by Hannes Wessels

When people ask me about South Africa I normally try and quote something written by RW (known to his friends as Bill) Johnson or simply refer them to his literature. I believe, as far as South Africa is concerned, Mr Johnson is the pre-eminent political commentator of the day having been studying and writing about the country for 40 years. As an academic, his credentials are impeccable and he remains an emeritus fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford. As a liberal, he’s one of the few who has shown the courage to admit he might have got a few things wrong along the way. His latest publication, his 14th book, titled ‘Fighting for the Dream’, is essential reading for anyone wanting to know where South Africa finds itself, how it got here and what the future might hold.

Unfortunately, for those of us who care deeply about this country and its people, much of what one reads here is heart-breaking. We are reminded of the marvellous opportunity that was handed on a plate to Nelson Mandela and the ANC by the Afrikaner Nationalists in 1994 and then we are taken through the wilfully destructive process that began almost immediately and continues to this day.

The author goes into the gory details of how the country has been looted but as the rogues-gallery of ANC and bureaucratic miscreants grows I must confess I gave up trying to connect all the names to their positions, personal history and individual record of bad behaviour and scanned over some of the details because it’s a grinding litany of theft, fraud and brazen abuse of power that unfolds. Sadly, there are pitifully few like Mcebisi Jonas, from the ruling party stable who stand out for doing their duty and staying honest despite many opportunities to take the money and join their millionaire peers who chose the easy path to misbegotten wealth.

He goes on to explain the rump of the problem lies with a bloated, overpaid ‘bureaucratic bourgeoisie’ that consumes much of what is left when the politicians have finished at the trough. By 2018 the country employed 2.2 million civil servants and one of the most expensive civil-services in the world which Stephen Mulholland referred to as ‘the largest gravy train ever seen in Africa.’ And much of this is subsidised by a ridiculous 3% of the population who pay 80% of the income taxes collected. It is pointed out that most of these tax-payers are white and they are the targets of orchestrated exclusion which is driving them out the country and shrinking the tax base. There appears to be no end to the madness.

While being no admirer of the Afrikaner ruling class Johnson explains that in the 84 years from union in 1910, ‘… it built a formidable infrastructure, a developed economy and a series of powerful and efficient institutions – the Armed Forces, Eskom, Transnet (including a large railway and port system) the civil service, a strong police force, a highly developed water distribution system and much else besides.’ He praises successive governments for their ability to ensure, ‘… that individual or sectional interest within the ruling group were held in check and subordinated to a strong sense of national interest.’ He then contrasts this pattern of behaviour with the ANC which he describes as ‘… a political elite that is a mass of conflicting interests, no solidaristic sense of itself and, as night follows day little or no sense of the national interest.’ In short, despite it’s bluster about being the ‘party of the people’ the author goes into great detail to prove beyond any doubt that this is a ruling class that could not give a continental damn about anyone other than those that need to be kept happy at the taxpayer funded feeding trough. While they repeatedly refer to ‘our people’, he reminds us their leadership was quite prepared to sell the country to a family of criminal Indian immigrants

Mr. Johnson tries to explain why the ANC failed on its commitment to avoid making the same mistakes as the African nationalists had made elsewhere in Africa. Far from avoiding them he suggests the ANC have followed the script very closely. In trying to provide answers he dismisses out of hand claims that this behaviour is ‘due to defects in character or personality’ and then goes on to cite the success of Botswana as proof of his position but not much else to buttress the counter-argument.

Having painted an extremely depressing picture the author then urges us not to lose hope and proceeds to take us through the precise steps he believes need to be followed in order to reverse the descent into chaos and take the country back to being a place of peace and prosperity. All these processes make huge sense and on the face of it they are achievable but the reality of the present situation makes one wonder if there really is any chance of it happening.

Firstly, it will require the political will and that can only come if Ramaphosa breaks the strong shackles that bind him to a putrefying party and leads boldly from the front and this will take enormous courage and fortitude. But then, even if he does this, there is no escaping the fact the organs of state and SOE’s (State Owned Enterprises) are now almost bereft of people with the necessary skills and commitment required to turn the ship around. They are clogged up with corrupt incompetents who have a vested interest in the status quo, and even under the best leadership it’s very hard to see how this bureaucratic behemoth can be rapidly transformed into what is so desperately needed

The author’s summary is troubling: ‘This then is the drama that South Africa faces. For any liberal, communist or African nationalist, indeed for any democrat, the awful possibility now exists that majority rule – the goal so long fought for – will go down in history as a sad failure. That would not only give the verdict to the white-right but it would also seem to invalidate, or at least to mock, the popular struggles of the whole century. Such failure would not only have tragic repercussions for any sense of black pride and self-respect in South Africa; it would also have repercussions for black self-confidence and race relations right around the world.’



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9 thoughts on “Fighting for the Dream. R.W. Johnson”
  1. Depressing, but I look forward to reading your articles Hannes, your philosophy’s and good writing is concise and clear , 👍🏼 And most definitely educational and informative.

  2. Sadly what migrated south throughout Africa since the 50’s arrived here in 94. Whilst everyone applauded the election of Mandela, he responded by granting jobs to mates and the rot set in. Under Mbeki this country prospered but the gravy train demanded more gravy with the result that he was recalled. JZ’s recall was due to a massive public outcry driven by a still free press, but, his exit left behind his staunch supporters along with a well established network of nepotism, fraud, corruption and God knows what else. CR survives because the ANC need him there for the elections. An election which could just show a drop in the popularity of the governing party despite free cake and T Shirts. Undoubtedly the ANC will win the election all be it with a decreased majority. Only then will the JZ gang step back in and recall CR. Watch this space because I strongly believe that it is going to happen.

  3. Some of us were trying to put a suitable label on this bunch of ‘rent-seekers’ and you have summed it up succinctly in a nut shell with; a bloated, overpaid ‘bureaucratic bourgeoisie’ that consumes much of what is left when the politicians have finished at the trough.

  4. R W Johnson crux of the problem.
    Liberal, that says it all.
    I am sure many warned him of this day.
    The pompous ass new better.
    He did not admire the Afrikaner who built the country. A toff.
    He now unbelievably tries to explain where the ANC went wrong.
    Majority rule is not a failure. It was never going to work.
    Ironically the losers of the sick experiment, sadly, are the ordinary Blacks.
    There is only one way to fix the Goddamned mess.

  5. On my mother’s side I am the one of the tenth generation born in Africa, but I don’t belong in today’s Africa, not because I’m white, but because I have different values to the African. When the Congo went to Hell in the 1960’s. I thought Rhodesia would be different. By the time Rhodesia became Zimbabwe I realized that there would be no short cut to civilization for the African; he has to make the same mistakes as Europe did in it’s past. Unfortunately for him, modern, far more devastating weapons are available and are supplied by other interested parties to the disputing factions.
    South Africa, of course, had a very advanced weapons manufacturing capacity. Even in a depleted state it could supply a formidable arsenal. We can only hope that the next generation of Africans develop a closer link to civil society. EB.

  6. Thanks Hannes. Indeed what a tragedy, and for sure, the long fought for goal of majority rule will go down in history as a failure unless of course it is written by liberals who still seem to think all is well in Africa same as they think the tens of thousands of illegal immigrants who have, and continue to break through the US/Mexican border and other borders in Europe is just fine. In the meantime, those in positions of power in western countries who have been orchestrating this for decades are delighted that most people are focusing on the effects of their actions rather than the cause which is them.

  7. Unfortunately the story of South Africa is also the story of Africa. I clearly recall 1980 when the war ended in Rhodesia and it was announced that Robert Mugabe had been elected President. Mugabe was quick to make a conciliatory speech. At that point I really believed things would be different.

    It was not too long before things changed. The country that I loved (and still love) was becoming another communist state with no hope for the future. I packed my bags and moved South, the only option open to me in 1987.

    And then South Africa went through a lot of trauma leading up to 1994. Meanwhile te situation in Zimbabwe had settled and I really thought I had made a mistake. I was even working on getting my passport back and moving back home.

    Mandela and the rainbow nation happened…suddenly in South Africa there were sunny blue skies…we were the global flavor of the decade. Economy started picking up.

    Towards the end of the 90’s Zimbabwe started to go sour…I was glad that i had stayed in South Africa.

    After 2005 things here started going pear shaped…. we all feared that after Mandela died the real teeth would be barred. We were not wrong.

    Unfortunately like Zimbabwe the vested interests of the looters in positions of power have a stranglehold. The poor get poorer. the fat cats that are raiding the larder very cleverly have the finger pointed at the whites.

    This is as good as it is going to get. I am very fearful of what South Africa will look like in 10 years time.

  8. Thank you Hannes for this soupcon of ‘how things are’. Depressing and frustrating, because all logical, practical steps to making South Africa great will be ignored at best and ridiculed at worst.

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