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OPINION: Eddie Cross – Can the Afrikaners save South Africa?

I am not a South African, so I venture into their space with trepidation as I know how sensitive these things are. But I am an African and a keen observer of events that affect all of us who live in the south of the continent. Last week I made a few observations based on South African history, today I want to look forward a bit.

My impressions of the state of South Africa are mixed. The first is the very visible gap between the rich and the poor. When I first visited Europe in the 60’s my impression was that there were no poor people, certainly it looked like that to me.

Then I travelled to India and saw real poverty with millions living on the streets and rural poverty that seemed endless. Much worse than in Africa.

In South Africa the shacks that are found in every City and Town are cheek by jowl with mansions, the only change is the vast areas of RDP housing. The new black elite in their luxury cars, false nails and eyelashes and their own mansions behind high walls.

The better living standards for the average black South Africa is most evident in the former homelands where they obviously think they have better long term security for property and are investing there, rather than in Town.

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But it is also clear that South Africa is now a fully integrated society. I watched black and white school kids in what was formerly a white only community, playing Rugby.

But the overwhelming opinion of almost everyone I spoke to was of pessimism about the future of the country, the most common view expressed the me was “we are going the same way as Zimbabwe”.

As a Zimbabwean who has been in the turmoil of the past 50 years I can say with confidence, you have a long way to go before you replicate Zimbabwe. We are in a real mess and only now are we starting the long way back to the road into the future.

But you have problems and if you cannot find solutions, you will be in real trouble. The power crisis is one such problem, the collapse of the railways another, though less visible. Clearly on the fiscal front your budget is under severe pressure and the deficit could become a problem. But it is your failure to build a new and more equitable society on the back of the Mandela start, that I think threatens your future most. You have massive unemployment, especially among young people, you have not been able to rebuild the family after apartheid destroyed the black family structure. The great majority of your children are being raised in dysfunctional families. The disparity in living standards between the haves and the have nots is shocking even with the social grant system.

The new black elite is a real problem, high salaries in the public sector and BEE transformation rights have created a situation that is exacerbated by widespread corruption and the tender theft of State assets. This is absorbing a disproportionate percentage of national revenues and is denying the poor any chance of upliftment. Racism remains a common problem and although the country is now fully integrated, communities remain distinct.

Although the ANC remains the single largest political Party and controls power, their grip is slowly disintegrating and it now looks as if it will fall below the 50 per cent threshold in 2024. Loosing power in Africa is no small thing and this could destabilise the country going forward. The ANC is firmly entrenched and no other political party has a snowballs hope of taking control.

I hear talk that the EFF under Malema is the most likely partner for the ANC should an alliance be needed to maintain control. With its radical and populist policies, this would put the EFF into a very powerful position. Years of experience in local Government where alliances are common, has shown them how to bully a senior partner and dictate policy when needed.

In my view the only way to avoid this in 2024, is to arrange an alliance in advance of the elections. The DA is trying to do that but are unlikely to get anywhere near enough to threaten the ANC. The ANC will not enter an alliance with the DA, so what next? In 1994, the Afrikaners decided as a tribal group, not to contest the ANC for power, but to seek influence. The strategy has served them well, they support the ANC in many different ways and in return they have maintained their language and culture. In 1994 the mixed race communities in the country, voted in the majority for the outgoing Nationalists – an outcome that shocked the ANC at the time. But this makes the Afrikaner speaking group in SA the largest voting block with common cultural and language characteristics.

My suggestion to the Afrikaner leadership is to further intensify their support for the ANC across the country. Support it financially and on the ground in rural communities. Make it plain that they are aligned with the ANC moderate wing and want stability but also continued protection for their language and culture but also for their farms and industrial and commercial interests.

In the event that this is enough to push the ANC majority over the line, then a coalition with the EFF would not be necessary and the populists and radicals in the ANC and the EFF will not get the leverage for their ideas. In addition, it is clear that perhaps half the GDP of the country is in Afrikaner control and they can use this leverage to spur economic growth and change.

The only way South Africa is going to overcome the power shortage is to import energy from its neighbours. Natural gas from Mozambique is perhaps the only solution that can respond quickly – just look at what Germany has done in 12 months. If instead of destroying private property rights in the farm sector, these could be extended to the Homelands and newly settled farmers on former white owned farms. If this principle was extended to urban housing you would create a new middle class that will also stabilise the centre in South African politics.

Certainly, such an alliance would put the country on a new path into the future that might stabilise the situation and bring rapid development and growth.

Eddie Cross
Simonstown 17th May 2023