Depressing Predictability

From The New York Times, via Urgent Agenda, we have “What Happened to South African Democracy?” a depressing look at the reality of life in ANC-dominated South Africa.

First, some props to the ANC as it was run by a post-release Nelson Mandela.  I’m sure that “mistakes were made,” as the usual phraseology will have it, in the transition from apartheid to democracy; unless the Second Coming in Something Other Than Wrath happens, you cannot up-end the fundamental structure of any society without someone, somewhere, in some official capacity making some degree of a pig’s breakfast out of something.  So perfection is not the standard by which to judge how South Africa transformed itself.  Think only of the smooth, error-free process by which the U.S. transformed its formerly-slave-owning society to one in which slavery was, overnight (on an historical time horizon) outlawed, and you get sort of a notion of how sobering was the challenge for South Africans of all ethnicities.

But this is the Big Thing to keep in mind in thinking about how they responded to their challenges:  In South Africa they resisted the temptation to exact government-sanctioned vengeance.  Names were named, and deeds called by their correct labels, but there were no Soviet-style Revtribs or Cheka troikas doling out “revolutionary justice” in execution cellars.  I cannot recall which book has the picture, but in a history of the Soviet Union that I have somewhere, there is a picture of a Polish officer in the Russian Army, surrounded by his troops.  He’s hanging by one ankle from a tree branch, naked, and from his anus there protrudes a very long shaft of what is probably a lance of some description.  Being an officer he would of course have been some sort of nobleman, and his troops peasants.  His troops stand around, some looking at him hanging there, others at the camera.  Yes, the ANC had (and has) an ugly underside —  “necklacing,” for example, in which a bound victim has a car tire put about his neck, it is filled with gasoline, and then set alight — but in point of fact once the ANC came to power it chose a path other than as chosen by the communist states from whose doctrines its leaders had initially taken their inspiration (Mandela as of his arrest was a Marxist).  And for that they deserve a large measure of respect.

But it’s one thing for the dog to catch the car, and something entirely different what he does with the car once caught.  And he must be judged on both.

In this latter respect the ANC has squandered much, it seems, of its moral capital.  A good deal of that frittering has occurred as the fallout from governmental encroachment on individual liberties, usually as the result of the dynamics of patronage and the distortions it brings to policy.  To take but one example, there arises the question of leadership in villages which are still by and large tribal enclaves.  Should leadership be elective (democracy) or vested in tribal leadership (ethnic)?  For the central government the question is not just one of local sensibility.  You see, an Established leadership can be corrupted much more easily from the center than can an elective leadership.  And so we see the spectacle in South Africa of the attempt to foist non-elected leadership in the tribal areas.  From the NYT article:

“While sections of the political elite have tried to manipulate the politics of ethnicity to bypass democracy, many at the grass-roots level have opposed these moves. Popular opposition killed the Traditional Courts Bill. Last month, a community in the Eastern Cape won a court battle to elect its own leaders, rather than have them imposed. It cannot be right, the court agreed, that the people of the Transkei region ‘enjoyed greater democratic rights’ under apartheid ‘than they do under a democratically elected government.’”

The “Traditional Courts Bill” was an effort, sponsored by the prime minister, to create a separate legal system for what the article refers to as South Africa’s “Bantustans.”  Under that jolly little piece of legislation, unelected tribal chiefs would have been vested with authority as “judges, prosecutors and mediators, with no legal representation and no right of appeal.”  Hey! that’s why Nelson Mandela rotted all those years in prison, right?  So what’s going on?  This is what’s going on:

“Corruption expresses the way that state patronage has come to define politics. Politics in South Africa today ‘is devoid of political content,’ in the words of a former A.N.C. activist, Raymond Suttner. Instead, ‘it relates to who is rising or falling, as part of ongoing efforts to secure positions of power and authority.’ Using corrupt resources to win favors from different social groups and factions has helped entrench a dangerous cronyism in national politics.”

Gee whiz, who could have seen that coming?  I’ll tell you.  A British doctor who writes under the name Theodore Dalrymple.  I have a couple of his books, the first one I bought being Our Culture, What’s Left of It: The Mandarins and the Masses, a collection of essays.  Among them is “After Empire,” his description of his experiences as a newbie doctor in what was then Ian Smith’s Rhodesia.  As the Blogfather would say, by all means Read the Whole Thing, but here’s the guts of one of the article’s less encouraging observations:

“Unlike in South Africa, where salaries were paid according to a racial hierarchy (whites first, Indians and coloured second, Africans last), salaries in Rhodesia were equal for blacks and whites doing the same job, so that a black junior doctor received the same salary as mine. But there remained a vast gulf in our standards of living, the significance of which at first escaped me; but it was crucial in explaining the disasters that befell the newly independent countries that enjoyed what Byron called, and eagerly anticipated as, the first dance of freedom.

The young black doctors who earned the same salary as we whites could not achieve the same standard of living for a very simple reason: they had an immense number of social obligations to fulfill. They were expected to provide for an ever expanding circle of family members (some of whom may have invested in their education) and people from their village, tribe, and province. An income that allowed a white to live like a lord because of a lack of such obligations scarcely raised a black above the level of his family. Mere equality of salary, therefore, was quite insufficient to procure for them the standard of living that they saw the whites had and that it was only human nature for them to desire—and believe themselves entitled to, on account of the superior talent that had allowed them to raise themselves above their fellows. In fact, a salary a thousand times as great would hardly have been sufficient to procure it: for their social obligations increased pari passu with their incomes.”

And the same dynamic played out among the political classes after independence:

“It is easy to see why a civil service, controlled and manned in its upper reaches by whites, could remain efficient and uncorrupt but could not long do so when manned by Africans who were supposed to follow the same rules and procedures. The same is true, of course, for every other administrative activity, public or private. The thick network of social obligations explains why, while it would have been out of the question to bribe most Rhodesian bureaucrats, yet in only a few years it would have been out of the question not to try to bribe most Zimbabwean ones, whose relatives would have condemned them for failing to obtain on their behalf all the advantages their official opportunities might provide. Thus do the very same tasks in the very same offices carried out by people of different cultural and social backgrounds result in very different outcomes.”

I’m going to state that what that NYT article is describing is not much more than the playing out, on the South African stage, of the social dynamic Dalrymple observed all those years ago in Rhodesia.

Lest Gentle Reader get the impression that Dalrymple is just another White Man’s Burden sort of neo-colonialist who’s demonstrating for the Xth time that the wogs simply are incapable of self-government, I really encourage Gentle Reader to read the entire article.  Dalrymple’s very up-front in pointing out that the social dynamics which render the African nation-states peculiarly susceptible of political and economic corruption serve a very positive function in enabling the peasants — who still form the overwhelming majority of the populace — to survive in an environment that is hostile on any number of levels, all the way from its climate to its economic policy.  “Of course, the solidarity and inescapable social obligations that corrupted public and private administration in Africa also gave a unique charm and humanity to life there and served to protect people from the worst consequences of the misfortunes that buffeted them.”

And so what is Dalrymple’s “solution”?  Well, he doesn’t really offer one.  He does point out that the crux of the tragedy — and you cannot read that article and come away without the sensation that he perceives what he’s describing as a tragedy in its classical meaning — was the imposition of the national-state model on a continent whose social systems were not and remain not suited for that framework.

“In fact, it was the imposition of the European model of the nation-state upon Africa, for which it was peculiarly unsuited, that caused so many disasters. With no loyalty to the nation, but only to the tribe or family, those who control the state can see it only as an object and instrument of exploitation.”

This does not bode well for South Africa.  And it does not bode well for Africa in general.  As Thomas Sowell has pointed out in any number of books and essays, the history of the human species is a history of the exploitation of the lesser-organized by the greater-organized groups, whether it was 12th Century England swallowing 12th Century Ireland, or the 19th Century United States scattering to the winds the aboriginal populations (Gentle Reader will recall that Tecumseh’s coalition was well-nigh the only one of its kind, and it was only that coalition that was able, until he was killed at Fallen Timbers, to stave off the white tide . . . although on numbers alone the outcome was inevitable), or the 19th Century colonial powers gobbling up Africa itself.  Even a numerically smaller group can successfully challenge a larger, established group, if the disparities in political organizing capacity are there.  Think of how Rome became mistress of the entire Mediterranean world.

Now think what happened to the peoples of the former Austro-Hungarian empire, a state which fractured into constituent, mutually-hostile ethnic groupings.  Franz Joseph it was, I think, who allowed that upon dissolution of his empire all that would happen would be that all these groups so clamorous for independence would merely become the playthings of greater powers.  And so it occurred.  Unless Africa can find a way either to move from its present social structures to a set more suitable for maintenance of a nation-state, or alternatively find some Golden Mean to straddle the two worlds, then what is likely to happen to the people when these nation-states implode?

[As an aside, and as perhaps a post topic for another day, I’ll toss the question out to Gentle Reader to what extent any of the dynamics observed by Dalrymple in Rhodesia and elsewhere in Africa, and by the NYT’s man-on-the-ground in South Africa today, would have had any play if the U.S. had permitted its aboriginal tribes to remain as they were pre-Trail of Tears, living in a parallel legal universe, but otherwise among the majority population.  Extra-territoriality, in other words, the same system which the Western powers rammed down Imperial China’s throat.  No state which is in fact sovereign concedes extra-territoriality to any group; it is simply inconsistent with the assertion of sovereignty.  That’s a point I seldom see made in discussions about Jackson’s decision not to concede that to the Cherokee, and Supreme Court opinion be damned.  For that matter I’m not sure how you can square the 14th Amendment with the assertion that the Cherokee ought to have been allowed to remain as they were.  Either there is One Law for all, or you’re just pretending at Equal Protection.  And either there is a Supremacy Clause or there is not.  Imponderables.]

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