Tag Archives: Racism

The Malikane Proposals

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

Much dust has been raised over increasingly louder calls for more economic equality in South Africa. If a country’s wealth is concentrated in a few hands, it is almost inevitable that those who feel left behind would some day make bold their misgivings. The growing disenchantment amongst the mostly poor black but majority population with the stranglehold of so-called “white monopoly capital” should not be trifled with in any way. The resentment runs deep. Christopher Malikane, whose brightness and erudition is well-known at Wits University where he is an associate professor of economics, has proposed what some may consider radical views over how to resolve entrenched racial inequalities in South Africa. Prof Malikane proposes that the South African Reserve Bank (SARB), which is privately owned, be nationalised. He also wants banks and mines to be state-owned. And like an increasing number of black South Africans not as radical, Prof Malikane wants currently white-owned land to be expropriated without compensation. Were he not an obviously close adviser to new finance minister Malusi Gigaba, scant attention would probably be paid him. After all, his current views are not significantly different from those he has long held, most recently before his current position, as an adviser to the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), one of the partners in the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party tripartite alliance that also includes the South African Communist Party. Prof Malikane is entitled to his views. Those who disagree with him should simply offer theirs.

Time for a new deal
True, Jacob Zuma’s newfound economic radicalism smacks of desperation by a beleaguered politician with limited options. There is no gainsaying that his populist motives are writ large. Still, Nelson Mandela’s magnanimity to the white minority population has over the years proved to be costlier for black South Africans and the pace of economic progress slower for an increasingly antsy majority than even he probably ever envisaged. The need for a new deal can hardly be refuted. But what shape should this deal take? Better still, what would be an ideal compromise? If Prof Malikane’s proposals are taken as one extreme and that of the ANC hitherto another, is it so out of the realm of possibilities that a negotiated middle ground could still be reached? And quite frankly, it would be disingenuous of white South Africans to think that the current economic configuration is sustainable. But the argument could also be made that so was apartheid. And look how long that lasted? An anomaly could endure long enough that when change does eventually come, it may not matter much. With distortions and divisions already entrenched then, it would be too late for the type of negotiated and accommodative change that also does not destroy. This is why all views, no matter how extreme they may seem, should at the very least be heard. Truth be told, without some push now, current inequalities would deepen further and the economic apartheid that has persisted since 1994 would further endure. Ordinarily, black leaders should have the foresight to recognize this exigency and not be only enthused about it when their political survival depended on it. In any case, wondering about the motives of politicians is needless. So irrespective of the likely ulterior motives behind Mr Zuma’s “radical economic transformation” what should matter at this time is that finally a proper debate can be had on the issue.

Learn from past mistakes
Should land be expropriated without compensation? But what is compensation really? Besides, value already accrued to current beneficiaries of the land could easily be justified as enough compensation. Better still, is a scenario not possible where land though expropriated could be leased to the clearly more skilled white farmer with some technical arrangement for skills transfer to blacks in the mix? To use the minerals sector as an analogy: with extractive industry economics in favour of beneficiation, of what use have extracted minerals sold in their primary form been to owner African governments? The same applies to land. And examples abound of land transferred to unskilled black South Africans that have proved to be less than productive. Zimbabwe is not so far off that the potential pitfalls of a land “re-grab” which does not address the intricacies that govern the creation of wealth are not so palpable. Owning land is not enough. It is hard to argue against the nationalisation of the SARB, however. A central bank should be owned by its government. But it would most definitely be counterproductive to do the same for commercial banks. Besides, what should matter more should be how to ensure that every South African, whether black or white, has access to capital, possesses the requisite skill to acquire it and ensure its efficient allocation. Bear in mind, much of the capital that drives the South African economy is foreign. Thus, taking over local banks would hardly alter the configuration of global finance nor inoculate the economy against its reach. So it behoves policymakers and their eggheads to ensure South Africa remains friendly to global capital even as they strive to ensure opportunities abound for all.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper column (Tuesdays). See link viz. https://www.businessdayonline.com/the-malikane-proposals/

Who will save South Africa?

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

Angst against Jacob Zuma, the embattled South African president who faced perhaps the strongest show of displeasure from a cross-section of South Africans since the last local government elections this past week, potentially overshadows what should be the real object of ongoing agitations. President Zuma is able to entrench himself despite popular opposition because of the way the electoral process is structured in South Africa. What needs to change is the system that vests too much power in the ruling party. Since members of parliament (MPs) elect the president, who themselves owe their positions to the benevolence of those in control of their party structures, self-preservation takes greater precedence to such ‘isms’ as heroism and patriotism. And even as some senior African National Congress (ANC) cadres have found it convenient to be brave now, their silence under the cloak of party solidarity hitherto allowed Mr Zuma to permeate the key joints of the party to the point where now, only Mr Zuma can remove himself. Or time.

Besides, the few ANC grandees that did decide to be heroic lately, underwhelmed spectacularly shortly afterwards: In the aftermath of Mr Zuma’s recent and widely unpopular cabinet reshuffle that saw the back of respected and erstwhile finance minister Pravin Gordhan, three of the top six members of the the ANC criticized Mr Zuma publicly, raising hopes they might finally make concrete moves to rein him in. In a meeting afterwards, it is reported Mr Zuma won the day. It was particularly pitiable to see Gwede Mantashe, the party’s secretary-general with his tail between his legs after much remonstrations only shortly before. Mr Mantashe made some attempts at redeeming himself: that Brian Molefe (disgraced former chief executive of state power utility Eskom) was not made finance minister, Mr Zuma’s preferred choice for the post, is proof that some consultations did take place, he asserted. His gripe had been that Mr Zuma’s picks for his new cabinet did not emanate from the party’s due-process. If only Mr Zuma’s political genius could be put to a noble cause, you wonder. Imagine a man of Mr Zuma’s talents having Nelson Mandela’s heart and courage and Thabo Mbeki’s intellectualism. That would be something now, wouldn’t it?

That said, there are racist motivations behind some of the ongoing anti-Zuma sentiments. From Helen Zille’s (former chair of the white-dominated opposition Democratic Alliance party) views on the purported benefits of colonialism to black South Africans – which by the way is surreptitiously shared by some of her contemporaries – to the not so covert attribution of the deterioration of the country’s infrastructure to black leadership, racism remains rife in the so-called rainbow nation. A white South African judge, it was revealed recently, apparently believes black men are animals, who rape at will and procreate without any sense of responsibility: likely is the case she stretched the law to the extent that she could whenever a case involving a black man came before her. So ultra-leftist parties like Black First Land First (BLF) and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) which argue, like Mr Zuma and his ANC party now conveniently do, about the need to right the wrongs of past injustices are not entirely on opportunistic grounds. Still, the newfound black economic radicalism is beginning to prove costly.

Leverage lost
Fearing further erosion of governance and likely fiscal deterioration after Mr Zuma’s latest actions, rating agencies S&P Global and Fitch last week downgraded South Africa’s credit rating to junk status. Middle-class South Africans with mortgages to pay and car payments to make know the implications of the downgrades on their wallets. Poor South Africans, however, could not care less. Explanations such as how higher debt costs constitute an opportunity cost to the funding of pro-poor programmes is hard to fathom by a section of society that mostly looks to monthly welfare payments from the government. Since that won’t stop, it is hard for them to understand what the hoopla is all about. The narrative from Mr Zuma’s camp, however, resonates more with them. Argument such as “white monopoly capital” trying to blackmail poor Mr Zuma is one they can easily identify with. Unsurprisingly, Mr Zuma’s inner circle feels quite relieved.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper column (Tuesdays). See link viz. http://www.businessdayonline.com/will-save-south-africa/

Defiance and decline

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

For a country in search of new heroes, as the old ones bid farewell, erstwhile South African finance minister, Pravin Gordhan, is an unlikely candidate. But a hero he has become. In planned rallies this week and later on, birthed by the memorial turned rally in honour of recently demised anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Kathrada over the weekend, he would be a keynote speaker. Activism is in the air. The object? Jacob Zuma, the South African president. Mr Gordhan had long been a stone in President Zuma’s shoe. Mr Zuma finally got rid of him last week, despite intense pressure not to do so. The passing on of Mr Kathrada was certainly a complication that likely caused Mr Zuma some anguish. There could not have been a worse time to remove an African National Congress (ANC) stalwart of Indian descent. Needless to say, South Africans of that ilk feel a certain level of disgust about the Indian protagonists of “State Capture” – the use of the state for private interests – believed to be goading Mr Zuma on this perilous path. Infamously known as “The Guptas”, they have been a source of hurt to the pride of South Africans of Indian and Pakistani descent who glory in the heroism of the likes of Mr Kathrada. Mr Gordhan’s audacity is welcome relief.

But the masses are scandalously fickle. And politicians are a treacherous lot. So even as Mr Zuma’s recent actions have rallied his antagonists across party lines, from elements in the South African Communist Party (SACP) and Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) – the other two members of the Tripartite Alliance with the ANC – to the ultranationalist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and still white-dominated Democratic Alliance (DA), he could still pull a rabbit out of the hat. Still, his decline has never been more palpable: disaffected members of the ANC have been denouncing Mr Zuma publicly. Would they hold the line though? Because even as they all worry that Mr Zuma and his acolytes may become financially reckless in the absence of a bulwark against profligacy like Mr Gordhan, most of them also identify with Mr Zuma’s belated economic radicalism. It is also why the wily politician should not be written off too quickly.

With the nation’s coffers now fully under his control – new finance minister Malusi Gigaba is one to obey orders, Mr Zuma has within his gift some quick populist wins. And truth be told, pot-bellied and comfortable ANC cadres in the cities may gripe to the high heavens about Mr Zuma all they want, he is still very popular in the hinterland. With the colour of his cabinet now almost totally changed – more than a dozen ministers and deputies were dismissed at the recent reshuffle – he now has at his disposal a sharp instrument to deploy to his means. It may not be long before counter-protests against bourgeois elements and so-called “white monopoly capital” become the narrative of Mr Zuma’s fightback.

Fists raised
Mr Zuma’s traducers have called for the umpteenth confidence vote in parliament. In furtherance of this, the DA and EFF have asked for a special sitting of parliament, which ordinarily should reconvene in early May. National Assembly Speaker, Baleka Mbete, who also doubles as the national chairperson of the ANC, promised during the weekend to give it her utmost consideration. Could this be the final whistle on Mr Zuma’s presidency? Time will tell. Still, noteworthy in the recent reshuffle was the absence of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s – erstwhile African Union Commission chairperson and Mr Zuma’s ex-wife and preferred choice to replace him – name. It would not be farfetched to think that perhaps it has been reasoned she’d be better placed in the deputy presidency. To do this, Cyril Ramaphosa, the incumbent and the other frontrunner to replace Mr Zuma, would need to resign. Mr Ramaphosa had to debunk rumours he had resigned over the weekend. This is not likely to be the end of the matter. Should a vote of no confidence proceed and Mr Zuma emerges victorious again, it is highly unlikely he would keep his ex-wife idle for too long thereafter. A public revolt by ANC cadres that now includes Mr Ramaphosa waters the ground for a potential counter-assault by Mr Zuma should he survive this most recent attempt to remove him. In fact, things could get so odious thereafter that Mr Ramaphosa might see resigning as the only way to ensure he remains an attractive candidate.

Collective punishment
Market participants have started punishing Mr Zuma and indeed all South Africans in earnest. The rand plummeted about 5 percent on the news of Mr Gordhan’s firing, but regained some ground thereafter. Bonds and bank stocks moved in tandem, with the latter index falling almost 6 percent. Rating agencies have already started hinting downgrades to junk status may be imminent. Unfortunately, these troubles likely suit Mr Zuma’s grand scheme quite well.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper column (Tuesdays). See link viz. http://www.businessdayonline.com/defiance-and-decline/

Africans can judge themselves

By Rafiq Raji, PhD 

Unfair system makes easy prey of Africans
At least three African countries have announced plans to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC). South Africa and Burundi would almost certainly be out by October next year. Many are likely to follow. Their reason? The ICC unfairly targets Africans. Established in 2002 to prosecute genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, the ICC could as well relocate to Africa instead of its current wintry abode in the Netherlands. All but one – relates to allegations of war crimes in the 2008 Georgian armed conflict – of the ten cases currently being investigated by the ICC are related to African states. For a United Nations (UN) body, it is almost ludicrous that two permanent members of the UN Security Council do not subscribe to the court. China never ratified the Rome Statute, the treaty which established the ICC. The United States decided not to ratify the treaty in 2002, after having signed it two years earlier. The case of America, that supposed bastion of democracy and justice, is particularly shameful. Even as it has not subjected itself to the jurisdiction of the court, America, or any of the other three members of the Security Council, can block any case from being referred to the ICC. The United States would almost certainly stop any attempt to prosecute Israeli officials for alleged war crimes in Palestine. And under the current geopolitical order, it is very unlikely that Russia would allow the prosecution of the Syrian Assad regime, under whose watch that country has been virtually decimated. Not that that couldn’t change if the Russian regime suddenly rearranged its priorities, like its ever-scheming leader, Vladimir Putin, is wont to do.

Justice for all
If the ICC is to become legitimate, all members of the UN must be subject to its jurisdiction. Else, no African country has any business being a party to it. The ICC’s African tilt thus far certainly feeds the derogatory notion that Africans could not be trusted to dispense justice for themselves. Worse still, western exceptionalists are able to point to Africans’ longstanding mistrust of their ‘big men.’ And there might be some merit to that supposition, when you look at how justice is perpetually subverted in a lot of African countries. Ironically, the judiciary is probably the most credible institution left standing in most of them. Relatively, that is. For even as it was well known that judicial officers were similarly engaged in a myriad of corrupt activities, they at least went about their indiscretions with some sense of shame. And most of the corrupt ones tried to avoid ostentation. Not all of them it turns out. Considering how they had been largely left alone, the seeming impunity made some of them careless: Nigerian judges currently have a credibility problem, after raids on the homes of some very senior ones amongst them revealed they may have been living above their means. About a year ago, Ghanaian judges were actually caught on video by an investigative journalist demanding for bribe and sex, leading to the dismissal of at least twenty judges and magistrates. Still, judicial corruption is not peculiar to African countries, albeit it is more rampant. The South African system is probably as robust as it can get though. Regardless, Africans have demonstrated they can rise up to the cause of justice when needed: in May 2016, with support from the African Union, former Chadian dictator, Hissene Habre, was successfully prosecuted in Senegal for crimes ranging from torture to slavery during his almost a decade rule.

Empower the African court
At the core of the flawed state of the ICC is equity and equality. Is it a coincidence that most cases at the ICC are on African countries? Surely it is not the only continent where such atrocities have been committed. I am still personally distraught watching how Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta, a sitting African head of state, was made to go through the indignity of a trial on live international television. If that is not reminiscent of colonialism, I don’t know what is. Although the charges against him were eventually dropped, Mr Kenyatta has the unenviable record of being the first head of state to be so tried. I agree that victims of the violence during the elections that heralded his emergence deserve justice. But still, heads of states are treated with respect not because of who they are but because they embody the sovereignty of a people. Yes, most leave much to be desired. Even so, some pretensions matter: everyone deserves a certain level of dignity. I have heard arguments about the motive of the Zuma-led South African government in seeking to exit the ICC at this time. Critics of the South African move have suggested that given the country’s stature, it may have unwittingly provided cover for some not so well-regarded African leaders – ‘elected dictators’ – to now make similar moves. The Gambia proved the point all too quickly, announcing its withdrawal shortly after. No matter. There is an opportunity in the growing anti-ICC sentiment: the mandate of the AU’s African Court of Justice and Human Rights should be expanded.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper back-page column (Tuesdays).

Blackness: the fictional musings of “I”. #Race #Racism #Culture #Africa

By Rafiq Raji


Steve Biko once wrote: “Being black is not a matter of pigmentation – being black is a reflection of a mental attitude”. I think it is both. Of course, the mental attitude you adopt has nothing to do with your race. It is an individual choice. I’m at a fast-food restaurant in Oxford, England and a group of white kids are present as well without parental supervision. They were likely aged 6-8 years. Happy kids, I must say. The type of happiness that makes you leap before you look. The type of happiness typical of kids. After a while, one of the bolder kids shifts towards my side of the bench and asks: “Can I take a picture with you?” The last time I got asked that question was in China. I declined, of course. But then it struck me the white kid was not being entirely mischievous. White folks might not like to admit it, but there are characteristics, cultures and mannerisms of black people that they admire and like. That said, anyone who does not see how Black Pete is racist is simply being ludicrous. How is the idea that to secure a license for buffoonery you need to become black – by painting yourself black – not racist? The Dutch contemporaries of those young Britons are likely going to imbibe the subtle association of blackness with silliness that Black Pete inevitably – irrespective of wit – represents. I also can understand why whites are likely irritated by the very high sensitivity of blacks to even the slightest racist hint in any of the multitude of human expressions. An analogy could help. If one were to ask you the name of the cleaner at your office, it is very unlikely you’d be able to tell his or her name. It is not that you don’t respect them; it is simply that you don’t consider them threatening enough to want to know more about them. So if they were to throw an insult at you, the likelihood you’ll be offended is very low. To be offended, you’d have to think yourself beneath in status to your antagonist. It is akin to the conscious empathy a wealthy person summons up when relating with less-endowed beings. The English – such experienced people, the English – have a fine word for that human condition. They call it condescension. Racial intercourse is no different. If you think about it, cries about racism – laudable though they are – are actually an acceptance of inferiority. And you just wait to see how the behaviour of your white liberal friend changes as you ascend in the world.

However, there are developments that leave room for optimism. Blackness is increasingly being seen from the prism of culture. “Black culture has become like Starbucks, located on every corner in every major city and available to everyone who wants in”1. I got a glimpse of that during the first London Notting Hill Carnival I attended a year ago. It is also a significant part of the logic – I think – behind why “Beats by Dre” is a huge success. Apple in my view bought into what was already a remarkable and inevitable phenomenon; the colour blindness of music and popular culture. For the sake of argument, let us consider the following scenario. Imagine “Beats” without “by Dre”. I doubt very much that if Dr Dre were not a black MC and producer of repute that Beats by Dre would be the success it is today. What is not acknowledged as much – at least not overtly – is how Dr Dre’s “street credibility” is an underpinning factor for the popularity of his brand. But of course, the brand and its eco-system would not be a success as well if its bass-biased headphones were not filling a hitherto longrunning gap in that industry. Blackness as culture is thus proving a more powerful way to increase racial harmony than all the media and legal campaigns against racism. It must be said though that this type of blackness has its roots in stereotyping. However, it may form the foundation for a concept of blackness that transcends skin colour; which is a good thing. A key example is Eminem, a hip-hop artist. Eminem is white but exhibits more blackness than many a black person you’d come across. Black people don’t think Eminem is any less a hip-hop artist than white people think of Pharrel or Rihanna as pop and/or R&B singers. The stereotypical conception of blackness usually stops at physical or artistic prowess. The parochialism notwithstanding, white insecurities underpinning this conception of blackness becomes writ large when for instance there are media reports of a black man’s infidelity to a white wife as in the case of Tiger Woods or suspicion of violence or crime by a black man towards a white wife as was the case with OJ Simpson. This extends to sports as well. The Williams sisters and Tiger Woods are anomalies as far as white folks are concerned. Their dominance of the mostly white sports of tennis and golf remain a challenge to their stereotypical conception of blackness. And as far as music is concerned, well, a lot of conservative white folks don’t consider hip-hop to be music in the real sense. And yes, classical music is still largely white-dominated. The underlying factors may be more economic than racial, however.

It should also be said that in spite of the obvious resistance that ascending blacks face, if they are the real deal, the system works. That is why a Barack Obama can win presidential elections and a Tiger Woods (even though he is prouder of his Asian heritage) can win golf majors. Until Barack Obama, being cerebral and black was oxymoronic in popular contemplation. It probably still is. The idea of a “clever black” is not any less oxymoronic to some than say “bad leader” or “bad friend”. Leaders and friends cannot be bad. You are either a leader or not. You are either a friend or not. Clever black? What do you think? I sometimes would get on the London tube and decidedly read a supposedly intelligent book precisely for the purpose of observing the sighs, grunts and other types of passive-aggressive racist mannerisms by non-blacks on the train. As an African just come to the West, these are new experiences. It is tempting to then begin to “delete” all the good manners you were taught back home as you discover how tremendously shallow some of the people in these parts are. You see it everywhere: on the streets, public transportation, hotels, in the workplace, and wait for it, even faith centres. As a muslim, I still can’t understand how the concept of “shoulder-to-shoulder, toe-to-toe” in congregational prayer has become a selective endeavor depending on the race of your neighbour in mosques I prayed at in Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai and London. To get a better sense of this phenomenon, check out the following hashtag on Twitter: #BeingBlackAndMuslim. Al Jazeera’s The Stream also did an illuminating programme on the subject.

The white establishment is not entirely to blame for the anti-intellectualism in Africa or indeed black communities around the world. In an essay in the New South African Review, Xolela Mangcu mentions the South African President Zuma’s dismissal of black intellectuals as “clever blacks” who “don’t really count in the greater scheme of things”. Actually, I think the whole issue about race and intellectualism (or other serious pursuits) is more economic and political than it is social. When you are poor and live in dysfunctional neighbourhoods with few role models, learning how to play the piano is not likely to be a priority. And there have been studies done to determine cerebral capacity across the races. The obvious biases in these studies need not be reinforced here. If one were objective, however, the probable differentiating factor would likely not be racial but economic. And in any case, the African/black race is still a minority in the global population; albeit all races can trace their origins to Africa, to blackness! Martin Meredith’s “Born in Africa” is an astonishingly excellent book in this regard.

I’ve also often wondered about the concept of “reverse-racism”. It seems to me another attempt at white-black distinction. I also think blacks do not take enough responsibility for their culpability in the entrenchment of the “black” stereotype. It may surprise many to know that much of the progress that have been made towards eradicating racism in our societies have come more from non-blacks than blacks themselves. There is a victims’ complex and second-fiddle complacency you find hovering like a halo around most blacks. A pathetic resignation to a fate totally within their control to change. A kind of self-loathing much worse than faux pas racism. A racism of self. When there are blacks that manage to break away from this self-defeating psychology, you begin to hear expressions such as “assimilation”. The popular quip goes: “he succeeded because he assimilated” or “Oh see, one of his parents is white”. The Oxford Essential English Dictionary provides two definitions of racism, which when joined together is truly illuminating. Racism is “the belief that there are characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to each race” and the “discrimination against or hostility towards people of other races”. Surely, the definition is encompassing enough. So, what the heck is reverse racism? Both whites and blacks are culpable in the usage of that phrase, however.

I once overhead a frustrated white liberal saying: it never ends, does it? From the public outcry about Black Pete being racist to the supposed condescension of affirmative action, white liberals most certainly feel frustrated. I think it is no matter really. If it is any consolation, that frustration is colour-blind. What, when you observe the shallowness of say African football teams’ obsession with money on the altar of glory. Who does that? To want the money that badly means you don’t think you will win. The protagonist of the popular TV series “House of Cards” wondered aloud how one of his antagonists could hope to earn his respect if he didn’t know the difference between wealth and power. The character he was referring to was black. The line between fiction and reality becomes blurred when you hear such absurdities as an African national football team refusing to train because of money. How is it possible that they couldn’t understand that national glory trumps any potential pecuniary benefit. You can’t force confidence down the throat of a people, however. They have to find it themselves. As a black person and an African, I am very glad those teams did not win. They didn’t deserve to win and they didn’t. And that is just as well. Confidence as a collective is the key. And this is a journey each black person would have to embark on individually before the sum becomes a high-impacting collective force that changes attitudes. A racially harmonious world is possible. That is, race as culture.



  1. Toure S (2011) Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness: What it Means to be Black Now. New York: Free Press.