Inop(p)erancy

The critique of any political apparatus is fair game, indeed necessary, and more besides opportune, when historically pertinent and factual. While I would no more applaud political ineptitude than I would condone it, David Hill’s comically (and poorly) argued article of 13 February 2012, entitled Ineptocracy, calls for a few gentle reminders, albeit belatedly.

The legacy of 350 odd years of the apartheid practice and forty‐six years of concerted apartheid policy may be prudently considered a minor handicap with which to govern a country, and that for any fledgling party in rule, since 1994, as it were, thus for a mere eighteen years. Whilst I am no campaigner for or avid protagonist of the African National Congress, the unwieldy inheritance which has befallen the country, an inheritance that indeed must be considered the direct result of the racial domination in place from 1948 ‐1994, a racial domination that, let it be said, produced a racial difference in socioeconomic position larger than any other in the world, can hardly be equated, as Mr. Hill caddishly suggests, to a “three goal lead at half time”, thence squandered, or a “billion pound inheritance” sieved away blindly through inept fingers. Ineptocracy may better be defined as the rule of (cracy, from the Greek ocracy) the ‘out of place’, or the ‘absurdly, out of place’, inept (from the latin ineptus (adv)) – or more simply put, the “out of place, hence ‘inept’ rulers” (of the out of place, hence inept people who elected them), as one may for “aristocracy” cite the “aristocratic rulers”.

The Urban dictionary gives the following definition of ineptocracy: a system of government where the least capable to lead are elected by the least capable of producing, and where the members of society least likely to sustain themselves or succeed, are rewarded with goods and services paid for by the confiscated wealth of a diminishing number of producers.

Mr. Hill’s regard for the politico‐historical context of South Africa seems, if not skewed, then for the least part inclined to a somewhat questionable bias. Bias is a lovely word: consider partisan for its signification. Or prejudiced. Or unfair. Mr Hill’s claim is this: that “from a position of strength” the incumbent government, in rule now for less than twenty years, has failed to deliver “any sustainable solutions for generating wealth for its people”. Furthermore, to substantiate his claim, Mr. Hill boasts of the country’s mineral reserves and resource fertility, which, alas, have not become the matter of economic wealth. Missing from his article though, is an informed regard (‘educated’ would seem to harsh a critic) for the history of the demos, that is to say, of the people who elect, of the people who labour the soil, they who mine the resources, they whom Mr. Hill calls the “non‐contributing majority”, in a word, the country’s veritable reserve of human wealth for a more humane tomorrow – in short, they are the everyday black woman and black man, she and he whom, believe it or not, in their overwhelming majority, are themselves the living inequalities of the country’s more recent historical past, men and women, many of whom remain functionally illiterate, and that, let it said, on any comparative world scale. (The “Black Diamonds” and the new Bourgeoisie are uncounted among them. Et encore...)

A polite reminder: Political leadership, Mr. Hill, is forged into economic strength through micromanagement and the strategic harnessing of the industriousness of a nation’s work force. Industriousness, in turn, remains inoperative without the yield of skilled, well‐managed labour, the industrial harvest of an educated and technically diverse labour force – condition sine qua non without which the idea of economic strength melts into limp ideology. (It should be kept in mind that over 80% of the country’s economic wealth remains firmly in the pale hands of a very, very small minority, though demographically black & white, and variegated shades of the former, hither thither.) But lest we forget that much maligned majority, Mr. Hill, the demos of that oh so wealthy country, herewith some minor comments pertaining to history.

Mr. Hill’s utter disregard for the enduring legacy of apartheid, and namely its educational policy (under the Christian National ideological framework) – an education wholly inadequate, one of name alone: under‐resourced and willingly inferior for all black population groups – is either a mark of his startling ignorance or a sign of what modern journalism has become – simply not up to the task. Mr. Hill defines “ineptocracy” as “one’s failure to succeed from a position of strength”. Prey tell, Mr. Hill, how can a government overcome long‐term socio‐educo‐economic deprivation, and moreover when endemic in the demographic structure of its society – and that, in a mere twenty odd years? Journalistic gumph is as easy as a dawdle in the park; real answers, however, need to be repatriated from the same air that real people breathe. (Consider: If we are indulgent – so repetitively indulgent – with the oft seen immaturity of would‐be mature governments (and their governance), let us then show some magnanimity for the immaturity of historically immature governments. I shall refrain from listing some of the fiscal accomplishments achieved by the present ruling party – and while insufficient, indeed, they have, in the past, been somewhat encouraging). Not only does Mr. Hill make short shrift of the matter of history, by claiming the scalp of “ineptocracy”, but moreover he elects “to further illustrate just how poorly the ANC has” performed by a somewhat deleterious comparison with the post‐war recovery of Germany and Japan. Whereby the journalist, Mr. Hill, migrates swiftly from nippy journalism to wholesale inoperancy of thought – if not to say the inaccuracy of historical fact.

A few salient points on Japan and Germany, pre- and post-war:

Pre-war Japan, lead by the Meiji government (1868‐1912), did everything in its power to promote economic growth, beginning with the importation of a model of higher education, aggressively promoting a new Western based education system for all young people. Moreover, it took on large-scale infrastructure projects and developments, and inaugurated land reform programs to prepare the country for further economic development. Government worked hand in hand with the private sector to stimulate economic growth, allocating resources, building factories and shipyards, often sold on to entrepreneurs at a fraction of their value. In sum, all forces where united for business and private enterprise to flourish. Incidentally, the literacy rate was 100% – one hundred percent.

The post‐war recovery was hence by and large due to the industriousness of the Japanese people. The people, Mr Hill, the demos, not the soil beneath their feet. Other contributing factors were the one hundred percent literacy rate, the high level of personal savings and the generous government subsidies to key industries and emerging technologies. There was no Marshal plan.

‐ Pre‐war Germany had Bismarck to thank for the origins of its robust welfare state. Bismarck practiced a high tariff policy, dissuading the outflow of immigrants to America, and winning the support of both industry and skilled workers. His was a protectionist policy. By 1900 Germany was a world leader in industrialization, along with Britain and the United States. By 1913 German (and American) exports dominated the world steel market, as Britain slipped to third place. Germany was a world leader because of its prevailing “corporatist mentality”, its strong bureaucratic tradition, and the encouragement of the government. These associations regulated competition and allowed small firms to function in the shadow of much larger companies – a model that still exists in a very robust German market today, 2013.

Post‐war Germany: what were the key elements that brought about the country’s recovery? Primo, a hundred percent literacy rate – same as Japan; secundo, a skilled labour force – idem for Japan; and tertio, the Marshal plan. The Germans proudly label their economy a “soziale Marktwirtschaft,” or “social market economy,” to show that the system as it has developed after World War II has both a material and a social—or human—dimension. Why Germany remains so industrially superior even today, is that their attitude to labour, the human element, is, in the main, far more innovative and advanced than elsewhere (in Europe – France, Spain, Italy included). Industrialisation in Germany, and the process of urbanisation during the course of the 19th century, resulted in a literacy rate of almost a hundred percent at the beginning of the 20th century.

Education, Mr Hill, has been a long history of violence in South Africa. The results were poor, or worse: they were highly detrimental to the black individual. Do I need to remind you that the Soweto riots of 1976 were the result of an imposed national Afrikaner ideology and language upon the black education system – as the ideology of the time deemed fit for “the people”? But let us not leave the post-war period just yet: to quote but one figure from the period you naively compare the last twenty years to: “The Eybers Committee on Adult Education of 1945 estimated that about 80% of the adult Bantu population and about 70 to 75% of the combined Indian and Coloured population were illiterate (Behr and Macmillan, 346)”[1]. (If one is going to compare, than one ought to compare like with like, Mr Hill.)

Solid education is the condition sine qua non to social and economic recovery, without which one might just as well lift the whip and revert to the methods of yore. The uninterrupted dialectic of education is the preferred path to growth. Nothing becomes dynamic before it becomes specific. Education of the individual, in the broadest sense of that word, is: teaching people how to think for themselves, how to critique the imposed thinking apparatus of the day, and how best to voice their individual opinions, so that they might be heard); and furthermore, education’s effects, which, in the main, should engender the emancipation (read the etymological meaning, please) of the person, bring about personal growth, without which there can be no national or societal improvement. Teach the child to think, for the greater good of the “State and Nation” (read David Hume – Of Civil Liberty – for one must have sufficient materials from which to reason well).

If one were to attribute the undeniable historical import of illiteracy and functional illiteracy, so prevalent in South Africa today, and then translate its economic everyday impact, at all levels, all, from miner through to president… then, one may posit that illiteracy is the real cost to the breathing millions that constitute the “inheritance” that Mr. Hill so blithely evokes. This, once acknowledged, may lead one to be less hasty to so harshly judge the glaring faults and shortcomings of the present government. And instead, one might consider the present situation for what it is: an imperfect evolution of an historical process, one that was put in place many, many decades ago. The human deficit of that process is incalculable. We, as white males, have much to answer for – just as the ruling party of today will have to answer for its errors of immaturity and incompetence, tomorrow.  And to substantiate that, dare I ask the question: how many people, then, in the country’s darker years, elected to point a critical finger at the then presiding party, the one in power during the long decades of rule…? How many of those quiet tongues are now, today, vocal in their criticism of the present government?

Can one be partisan to history, its process and politics, remaining silent before its blatant wrong-doing, and yet, at once, become openly critical on the day after the tide has turned? The answer is yes, one can. For one forgets. Curious how one swiftly forgets that which one did not have the courage to openly criticise. How unfortunate it is that today, they, the political rulers, draw criticism to themselves as if it were a coat drawn tight against the cold. It makes it so much easier for all to forget the economy of the past, and to erase from memory our individual commerce with that economy, with the past.

History, Mr. Hill, is a silent evolution, a process, and not a snapshot of the immediate present. Journalism ought to respect the integrity of that process, without bias, so as to better exam and question the dissonance it gives rise to; and, at the same time, journalism ought to critically question the quality of its own commentary in the light of the historical context within which its generates its verbiage.

written.work.Copyright© 2011-2012. All rights reserved. (response letter to The Times (unpublished))

[1] Literacy: An International Handbook. Edited by D Wagner, B Street and R Venezky, 1999, Westview Press, 418-423.

2 comments on “Inop(p)erancy

  1. Francois Greeff says:

    Quote: “We, as white males, have much to answer for”.
    Speak for yourself, bigot, and have the courage to add your name to your tirade.
    I lived in south Africa for 40 years, and I understand the problems of the country, and the subcontinent, intimately. If your prejudice blinds you to the dramatic economic decline of the Republic of South Africa, then look to the model that Zimbabwe is. The only industry in Zimbabwe that struggles with growth, expansion and demand for its services is the undertakers service. They cannot cope with the rate at which people are dying.
    The experts at Onderstepoort vetinary Research Centre fled the country, and now there is a very serious lack of innoculation against Tuberculosis (TB) in cattle. Traditionally African people do not believe in pasteurization, and prefer “natural” milk. Research TB on Google and see for yourself how black people in the subcontinent are dying like flies, from TB and AIDS.
    AIDS is rampant, and the new Government sets astounding examples. President Mbeki banned the use of antiretroviral drugs to treat AIDS, and president Zuma said, under oath in court, that he had a shower after sex to avoid contracting AIDS. Zuma is a great example when it comes to sexual irresponsibility. He has had six wives, and (con)currently has four wives. Besides that he has several children from a number of women that he did not marry. His example leads millions of HIV positive people to eschew monogamy, single partner sex, and even safe sex. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacob_Zuma#Wives) On top of that, the Pope advises against the use of condoms. These are examples of criminal irresponsibility, and there is plenty of that in sub-saharan Africa.
    It is equally irresponsible to blame “white men” and apartheid for the woes of a country that is run by a man who draws £1,200,000 per year to cover the expenses relating to his four current wives – one of whom was gained by the bride price of ten head of cattle paid to her father.

    Francois Greeff,
    London

    • F(r)iction says:

      But how you miss the point, or could it be that imperial cecity blinds you thus?

      “What is important is the philosophy of history” – Flaubert G.

      History is not about things, history is not about the politics of things. History matters because people matter more. History is about people, Mr Greeff. Re-read the article. It is neither a critic of the present day politics nor a dismissal of its visible failures. The thematic of the letter/post is historical. (I trust not all your reading is so flagrantly erroneous.)
      If your goal is merely to bluster on, like in the days of yore, continue blithely; but not here, please.

      Cordially,

      A.M.King

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