A rainbow nation

Like most observers, visiting from Mars, I have a hard time making sense of events on this planet. In particular, what caused: the death by violence of several hundred people; the looting of shopping malls and warehouses nationally; arrests and bumps in the night for prominent politicians (having naught to do with actual disorders); and general rioting and destruction. That about one-third of South Africans are unemployed, perhaps has some explanatory value, but there is no agreement on what caused that.

Or, we could examine the whole history of race relations — and all other interpersonal relations — that produced the explosively-packed supercharge of bullshit that generally passes for “political analysis” today. This could be summarized as “racial tension, communal mistrust, injustice, corruption and blah blah blah.”

“Corruption” is a rather vague term, for there are several thousand forms of corruption, or more, each of which can be justified in a pinch, and all of which are popular with their beneficiaries. There are heartfelt cries for “democracy,” which is irrelevant to the case, for it is at the root of every election, where the people are invited to vote for what they want. A large part of South Africa’s (racially diverse) population seems to want wide-screen TVs, cellphones, and a remarkably narrow list of other “consumer durables.”

I suppose that, in a state of anarchy, I might be tempted to loot scholarly, specialized bookshops. I say this to assure gentle reader that I am no different from everyone else, except — there are no high-class bookshops near where I live. By comparison, wide-screen TVs, cellphones, and the other electronic gizmos, have never appealed to me. This perhaps explains why I have no revolutionary inclinations (and am frequently criticized for my reactionary disposition.)

Returning to our political analysis of South Africa, after wading through the factional stresses in what amounts to a one-party state (the African National Congress is unassailable), I notice that a writer in the New York Times (William Shoki) has the power of seeing through many illusions. The bloguist, Glenn Reynolds, put his eyes on what we call the money quote:

“The state, rather than the market, became the main site for opportunity and enrichment.”

Read and absorb. For thirty years, or more to be accurate (for the apartheid system also enriched its loyal friends), this is what has been happening there. It has little to do with race, as we can see locally, for it is happening here, too. White people are equally adept at exploiting a system based on black or other “visible minority” favours. The suffering, impoverished minorities, or majorities it may well be, are equally liable to be cut out.

It’s very hard to do racism, efficiently. People don’t understand.