South Africa is an ongoing topic of concern among the dissident right, which views it as a cautionary tale about the dangers of becoming a minority in your own country. The Rainbow Nation has been largely ignored by the mainstream media since the end of apartheid, but last year Donald Trump scandalized the global establishment by highlighting it in a tweet.
I have asked Secretary of State @SecPompeo to closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers. “South African Government is now seizing land from white farmers.” @TuckerCarlson @FoxNews
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 23, 2018
Predictably, the media coverage was overwhelmingly negative. One response came from a transplanted American white woman living in South Africa, Eve Fairbanks, who wrote an article for Politico entitled “Trust Me, Donald Trump, White South Africans are Doing Fine.”
In it, she wrote about an email she received from a concerned friend who lived in America. “I didn’t know what to say because it was all so far from the truth that it beggared belief,” she wrote. “The reality they under-report is that white life is amazing.”
“In the context of South Africa,” she continued, “fearing or predicting a massacre of whites there allows whites elsewhere to act like the kind of people who possibly ought to be massacred.” It was a stunning and chilling statement, particularly coming from a Jewish woman.
The reality of South Africa’s farm murders is as well-documented as it is horrific. Fairbanks nevertheless makes a broader point that should not be ignored. What about the rest of South Africa’s whites? Are they really doing as well as she says?
The answer is no. In fact, there is good reason to believe that the plight of the nation’s Afrikaner farmers is foreshadowing worse to come for the entire white population. Understanding why, however, requires better understanding the nation’s notoriously corrupt and increasingly dangerous political and economic situation.
No one is safe
South Africa’s farm murders are part of a much larger crime problem. The nation’s homicide rate is already among the highest in the world and it has been increasing since 2011. Most of it is concentrated in poor black townships.
Nyanga, a township outside Cape Town, is a one of the most dangerous in the country. “I have been robbed more times than I can remember, says Sandiso Phaliso, a longtime resident. “Fortunately, I am still alive although I have been stabbed on a number of occasions and bear the scars.”
“Five of my friends have been killed over the last three years,” he says. “They were too drunk to defend themselves.”
South Africa’s violent crime is overwhelmingly black-on-black or black-on-white. Almost all of the convicts in its prisons are either black (79.6%) or mixed race (18.2%).
Homicides account for just three percent of the much larger number of violent crimes committed every year. The rate of rape is the highest in the world (at least among countries that publish plausible statistics). Police are ineffectual, often corrupt, and sometimes a criminal menace themselves. Vigilantism is common in the townships, where mobs routinely beat and often kill the violent criminals who roam their communities, sometimes using the gruesome practice of necklacing.
Urban whites are safer than poor blacks, but only because of herculean efforts to protect themselves that leave them virtually imprisoned. The vast majority live in (and stick to) heavily segregated, largely white areas of the cities and suburbs, often in apartment buildings with security services and cameras, and in gated communities. The nation’s citizens employ more private security than its police and army combined. Highs walls, razor wire, and dogs are affordable alternatives. According to some estimates, more than half of homes have such security measures.
Every journey outside is risky. Smash and grab artists roam the streets and can rob through a car window in seconds. Tourist areas are heavily protected. According to one resident, Cape Town’s waterfront “is well lit, rigorously patrolled by private security guards, and has over 800 CCTV cameras that are centrally monitored by a control room that can dispatch armed security or medical services to any point within minutes.”
In other parts of the city, pickpockets and street urchins are pervasive. Visitors are warned to remain in well-traveled, well-lit areas. Outside these areas, “things get less safe pretty quickly.” Indeed, most South Africans feel unsafe walking around their own neighborhoods after dark.
Many avoid going out altogether. “Life in Johannesburg mostly happens indoors,” says Dan Roodt, an Afrikaner activist. “You move from one secure environment and one security complex to another. Or you could move from a gated community to a shopping center. Everything is guarded.”
Politics: the deadly game
Bongani Skhosan, a young black candidate for a low-level city council position in the Umziwabantu municipality, got in his pick-up truck. It was just another Monday morning and he was taking his kids to school. He probably never saw the gunmen coming.
Two head shots ended it quickly. His children watched their father die.
Political violence is commonplace in South Africa, particularly in predominantly black areas such as KwaZulu-Natal. Disruption of political gatherings, threats, and beatings are a regular occurrence, especially when elections are close. Police usually do little to stop it and sometimes they are active participants. Killing is normally a last resort, but it has been a growing phenomenon. There have been at least 90 political assassinations since 2016, double the rate of the previous 15 years.
The reason is simple: money. For many black South Africans, politics is the only realistic path to wealth and many are more than willing to kill for it. For those that do, the payoff can be substantial.
While there are many contributors to the nation’s corruption, one of the most important is Black Economic Empowerment (BEE), a national policy rolled out over the past twenty years that gives economic preferences to businesses with substantial black ownership. The result has been a series of sweetheart deals with white-owned businesses that have made leading black political leaders instantly rich in exchange for inside access and political protection.
Cyril Ramaphosa, the nation’s current president, chaired a commission that helped develop BEE. Today he is one of the wealthiest men in the country, with a net worth of R6.4 billion ($550 million). Numerous political families have also benefitted, including those of Jacob Zuma and Nelson Mandela, but they are not the only ones. By 2015, an estimated R350 billion ($24 billion) in BEE deals had been done by the top 100 companies on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. By the end of 2013, about 23 percent of its market capitalization was held by Black Economic Empowerment groups, a figure that is probably higher today.
Politically-connected black entrepreneurs who miss out on BEE deals have other options. Some become wealthy with government contracts, known locally as “tenders.” Tenders usually combine high prices and poor delivery, which helps make the recipients rich, but they are an exceptionally bad deal for the public.
“For your business to survive and thrive, you must know a politician,” one black tenderpreneur told The New York Times. “If I didn’t have the networks and the access to resources, I wouldn’t be where I am.”
Cronyism spills further down the food chain through widespread political hiring in government agencies and state-owned enterprises. The result is a government that barely functions. Pervasive incompetence and corruption have hobbled the police, social services, health care, education, municipal services, and the military. Years of mismanagement at Eskom, the state-owned energy utility, has produced a broken system that subjects the nation to intermittent power outages.
The primary purpose of these dysfunctional governmental agencies and state-owned businesses is to prop up the ruling African National Congress (ANC). These entities employ most of the nation’s relatively small black middle class. They also provide leverage over the poor, who are afraid to vote the wrong way for fear of losing social grants, pensions, access to public housing, food assistance, and low-paying jobs on public projects.
For the lucky few at the top, however, the system has brought sudden wealth and appalling levels of indulgence. Newly-minted “BEE men” are constantly one-upping each other with flashy suits, new cars, and cases of Chivas Regal and Dom Perignon. Kenny Kunene, one of the nation’s wealthiest black businessmen, arguably outshined them all with extravagant birthday parties that featured guests eating sushi off the bellies of half-naked women.
BMWs, the favored ride, are so ubiquitous that locals say the acronym stands for “black man’s wishes.” Vusi Nzapheza, a black columnist, says it is not unusual to see one parked next to a shack. “In some quarters, a car is mightier than a house,” he wrote. “A BMW is a panty-dropper while a bonded house is unlikely to get you laid on a Saturday night.”
Unsurprisingly, given the many opportunities for illicit gain, political campaigns in some parts of the country are beginning to look like gang wars. Contract killings, complete with hit lists, are becoming more frequent. Criminal gangs are often called upon to do the job to hide the identity of the true perpetrators.
Some are resigned to the changed landscape .”When you get involved in ANC party politics in Mpumalanga,” wrote one local journalist, “you know you may be killed.”
White Monopoly Capital
Superficially, most whites in South Africa are better off than most blacks, most of whom are poor. The white unemployment rate, 7.1 percent in 2018, is substantially lower than that of blacks (31.1%), mixed race or “colored” people (21.8%), and Indians/Asians (10.1%). Such comparisons are probably the best evidence for Eve Fairbanks’s claim that “white life is amazing.”
These statistics are misleading. Most whites face substantial discrimination due to government-imposed affirmative action. A 2017 survey by the liberal-leaning Institute of Race Relations found that 53 percent of white South Africans had personally experienced racism directed toward them, a figure more than double the 23 percent of black people who said the same thing. Moreover, after years of being forced out of government jobs, whites are now just 7.5 percent of the public workforce, a level below their proportion of the population.
What explains their relatively low unemployment? First, whites do better in the private sector, where for-profit corporate employers rely on their skills and formal education in management and professional positions to make a profit. Second, they excel in small business. About half the nation’s formally-registered small businesses are white-owned.
The deciding factor in each case is competence, something that can easily be seen by comparing the performance of the public and private sectors. Ilana Mercer, author of Into the Cannibal’s Pot, said a black editor of the Sunday Times once candidly admitted as much. “My African colleagues who manage large companies or government departments tell me that to get a job done, you usually have to employ a white,” he said.
This skill differential is not enough by itself to protect white jobs, however. The private sector is not immune from affirmative action laws. Left-leaning governmental bodies like the South Africa Human Rights Commission have called for stronger measures to address the remaining racial imbalances in private industry, but they have not been imposed, at least not yet.
Why not? The reason has little to do with the power of whites as a voting block. White voters are principally represented in parliament by the Democratic Alliance (DA), a liberal, multi-racial party that historically opposed apartheid and only holds about a fifth of the seats. The modern embodiment of the old Afrikaner Conservative Party, called Freedom Front Plus, holds just four of the four hundred seats in the National Assembly. All told, these parties are overwhelmingly outnumbered by the two major black-dominated parties, the ANC and a smaller black nationalist party called the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). In a nation that is 80 percent black and only eight percent white, democracy provides little protection.
As is so often the case, the real answer can be found by following the money. Hints can be found in a phrase that much of the world’s corporate establishment (or at least The New York Times) views as disreputable: “white monopoly capital.” This theory, generally backed by left-leaning politicians and academics, posits that the same white industrialists who once ruled South Africa under apartheid still rule it today. Despite its leftist pedigree, the idea appears to be well-grounded in fact.
More than two decades after the end of apartheid, the ranks of South Africa’s richest families remain largely the same, a reality broken only by a few token black BEE millionaires. Nicky Oppenheimer, whose family ran the De Beers diamond company for decades, tops the list. The connections between his family, the Jewish-dominated diamond industry, and the Rothschilds provide plenty to chew on for the conspiracy-minded.
Such explanations, however, are incomplete. Only about a quarter of South Africa’s wealthiest individuals are Jewish. Moreover, although he objects to the characterization, the most prominent example of white monopoly capital is a Calvinist Afrikaner named Johann Rupert. The nation’s second richest man, his wealth includes ownership of international luxury goods makers like Cartier and most of the nation’s corporate media.
His father, Anton Rupert, was a member of the Broederbond, a secretive Afrikaner brotherhood that dominated the ruling National Party during the apartheid era. Johann grew up in Stellenbosch, a leafy wine country town anchored by an elite university where he and many of the nation’s wealthy scions went to school. These connections form the core of an allegedly all-powerful business network, called the “Stellenbosch mafia,” which has reputedly used BEE payoffs and secret donations to keep the ANC’s black leadership in line.
Whatever the real or imagined influence of this group, few dispute that the two most powerful families, the Oppenheimers and Ruperts, played a central role in ending apartheid. Harry Oppenheimer, Nicky’s father, organized a conference of business leaders in 1976 to address racial issues after the Soweto uprising. The following year, he helped create the Urban Foundation to support the business community’s agenda and develop future black leaders. Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africa’s current president, was among its first recruits. Oppenheimer also played a key role in drumming up international opposition. In 1960, he met with Britain’s prime minister, Harold MacMillan, before he delivered a famous speech that called apartheid into question. In the early 1980s, he hosted Henry Kissinger in a visit to discuss ways to end it.
Despite his enormous wealth and influence, however, Oppenheimer was something of an outsider in South African politics. During the apartheid era, he supported the Progressive Party, the National Party’s principal political opposition. Anton Rupert, Johann’s father, arguably played the larger role because, unlike Oppenheimer, he was working to undermine apartheid from within the ruling party.
At the time, Anton Rupert was a leading financier of the Nationalists and a member of its inner circle. His son Johann was a friend and supporter of F.W. de Klerk, who in 1989 was elected to lead the party just as international sanctions were beginning to take a heavy toll. The party was also heavily dependent on corporate funding, which further weakened its resolve. When Anton Rupert urged it to bury “the stinking corpse of apartheid,” saying it was bad for business, the party listened.
These two powerful families and the nation’s other wealthy industrialists were the people that de Klerk was serving when he ended apartheid. In 1992, when he called a whites-only referendum to endorse his negotiations with the ANC, he was strongly backed by both the business community and the corporate and government-controlled media. The opposition, underfunded and denied media coverage, lost badly. Mandela did not win power on his own, it was given to him. Two years later, he was elected president.
The nation’s business elite did not hand over control to the ANC unchecked, however. While de Klerk willingly traded away political protections for ordinary Afrikaners and Anglos who were now a minority, he worked feverishly to protect business interests. He utilized a variety of tools, including constitutional protections, debt service agreements, international trade rules, and IMF assistance to handcuff Mandela and his successor, Thabo Mbeki.
Mandela changed after hobnobbing with the globalist jet set in Davos. During and after his negotiations with de Klerk, he and Mbeki regularly consulted with their ally, Harry Oppenheimer. In gratitude, Mandela later spoke out in defense of De Beers corporate interests. He called Oppenheimer’s contribution “monumental” after his death.
Some on the radical left were less impressed. “No man walks out of prison after 27 years and then becomes the president unless there is a script and a plan behind the scenes,” Khalid Muhammad, a Nation of Islam and New Black Panther Party leader, told Phil Donahue in 1994.
The business community’s capture of the ANC seemed complete, at least until Jacob Zuma, a corrupt character who looks and acts like Jabba the Hutt, seized the presidency in 2009. Zuma and his merry band of cronies, including the notorious Gupta brothers, then proceeded to loot the state, scandalizing the establishment in the process. Zuma held on for eight long years, but in 2017 the business elite struck back. Their protégé, Cyril Ramaphosa, defeated Zuma’s anointed successor in an ANC party contest and recaptured the presidency in early 2018.
Unlike the 1990s, the business community no longer advertises its influence in black-dominated South Africa. Johann Rupert knows he is “toxic” and he denies any involvement with the government. Responding to the EFF’s Julius Malema, who claims he is the real power behind the throne, Rupert joked that if Malema “doesn’t stop lying about me, I’m going to tell the world that I actually do give him money.”
True power is often invisible. Results sometimes are not. After his election, Ramaphosa called for an end to the phrase “white monopoly capital” and said “we should treat our entrepreneurs as heroes.” He has since matched his rhetoric with action, making business-friendly appointments to key government positions.
For now, the white population gets to keep their private sector jobs, but their safety comes at a price. South Africa’s business elite is not saving them out of any genuine concern for their well-being. This is the same group that brought in black miners to break white miners’ unions a century ago and later worked to end apartheid in a way that only protected themselves. They do not care about Afrikaner farmers or the growing number of poor whites in squatter camps.
They care about money. In a country riven by corruption and incompetence, they desperately need a skilled labor force. They only care about the white population if they help make them rich. Like the nation’s burgeoning security industry and its legions of BEE men, white monopoly capital is just another part of the South African protection racket.
Danger on the horizon
Attie Potgieter, a white farmer, fell dead outside his home, cut and stabbed 151 times with a panga and knives. His two-year old daughter, Wilmien, ran to his side. She was shot in the head execution style. Her mother, Wilna, was found dead inside the house.
“We have killed them. We are coming back,” read the note on the gate. These are the wages of betrayal.
There may be more to come. When Cyril Ramaphosa sought the ANC top position in late 2017, defeating one of Jacob Zuma’s ex-wives, it was a narrow victory. The race was evenly split, pitting those who benefitted from Zuma’s corrupt rule against those who did not. At the time, the balance of power rested with a gangster politician from Mpumalanga named David Mabuza.
Mabuza had worked his way up through the ANC in the usual way, stealing education money from the children of his province to line the pockets of supporters. Like many ANC politicians, he has been accused of ordering hits on those who got in his way – including Jimmy Mohlala, a local politician who had exposed graft in the province and was ruthlessly gunned down. In 2017, he saw an opportunity in the Ramaphosa-Zuma contest and made his appointment to the deputy presidency the price of his support. Ramaphosa paid the devil his due.
Mabuza later said of Ramaphosa, “We’ll rally around him as a leader and we’re going to walk next to him. He’s very safe with me next to him.” It must have been cold comfort. Many believe the nation’s deputy president is a stone-cold killer.
Many of the nation’s wealthy elite are no longer taking any chances. In late 2018, Johann Rupert, who has reportedly grown disillusioned with South Africa, announced a major expansion of his luxury lines in China. In 2011, the Oppenheimer family sold its stake in De Beers to Anglo American, a long-time partner, to diversify their holdings.
They are not alone. Between 2007 and 2015, over 40 percent of the nation’s white millionaires left the country. Over seven percent of the entre white population has emigrated since 2002 – mostly skilled professionals, tradespeople, entrepreneurs and experienced corporate employees and their families. They are part of a larger brain drain that has hit the nation hard. Undoubtedly, more would leave if they could. Unlike Zimbabwe in the 1980s, there is no safer country to the south for whites to run to.
While many of the nation’s most productive citizens are leaving, millions of poor and uneducated migrants are pouring in from the rest of Africa. There are currently an estimated 2-5 million illegal immigrants in the country, most from nearby nations like Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and the Congo. The numbers are still manageable and current population projections assume this will not change, but that assumption is questionable.
The United Nations projects that sub-Saharan Africa’s population will grow to over four billion by the end of this century, with the world’s black population approaching that of the rest of the world combined. Polls already show that over half of those living in many poor black countries want to emigrate to the West. It is inconceivable that this will not affect South Africa.
Meanwhile, service delivery protests by the nation’s poor are a daily occurrence and trouble is brewing on its increasingly radical college campuses. According to a 2017 poll, 61 percent of blacks say South Africa is “now a country for black Africans and whites must take second place.”
“We’re sitting on a serious time bomb,” Bongi Vilakazi, a black businessman, told The New York Times. “Everyone I talk to is of the mind that we need to take what is rightfully ours.”
How long can this go on? Some, like Simon Roche of Suidlanders, a civil defense group, think South Africa may be on the brink of civil war. Even the establishment-backed South African Institute of Race Relations is sounding alarms, calling the current demonization of farmers a dangerous left turn by Ramaphosa and his supporters.
Frans Cronje, the organization’s CEO, has mapped out several future scenarios, but he thinks the most likely is one where the nation breaks up into semi-autonomous enclaves divided along racial, class and ethnic lines. He also sees political danger on the horizon. If the ANC fails to win 50 percent of the vote, either in 2019 or thereafter, he thinks they may be forced into an alliance with the EFF and Julius Malema, who has infamously committed to “cutting the throat of whiteness.” This would drive the government even further left, possibly producing an economic crisis like the one in Venezuela, where millions have fled to other countries.
Such a crisis, however, could open the door to white independence. In a 2016 interview, Dan Roodt dismissed the possibility that a breakaway effort would be suppressed, arguing that the South African military has become dysfunctional and inept under ANC leadership. “We have always been outnumbered. I don’t think that’s the problem,” he said. “Only other whites could endanger us.”
“There would have been some sort of revolt a long time ago already if it weren’t for the fact that people here are really scared of the USA and the European Union – and military action from them on the side of the ANC,” he said. “The more Europe and North America gets embroiled in their own multicultural problems, the more space it will open up for us here.”
Politicians like Donald Trump and the national populists of Europe have roiled the body politic, but neoliberal and neoconservative elites still hold significant power. The same global forces that once broke South Africa are working to do the same thing to every Western country. If they succeed, South Africa’s protection racket could await us all.
In a nation plagued by corruption and decay, the financial district of Sandton in Johannesburg is a startling contrast. This is the commercial heart of South Africa’s business elite. Its gleaming office towers and luxury shopping emanate a kind of discordant vibrance, as if it were a vampire sucking the life from the rest of the country.
The surrounding city better reflects the nation as a whole. The downtown is marked by crumbling buildings and urban rot. The skyline is dominated by Ponte tower, an overcrowded tenement that once held ten stories of trash in its open core. The building’s brutalist aura is so dystopian that it was used in a movie about a coming zombie apocalypse.
The region’s black townships are worse – a wasteland of crime, drugs, and garbage. In 2008, the filmmaker Louis Theroux interviewed one of the residents, a carjacker named Maleven. He and a companion bragged that they had taken four cars the night before and were no strangers to home invasion. Theroux asked how they convinced their victims to hand over their money.
“You never give me? You never give me?” Maleven answered defiantly.
“I take your wife and put a knife here, like example,” he said, pointing to his neck. “You see the blood. I say ‘I finish up now! You don’t give me money or you give me?’ What can you say?”
“You will give me. No other way.”
This is Africa in its purest form. The devil’s bargain facing the white population is no less clear: “Make me rich or you die.”
Maleven was later arrested and subsequently killed in jail by his fellow inmates, which is a shame. He might have made a good politician.
Mr. McDermott is a political analyst in Washington, DC.