In the early nineties, I took part in a debate on the meaning of “equality” in the newly agreed list of constitutional principles at Codesa. I was not at all convinced that equality meant the same to all people. A surprised member of the audience wanted to know what else equality could mean. To the great amusement of the audience I asked a Cosatu leader to answer “on my behalf”. He spoke frankly: “To you equality means equal opportunities, but we believe it is equal outcomes in terms of the population composition. After the coming election, equality is going to mean what we say it is.”
These conflicting views reflect the liberal principle of an equal start as against the leftist “all reaching the finishing post at the same time”. Leftists not only want to level the playing field by additional assistance and opportunities, they also want to have equal outcomes enforced by state power. Not only should those lagging behind in the race receive assistance, but those in front should be held back.
Corrective action leading to race count
Some time later, these theoretical points gained practical meaning in a debate on “affirmative action”. I had to put my view to the same Cosatu leader, today a Cabinet Minister. It was before a group of about a hundred senior, mostly white, Eskom managers. Speaking about the practical effect of “equality”, I said in ten years’ time only about ten of those managers would still be in their posts.
Outcome-based racial formulae would apply after the election and inevitable corrective action would quickly lead to a forced “race count”. The group laughed at me – after all, their many years of experience and skills were indispensable. Well, I have to admit that I was wrong: Eskom’s senior management was “transformed” within five years (not the ten years I had envisioned) – with scant regard for the consequences for Eskom and the country. Those managers were indeed indispensable, but it was a price the new authorities everywhere were prepared to pay.
Equal outcomes and the use of state power are characteristic of leftist governments and go far beyond the workplace. Socialism is an equality dogma and is enforced everywhere by a state ideology. In South Africa it is “transformation”. The entire society has to be reorganised according to racial formulae based on the population composition: 80 black, 9 brown, 9 white and 2 Indian out of every hundred employees. This coincided very conveniently with the ANC’s strategy of buying support in the different voter markets.
The elite’s support was bought with black economic empowerment; that of the middle class with racial quotas in the workplace; the poor by a welfare system; traditional leaders by power and salaries; the Africanists with the racial policy, and the socialists with equality rights. The support of liberals was ensured by a liberal constitution. Businessmen could practise capitalism as long as they complied with the promises of the government and obeyed ever increasing state control over their businesses.
The greatest success of the ANC is that the party has succeeded in obtaining the active support of practically the entire establishment for its racial policy to execute the “national democratic revolution”. The recipe of success was to cleverly market it as “rainbow correction”. Marx’s rule that “the ideas of the governing class become the governing ideas of society" proved itself true once again. Apartheid is being used as the moral justification for the radical transformation of society according to race. The media, businessmen, academics, commentators, most churches, political parties and the international community have been convinced and co-opted in this way.
However, all this camouflaging cannot conceal the underlying fatal defects of socialism for long. After all, a policy is not judged by its intentions but by its outcomes. The first defect is that a radical policy requires radical methods. It cannot be put into effect without increasing state control over society, gradually restricting the freedom of the entire society in a totalitarian way.
The second defect is that politics has never been able to escape from economic laws. The economic consequences of increasing state control over every part of society can be seen in the millions of unemployed, economic figures that have plunged into the red, crises in state enterprises, dysfunctional public schools, decaying towns and the implosion of numerous state institutions that have to deliver essential services.
The result is rising anger among the poor, for whom the gap between the political expectations and the inability of the economy to match those expectations has become too wide. The transformed public service has for a long time already been unable to do what government wants. The unpalatable truth is that transformation as central state ideology ran aground on the rocks of reality. The state is decaying, democracy is being threatened; race relations are being poisoned; and equality before the law hangs in the balance.
This brings me to the Sasol shares scheme. The discrimination against white workers cannot be seen in isolation – it is part of the bigger jigsaw puzzle of the ANC’s disastrous revolution. Expropriation without compensation; the unaffordable and unworkable national health insurance system; free higher education; taking away Afrikaans speakers’ human rights at schools and universities; and the rest or the radical socio-economic transformation policy complete this ugly picture.
Accusations that the campaign by Solidarity members against unjust racial discrimination is racist, are ridiculous. Why are our democratic rights always racist, but racism such as Sasol's racial count always is simply democratic rights? Young white employees who have never been privileged, today are being prejudiced, while others who have never been prejudiced are now being privileged.
Solidarity’s members supported measures to put an end to historic discrimination against black workers. Some of what is now happening under the banner of “correction”, however, is going so much further that even the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), following Solidarity’s complaint to the UN, found that it was unconstitutional and resulted in violations of human rights.
The Nobel Prize winner for economics, Milton Friedman, significantly said a society that regards equality (of outcomes) as more important than freedom will end up without either. Societies are either free or equal, but there are no free societies that are equal. This is the lesson of oppressive Communist failures. Sasol’s white employees, and the group of black colleagues supporting them, are fighting for the constitutional ideals of human dignity, freedom and equality. They deserve the support of all true democrats.
Flip Buys is chairman of the Solidarity Movement.