TRANSFORMATION denialism turns out to be a more extreme, insidious and dangerous form of racism than I realised when I wrote about it. All data, informed estimates and observable facts confirm the extent to which there has been far more racial transformation than denialist rhetoric suggests. Statements to the effect that there has been little or no transformation – that “there has been a slow pace of change”, “nothing has changed”, “whites own everything” and that there is “white monopoly capital” – are more implicitly racist than Eugène Terre'Blanche on steroids.
Transformation denialism implies, firstly, that black South Africans cannot govern, that 20 years of democracy has been as bad as the apartheid crime against humanity, and that apartheid did no harm. The idea is too manifestly absurd to merit refutation.
Secondly, denialism implies, equally absurdly, that black South Africans are too useless to benefit spontaneously from personal, civil, political and economic liberation.
Thirdly, it implies that in 20 years the ANC did nothing for black people, that it provided no new social or physical infrastructure, houses, land claims, redistributed land, schools, social grants, health care, private sector opportunities, human rights, democracy or dignity. Even its harshest critics cannot seriously propagate such nonsense. Yet that is what its putative allies do.
Fourthly, denialism denies such splendid accomplishments for black South Africans as rising retail spending, incomes, literacy and life expectancy (despite HIV/AIDS).
The paradox of transformation denialism is that its protagonists are both “left” and “right”. “Right-wing” white supremacists are easier to comprehend. Their view, which seldom manifest itself beyond muffled exchanges between trusted friends, is that black people are no better-off now than they were under patrimonial apartheid.
It is harder to make sense of the fact that transformation denialism is vociferously proclaimed by people, regardless of race, on “the left”. The presumption that left denialists are not anti-black is so tenacious that they spew extreme racism without being suspected of it. The essential implication of their “nothing has changed” narrative is that black people can neither govern nor benefit from liberation. Their hidden agenda is, of course, to legitimise self-serving draconian policies.
It gets worse. People who celebrate the extent of transformation expose themselves to vitriolic attack by denialists. Opinion columns, such as this, express opinions. When asked for sources regarding my opinions, I naively presumed good faith. I supplied those immediately available and agreed to search for a missing few when time permitted. I should have heeded the warning of an earlier victim who pointed out that the source of a writer’s opinions is the writer. My opinion piece followed a State of the Nation presentation with nearly 100 pieces of evidence indicating substantial transformation. None of the data were mine, although personal estimates by informed people are perfectly legitimate.
Estimates are inherently debatable, including many wrongly presumed to be “facts” or hard data”, such as the number of street vendors, immigrants, rapes or the gross domestic product. Virtually all social science statistics entail contentious methodologies. Statisticians disagree profoundly, for instance, about the size of the “informal sector” or the “black middle class”. Imprecise estimates aside, experts cannot even agree on the meaning of such key terms as “transformation”, “inequality” or “coloured”.
What cannot be denied is that seemingly valid denialist opinions about opinions are opinions, not facts. More distressingly, they are grotesquely racist. It is also undeniable that much has changed for the better racially, on one hand, and that we face serious challenges, on the other.
So long as transformation denialism prevails, the government will be denied credit for what has been accomplished under its watch, its constituency will be alienated by the myth that they have been betrayed, and there will be counter-productive policies regardless of who governs.
• Louw is executive director of the Free Market Foundation