. Demographics dictate that Mandela’s African National Congress will likely never lose an election to one of the country’s tiny, tokenistic opposition parties. One shudders to think what the ANC – now slowly Sovietizing South Africa – would have wrought on the sophisticated, industrialized economy of the country had it been given the opportunity circa 1960.
While black Africa and Eastern Europe circled the drain due to communism, South Africa was experiencing an economic explosion, courtesy of the National Party’s relatively conservative economics. An oasis in the African desert, South Africa’s then-gold-backed economy grew at an annual rate of 6 percent during the 1960s.
In his submission to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, F. W. de Klerk, who received a Nobel Peace prize for surrendering South Africa to the ANC, corrected the record. The following is excerpted from “Into the Cannibal’s Pot” (which cites liberal historian Hermann Giliomee):
Apartheid was not only about white privilege but also about development and redistribution of income from whites to blacks. The economy had grown by an average of 3.5 percent per year under apartheid, the black school population grew by 250 percent in the first 25 years of apartheid, and the black share of total personal income had nearly doubled from 20 percent in the mid-1970s to 37 percent in 1995, while that of whites declined from 71 to 49 percent.” As bad as the Bantu Education system was, it vastly improved black literacy. Twelve years into the Nationalist government’s rule, the rate of literacy among the Bantu of South Africa was already higher than that of any other state in Africa, or that of India.
Indeed, longevity under apartheid attests to the constantly improving (if imperfect) public health and government services for blacks. From the 8.6 million recorded in the 1946 census, the black population rose to 17.4 million in 1974 and 28.3 million by 1991. From the 1940s to the 1990s, life expectancy for blacks soared from 38 to 61 years!
Since the dawn of democracy around 1994, life expectancy in South Africa has plummeted by nine years, and unemployment has jumped from 19 percent in 1994 (before “freedom”) to 31 percent in 2003 (after “freedom”), steadily rising until, in 2005, it stood at 38.8 percent.
The Apartheid Museum will make extravagant claims for Mandela’s movement. Air brushed out of a slanted historical presentation is this:
By staving off crime and communism, the apartheid regime, a vast repressive apparatus though it was, saved black South Africans from an even worse moral and material fate.