In an opinion piece entitled "Indebted for life: We whites have a huge debt to pay, but how?" written by Inge Kuhne, deputy editor at , and published in on 21 December 2020, the author makes the following poignant statement:
"Apartheid was a crime perpetrated deliberately over generations and it caused irrevocable damage to millions of people alive today. I was a beneficiary of that crime and so are most of my friends and every single member of my family. For that we owe a debt."
In her analysis, Kuhne questions the nature of the debt and its possible quantification; who should pay the debt, and to whom should it be paid.
Describing it as "an opportunity missed", she refers to the views of professor and economist Sampie Terreblanche ("wealth tax should have been levied on businesses that had benefited from a 'symbiotic relationship' with the former regime, to address the structural inequality SA"); Archbishop Desmond Tutu (in a speech delivered at Stellenbosch University in 2011 suggested that "wealthy white people should be taxed"); and Judge Dennis Davis and two-co-authors that also argued, in an opinion piece in Business Day in May 2020, that "not taxing whites might have been an oversight".
From 1652 until today, white ideas and systems have consistently triumphed in SA: Christianity, democracy, free-market economy, private ownership of land, . All of this enabled whites, over a period of almost four centuries, to amass incredible wealth, mostly at the expense of blacks (a recent statistic show that whites own 86% of SA's wealth).
Whites, however, flouted their own principles and values of fairness and justice by systematically creating an enabling environment for them to thrive. Blacks never stood a chance; the playing fields were not level and the odds were stacked heavily against them. In a mere quarter of a century, blacks have had to come from outside "the system" and try to acquire their own portion of wealth, largely from the whites who owned it all.
Level the playing field
The time has come to level the playing field retrospectively through some form of current economic redress. Only through paying adequate reparation to blacks will whites also finally be able to liberate themselves as well by casting off the chains of a collective guilty consciousness.
The only way to destroy the ingrained notion of separation embedded in the national psyche is to substitute it with the promotion of its opposite - togetherness - as expressed in the African ideology of "Ubuntu" ( - "a person is a person because of others"). A similar Western equivalent of this saying, attributable to Alexander the Great, is: "Upon the conduct of each depends the fate of all."
In an opinion piece published in The Daily Maverick on 20 February 2020 ("Time for real economic redress"), John Steenhuisen of the DA wrote, "recognise and acknowledge that the injustices of the past were perpetrated on the basis of race". This creates an intractable dilemma in his opinion: How do you redress racial wrongs on a non-racial basis? I believe his hypotheses to be fundamentally flawed.
Most political writers and commentators, like Barney Mthombothi and S'thembiso Msomi, in seeking to identify the "root causes" for SA's vast social and economic inequality, put forward an array of contributing factors, mostly centering on the top five challenges to doing business in the country. These are an inefficient government bureaucracy, restrictive labour regulations, a shortage of skilled workers for some high tech industries, political instability, and corruption. While politically correct, most of these analyses ignore or pay scant attention to the "elephant in the room".
In letters to the editor of The Witness, published on 19 February 2020 ("Time for economic redress") and 11 March 2020 ("Whites must pay for apartheid harm"), I stressed the need for economic redress through the payment of reparation/s by whites to blacks, postulating that it can only be done in clear racial terms. I further argued that the legacies of apartheid can only be undone by methods directly antithetical to those employed by the former regime, namely the promotion of instead of separation, legislated if necessary.
"Redress" may refer either to the act of setting right an unjust situation or to the satisfaction sought or gained for a wrong suffered. "Reparation" refers to compensation or satisfaction for a wrong or loss inflicted. "Reparations" are payments made by a defeated nation after a war to pay for damages or expenses it caused to another nation ( read "race" for "nation"). Implicit here is the notion of a wrongdoer (whites) and a victim (blacks) and the payment of compensation by the former to the latter.
("WMP") has been conceived as a clarion call to mark the start, from a lone voice of reason, of a movement that will grow into a mighty social force based on fairness and justice and seeking the restoration of historical imbalances through innovative and quantifiable economical means. WMP does not proscribe to the prescripts of untenable ideologies and policies such as Radical Economic Transformation ("RET"), BEE, affirmative action, and the expropriation of land without compensation.
WMP unapologetically promotes economically feasible policies and programmes aimed at the upliftment of the historically disadvantaged, blacks, by whites; for instance, through the establishment of a Social Fund to which whites (and WMC) are required to contribute meaningfully according to formulas of economic means or wealth, and which is administered by an independent Board (much like the Solidarity Fund created in the wake of Covid-19) for the ultimate benefit of blacks; distributed, for instance, in the form of a basic income grant ("BIG"), and for the promotion of entrepreneurship and other economic catalysts.
A BIG would create a local circulation of currency that would create value, security, and jobs and decrease crime, poverty, and economic injustice (a BIG of R1 200 per month for our black working population, of which more than 50% are jobless, would cost about R500 billion annually - which is eminently affordable considering that the Steinhoff debacle alone wiped out about R200 billion of its value).
Many other innovative, imaginative, and practical initiatives and solutions are notionally possible and feasible to promote togetherness and economic well-being between whites and blacks.
The late Anton Rupert, the renowned Afrikaner industrialist, had long championed the concept of "partnership" as a means to economic prosperity. The same ideal, and WMP's point of departure, is expressed by the Zulu maxim ("one hand washes the other").
The rhetoric of the Codesa negotiations, which culminated in the advent of democracy in SA in 1994, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's (TRC) intention to create a shared point of origin in history from which the entire nation could depart as one with the emphasis being on reconciling the nation and establishing a non-racial democracy, did not succeed.
The TRC linked amnesty to an idea of transitional or restorative justice based on reconciliation.
In addition to idealised transactions of confession and forgiveness between victim and perpetrator, storytelling (a form of "healing through narrative") was one of the cornerstones of the TRC's model for reconciliation.
Many victims of apartheid feel that the amnesty provisions denied them the right to seek judicial redress and feel that telling their story has not done them any good in light of their continuing social and economic suffering. Victims were given no choice but to agree to a reconciliatory closure.
The dominant discourse of forgiveness denied them an official place within what was to be the new democratic "rainbow" nation of South Africa. Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu are often pummelled for promoting reconciliation as the preferred option for a peaceful transition.
The new democracy that was created did not, and does not at present, correspond with the reality of the majority of South Africans.
The emphasis on one understanding of justice, as reconciliation, left little room for a retributionist discourse.
I believe, however, that democracy will forever have to be critically re-examined and renegotiated and that reconciliation can never really achieve its point of closure to the exclusion of other forms of justice, including restorative or retributive justice.
A rethink, or new social contract, is required on different levels to improve socio-economic conditions in SA, such as, for example,the ending of corruption and inefficiency in service delivery, and local government control by communities.
Only a new kind of collaboration and a mixed economy suited to our own particular situation will suffice.
David Forbes sums it up succinctly: "Our world has changed, and unless we adapt, SA is going to die, metaphorically as a 'rainbow nation', economically as a failed state, and literally as riots and revolution savage our society."