The fallacy of equity: South Africa’s warning to the West

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Benjamin Crocker

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Benjamin Crocker

17 March 2023

4:00 AM

What do rolling blackouts, public disorder, and impending societal collapse in South Africa, have to do with the contemporary preoccupations of cosmopolitan Westerners?

At first glance, the comparison is a little perplexing. But the strife and chaos descending today upon Africa’s 5th largest country has its antecedents in the very same game the West’s business and governmental elites are playing today with unfettered enthusiasm.

In 1990, South Africa had the African continent’s largest economy. It also had apartheid, the reprehensible race-based system of government that suppressed the voices of well over two-thirds of the population. In February of that year, Nelson Mandela was released. This moment – the culmination of Mandela’s ‘long walk to freedom’ – was an event of world-historical significance.

Mandela’s release was a high watermark in the history of black emancipation. Its symbolic value is perhaps rivaled only by the passage of America’s 13th amendment in 1865, Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech in 1963, and the election of Barack Obama in 2008. Mandela’s democratic election to South Africa’s Presidency in 1994, four years after his release from prison, was necessary balm for an historically wounded African psyche.

A rational assessment of Mandela’s administrative ability at age 75, and the practical capacity of his African National Congress party to manage a radically newborn national bureaucracy, would no doubt have raised concerns in ordinary times. But these were no ordinary times. Mandela was without question the man of the hour, and remains rightly honored as an heroic political figure.

During Mandela’s Presidency, South Africa’s social cohesion and economic management held on, albeit under increasing stress. During the 1990s, the ANC’s latent tendency toward cronyism reared its ugly head, but was always somewhat tempered by Mandela’s supreme moral authority.

What has happened to South Africa since has been catastrophic; for the South African people, for the continent’s commercial viability, and for the world’s stability. The Chinese watch Africa keenly, ready to deploy their trademark geo-political usury at the slightest hint of an opportunity.

From the 1990s onward, South Africa’s new majority-black government attempted to redress historic racial injustices by increasing the diversity profile in both government and private sector job markets. In 1996, the GEAR (growth, employment, and redistribution) plan was enacted. It was followed by the BEE (Black Economic Empowerment) Act, and finally, by 2003’s ‘supercharged’ BBBEE (Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment) Act, which moved beyond mere race, embedding gender and social-equity objectives in its policy aims.

By the time the Presidency had passed from Mandela to his successors, redressing historic imbalances had transformed into wanton cronyism. Merit and competency were disregarded in South African public life. The resulting infection spread like wildfire from government institutions, into education, the business community, and beyond. By the time Covid struck, the ‘equity’ provisions within South Africa’s economic apparatus had been fully corrupted to the benefit of the nation’s elite. The South Africa of today is a clownish tribalist oligarchy.

What outsiders seldom understand is that this African tragedy is a harbinger of things to come for the Western World. Many prosperous nations are now held captive by the exact same spiritual, intellectual, and political malaise that has driven South Africa into anarchy.

The wider world struggles to grasp this understanding because it too easily views South Africa as a simple poorly basket case. This is chiefly due the severity and close historical proximity of its great national wound. But it also has to do with an historic amnesia surrounding South Africa’s national strength. The world has forgotten that for all its sins, modern South Africa was once a beacon of administrative competency and – for the briefest of moments after the fall of apartheid – relative social cohesion. It is a country rich in natural resources, and rich too, in the potential of its human capital. At least it was, until three decades of grift snuffed out its innate spirit of freedom and enterprise.

What matters in assessing the current South African tragedy is not the severity or temporal occurrence of the nation’s racial trauma. Rather, it is the missteps in responding to that trauma that most starkly illustrate the fate of nations that are now making precisely the same grave socio-political miscalculation, in response to their own real and imagined national wounds.

To understand the story of 21st Century South Africa is to understand the inescapable destruction wrought by grievance studies and identity politics. It is above all else, to understand the inevitable national disintegration that occurs when equality is replaced by equity as a nation’s preeminent socio-political principle.

Equality as a political concept concerns the equal value, worth, and dignity of all persons before the Law, and ultimately, before God. It holds consistent with a Judeo-Christian society because it leans heavily on human forgiveness to redress historic wrongs, allowing meritocracy to continue unimpeded as the supreme qualifying value in public administration. Conversely, Equity as a political concept relies on material destruction and redistribution in order to redress historic wrongs. It is an inherently unChristian principle of public justice. Equity seeks not to forgive, but to punish, by preferencing victimhood over competency, as the supreme qualifying value. One of its grand follies is its discarding of the civilizing genius of human forgiveness.

Nelson Mandela leant heavily on human forgiveness in his quest to reconcile South Africa. He personified this value by his grace and dignity in engaging warmly with his former persecutors. Though he may have begun his activism with strong Marxist sympathies, in his mature years he rejected the politics of violence and revolution. He met his predecessor, F. W. De Klerk, with warmth and magnanimity. Whatever his administrative failings, his South Africa was a nation that attempted to give true credence to the political principle of equality.

At Mandela’s passing, his successors began to reject political equality, giving more credence to the concept of political equity. Race permanently replaced competency as the supreme qualification for public administration. Of course, in South Africa’s early democratic years, a corrective was necessary – a country of majority blacks run exclusively by minority whites was exceedingly undemocratic. But a failure to balance this response set the nation on a slippery slope toward renewed race exclusivity.

This race exclusivity established, South Africa soon slid into tribal rule. By the time Jacob Zuma, a criminally incompetent corruptocrat, took control of the Presidency in 2009, the devolution was all but complete. The consequences of meritocracy’s demise had led to societal collapse.

South Africa today is facing near total breakdown of its electricity infrastructure. Its once magnificent schooling system is deteriorating. Petty crime has been rampant for twenty years, and violent crime endemic for the past ten. The value of the Rand against the US dollar has dropped from 1:5 in 1998, to 1:18 today. Residents who want to escape an impending ‘Civil War’ are trapped because they have no relative purchasing power in international markets.

What South Africa’s tragedy must teach the world is that any dalliance with the socio-political principle of ‘equity’ will set a nation on a path to eventual collapse. Once any qualification other than merit is preferenced within governmental, business, and social spheres, the slide into eventual corruption is all but inevitable. Special categories of citizens – categories based not on competency, but on an identification with historical victimhood – will soon rise to take control of institutions, leading to their deterioration, corruption, and eventual collapse.

South Africa’s special category was race. Then it became tribe, and then it became those from whom most financial advantage could be mutually gleaned. The wider Western World’s special ‘equity’ categories include race too, but also now include ethnicity, sex, sexuality, and political ideology itself.

We in the Western World have become utterly obsessed with equity. We have blazed through equality and devoured its fruits. Not content, we now seek to tear up the very foundations of a healthy, functioning, and competent society, at the behest of an ideology that places historically-derived victimhood as the highest value in determining suitability for both public and private sector leadership. Banks, schools, arts companies, and airlines (Airlines!) now proudly boast of ‘line-in-the-sand’ equity targets.

We would be foolish to think our own turn away from equality and competency won’t have severe consequences in the decades to come. Our failure to recognise the true origins of South Africa’s tragedy, and our own foolish embrace of equity and victimhood as the north star of our shared political life, will cost us dearly.

Ben Crocker is a research fellow for Common Sense Society, in Washington DC. His Substack is Crocker’s Columns.

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Published by Nelle

I am interested in writing short stories for my pleasure and my family's but although I have published four family books I will not go down that path again but still want what I write out there so I will see how this goes

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