Back in July, former President Barack Obama made a speech in South Africa that garnered much attention, although not for the reason it should have.
During his speech at the Nelson Mandela Lecture in a packed Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg, Obama went out of his way to praise South Africa’s new president, Cyril Ramaphosa for “inspiring great hope in this country.”
If you weren’t studying the situation in South Africa, you might be forgiven for thinking this was perfectly OK. After all, Ramaphosa replaced Jacob Zuma, one of the world’s most shameless kleptocrats. In most cases, that certainly would be a cause for celebration.
And, indeed, South African media seemed to pick up on the support for the new Ramaphosa administration: “The Nelson Mandela Lecture had plenty of star power on Tuesday afternoon,” The South African reported. “While former US President Barack Obama was undoubtedly the star of the show, the reaction Cyril Ramaphosa received was rather incredible.”
What could possibly be wrong with that sort of thing? (See the video below.)
Oh, well, yes, that.
See, Ramaphosa realizes that his country is in dire trouble. Zuma has essentially drained gigantic amounts of money from state-owned industries. Meanwhile, his party — the African National Congress, the party of Nelson Mandela which has ruled South Africa since the end of apartheid and has experienced frighteningly diminishing returns since their first standard-bearer — wants a speedier way to equality.
That way is called EWC — Expropriation Without Compensation. It is a pleasant euphemism for taking land from white farmers without compensating them and giving it to black citizens in order to make things in the country more equal, something South Africa is considering amending the constitution to make legal.
In a piece for the U.K. Independent earlier this week, Garsen Subramoney argued why this is a terrible idea — and not just because it’s scaring away the foreign investment South Africa desperately needs while sending its currency into the dumps.
“It’s challenging because there are no models, in the 21st century, that show taking one group’s property away and giving it to another without compensation has not ended in populist armageddons — look to Zimbabwe and Venezuela,” he wrote.
“The 28 million black people living in poverty won’t get wealthier through EWC. The capital and training they need will have taken flight,” Subramoney added. “Banks might end up holding billions in debt on land that has been expropriated, and they won’t be forthcoming with business development or home loans. And the state still has a way to go to fix its weak institutions and root out corruption.”
If that wasn’t unctuous enough, there’s also the issue of farmer murders. As the U.K. Daily Mail reports, white farmers are allegedly killed more often than policemen in South Africa. Being a farmer — if you’re the wrong color — is more dangerous than dealing with violent criminals in a country not necessarily known for a paucity of felonious behavior.
But the media has excoriated anyone who mentions this because — and I swear I’m not making this up — there are actually less murders of white farmers now than there used to be.
“South Africa’s reputation for crime extends beyond its borders, but attacks on white farmers in particular have captured the attention of international audiences, especially in conservative circles. But data in a new report indicate that farm attacks have actually been on a steady decline,” a report from Quartz’s Lynsey Chutel from June of this year reads.
“After a peak in 2001/2002, the number of farm attacks — rape, robbery and other forms of violent crime short of murder — has decreased to about half. Similarly, the number of murders on farms peaked in 1997/1998 at 153, but today that number is below 50.”
Oh, well, looks like we’ve solved that problem. Except that’s not even the whole story since farmers’ rights group AfriForum says the results of that study are incomplete and unreliable. Quartz successfully rebutted that by running a piece in which they mentioned that an unmentioned number of individuals at a AfriForum protest apparently flew the apartheid-era South African flag. Because that proves the numbers are totally legitimate, right?
I have little doubt that AfriForum isn’t the most reliable organization in the world and that their grievances are no doubt based in some form of racism. I also have little doubt that the government of Cyril Ramaphosa isn’t the most reliable organization in the world and their grievances are no doubt based in some form of racism. The difference is that one is the ruling government here. The ANC may once have been a force fighting an oppressive, racist regime willing to twist the facts to preserve racial hegemony in spite of increasing popular discontent and financial ruin. It is now an oppressive, racist regime willing to twist the facts to preserve racial hegemony in spite of increasing popular discontent and financial ruin.
Say the number of white farmers being killed was greater. I’m not saying this is a probability, merely a hypothetical. The ANC would have an awfully tough time moving ahead with EWC, a program that’s already wildly unpopular with global investors and not exactly viewed with unalloyed delight by most world leaders.
Now, if my hypothetical is correct, do you think the odds are that a government with a strong control over information and the media would report these numbers fairly and accurately, particularly when they have a pecuniary and political interest in them being as low as possible? It’s entirely possible that yes, these numbers are getting lower over time and these cases are being sensationalized by white nationalist hangers-on. But why would the media uncritically report these numbers as being accurate when there are reports to the contrary and the government has every reason to lie about farm murders?
It’s partially because apartheid has wreaked immeasurable pain and suffering on the black majority in South Africa, a dolor that won’t be erased for decades to come, at the very least. But EWC won’t expedite that process. Ending property rights and further eroding freedom will do nothing to salve the wounds created by malevolent ghouls like P.W. Botha. We’ve seen how this works. We need only to look at the horrors of the apartheid regime of Rhodesia, which turned into the nightmare dystopia of Zimbabwe. Land appropriation wasn’t just part of the road to ruin there, it was the main artery — and violence against white farmers was certainly a part of that.
Ramaphosa hasn’t been “inspiring great hope in this country.” He’s been inspiring fear in its minority and leading its impoverished majority to inexorable ruin. Obama has seen this movie before, and he knows how it ends. He had a chance to take a stand against it. He didn’t. If EWC is enacted and wreaks the havoc on South Africa that any intelligent person would be able to predict, I want these words to be played every time Obama’s legacy is discussed. He did nothing but defend and praise a brutal racist.
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