Quote of the week

Regard must be had to the higher standard of conduct expected from public officials, and the number of falsehoods that have been put forward by the Public Protector in the course of the litigation.  This conduct included the numerous “misstatements”, like misrepresenting, under oath, her reliance on evidence of economic experts in drawing up the report, failing to provide a complete record, ordered and indexed, so that the contents thereof could be determined, failing to disclose material meetings and then obfuscating the reasons for them and the reasons why they had not been previously disclosed, and generally failing to provide the court with a frank and candid account of her conduct in preparing the report. The punitive aspect of the costs order therefore stands.

Public Protector v South African Reserve Bank (CCT107/18) [2019] ZACC 29 (22 July 2019)
17 May 2007

Here we go again

Just when I thought the affirmative action debate has died down, a letter appeared in the Cape Times yesterday attacking my stance on affirmative action. Thought it fair to share it with those who do not read the rag from the Visdorpie. My response will follow.

“Mandela’s ‘disadvantaged people’ have been given a race tag”, May 16, 2007

The amazing thing about Pierre de Vos’s contribution (April 26) to the affirmative action debate is that he seeks to refute Professor David Benatar’s arguments without really engaging them. On a personal level he tries to discredit the arguments by discrediting a stereotype of the author and like-minded critics by suggesting that, when it comes to issues like affirmative action, whiteys can’t think straight.

On a more general level, just in case the irrelevance of this ad hominem argument is exposed, he denies the validity of logical reasoning, as such, for arguing meaningfully about affirmative action.

Sure, Benatar’s arguments are tight and compelling and difficult to get under. But it is not helpful to simply dismiss them together with the method of rational analysis as prejudiced and inapplicable to the debate, in favour of anecdotal evidence and superficial generalisations about opposing positions. I could not find Benatar claiming “to argue from a neutral position” or “to have access to an uncomplicated system of logic and reason, untrammelled by his own ideological commitments and racial identity” in his inaugural address.

De Vos simply projects these claims on Benatar to disqualify his arguments, without making the slightest attempt to critically analyse their soundness.

However, in case De Vos also regards such a standpoint as ideologically and racially contaminated with pretensions of “neutrality”, one could put it aside and only consider views on affirmative action held by those who are not genetically afflicted by offensive “white”/”Western” values and impulses.

In 1991, Nelson Mandela argued: “We are not … asking for hand-outs for anyone nor are we saying that just as a white skin was a passport to privilege in the past, so a black skin should be a basis of privilege in the future.”

In 1995 he added that affirmative action should be understood as “corrective action aimed at bringing previously disadvantage people to the same competitive levels as those who have been advantaged”. This has interesting implications for the issue of “weighting” by race, as raised by Benatar:

First, it does not advocate a return to racially based “job reservation”. In fact, Mandela’s formulation presupposes competition, but on a fair basis. Second, it seeks to provide such a fair basis by empowering the disempowered. It aims at raising their level of competitiveness, rather than guaranteeing a successful outcome on a racially discriminating basis by eliminating competition.

Third, it refers to the empowerment of “disadvantaged people” without giving them an exclusive racial identity.

Since Mandela’s intervention, there was not only a noticeable shift away from the more nuanced meaning of “disadvantaged people” to the blanket generic term of “black people,” but also attempts to create an exclusive Africanism which favours Africans as blacks of a special kind vis-a-vis coloured and Indian blacks.

In this regard, Franklin Sonn (2006) referred to apartheid’s distortions of concepts such as “non-racialism”, and argued that new conceptual distortions have been designed to promote a “new African nationalism … (with) undertones of black hierarchical distinctions”.

He expressed his concern about leaders who talk non-racialism but walk the path of an exclusive African nationalism which will inevitably lead to the development of a “new type of apartheid”.

On affirmative action as a means for “rectification”, Sipho Seepe is of the opinion that the supposed beneficiaries of affirmative action are negatively affected by it, since race-based empowerment policies require a victim-versus-oppressor paradigm that crushes the competitive instinct necessary for black self-empowerment.

He argues that “practice suggests that affirmative action is shaped more by the stigmatisation of whites, and protection of the new political elite, than the actual needs of the general populace”.

“In this scheme of things”, he says, “mediocre whites who sing praises to the new mandarins are preferred over competent and independent blacks”.

By simply equating inequality with race, and blaming post-apartheid inequalities on continuing white racism, the ANC does not need to critically address, as Seepe puts it, “the disastrous consequences of their application of ill-considered affirmative action policies which have led to the collapse of various administrations … and millions in funds earmarked for the poor going unspent”.

– Willem van Vuuren, Department of Political Studies, University of the Western Cape

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