Why South Africa is such a major fuck-up


South Africa is one of those countries which can be classified as a MAJOR FUCK-UP, despite remarkable human potential, natural beauty and mineral wealth.

South Africa was not a MAJOR FUCK-UP 350 years ago. Nguni-speaking tribes had started migrating down the coast of East Africa more than a thousand years earlier, with some heading south, and communities like the San and the Khoi did their thing on the West Coast and in the interior of Southern Africa. Then, in the seventeenth century, the Dutch arrived, and a while later the French and the Germans and some other lost European souls.

Now, despite what some historians and political orators would want you to believe, the mere arrival of the pale skins was not the cause of the MAJOR FUCK-UP. If they had simply told the San and the Khoi, “Listen, there’s a new game in town, and the game’s name is the-place-now-belongs-to-us. We know your language may not even contain the correct words to express private ownership and the company is the boss, but that’s how we do things where we come from. Plus, we have pipes that blow out lead balls in a flash that can floor any of you on the spot if you don’t want to co-operate,” one could argue that the Khoi and the San would have said, “Whatever, we’ve seen what the pipes and the balls can do, and these people look serious. Let’s go look for a better campsite.”

Problem was, the pale ones needed people to dig trenches, cut rocks, build walls, keep cattle, plant trees, and harvest fruit and vegetables. And the sailors and soldiers who had been recruited in the town and city squares of Holland and neighbouring countries could either not do all the work themselves, or they weren’t that keen on all the manual labour in the African sun.

Now, the market for manual labour could have worked out okay for all concerned if decent compensation had been offered. This, however, was where things started going horribly wrong. A most barbaric custom had seen a sharp upsurge in the century or so before the Western Europeans disembarked at Table Bay: the grabbing of free people, the slapping of chains on their hands and legs, and the violence with which they were forced to work against their will. This was where the MAJOR FUCK-UP entered the story.

People were captured in Angola, Madagascar, and elsewhere in Africa, forced onto ships, and given a simple choice: work for free in the sun and wind, in the heat of summer and the bitter months of winters, or die hungry and alone. The same choice was given to political prisoners of what is today Malaysia and Indonesia, and to other people who were brought to do work which the Dutch and the other Europeans were either too lazy to do, or which they simply didn’t want to do.

This thing of one group of people exploiting another group of people and robbing them of their freedom is, as any reasonable person could expect, not something that is quickly forgiven or forgotten.

Two hundred or so years later, the descendants of the European sailors and soldiers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries continued to use oppressive measures to force brown and black men and women, and even children to work on farms and in other industries.

Closer to our own era, starting from the late nineteenth century, those pompous masters of white supremacy, the inhabitants of the British Isles, also lent a hand to ensure that South Africa ends up in the MAJOR FUCK-UP category. Using a variety of policies and regulations, they compelled thousands of black men to sell their labour on the mines, without allowing their families to settle down with them on the outskirts of the new industrial towns. These black workers, mostly unskilled according to Western standards, were paid a pittance for hours of hard labour digging wealth from the South African soil, all so that the masters of white rule could become ever more powerful and live in ever more grandiose and luxurious homes.

In short, injustice, cruelty and short-sightedness are not committed against one generation, and by the next generation everything is all right again and everyone sings songs and tell stories around the campfire. One group of individuals who squeeze life out of other groups of individuals leads in the best of cases to a FUCK-UP. Throw in racist social policy, lack of political representation, and an approach to education that makes it clear that the group who has the most power sees themselves as the masters of other groups, and you will thank your stars if you do not end up with a situation that is still a MAJOR FUCK-UP centuries later.

You can call it economic inequality; you can call it racism. In the end it comes down to a simple question: Who works for whom, and how much of a say do the ones who do the hard labour have in the whole business?