On July 17, Barack Obama spoke at the 16th Annual Nelson Mandela Lecture in Johannesburg, South Africa to honor the life of the former leader. The speech was noteworthy, not only because of what the former president said in his first major address since leaving office, but also for what he didn’t say about the present South African regime.
Speaking to a crowd of around 15,000 people, Obama praised Mandela as “one of history’s true giants,” while bashing capitalism,Western culture and its racist and sexist roots. Obama also heaped praise upon South African President Cyril Ramaphosa for “inspiring new hope in this great country.” Yet while those in attendance might have agreed, South Africa’s minority white population would certainly beg to differ based upon the current state of affairs there.
Just who is Cyril Ramaphosa? He was elected as President of the African National Congress in December 2017 and also served as his country’s Deputy President from 2014-2018. Then this past February, he became South Africa’s newest leader following the resignation of Jacob Zuma.
Known for helping to negotiate a peaceful end to apartheid and moving his country toward democracy in 1994, Ramaphosa even received Mandela’s personal blessing to one day lead the nation. Less has been said about Ramaphosa’s questionable accumulation of wealth (an estimated $550 million) or the controversial role he played as a large Lonmin shareholder in ending an August 2012 workers strike at the company’s Marikana platinum mine. The stoppage ended with police killing 34 miners and wounding 78 more after shooting many in the back. Did Obama fail to mention these issues because he was ill-informed or perhaps because they didn’t quite match up with his lofty speech’s narrative?
Next, Obama forgot to mention that South Africa’s “business-friendly” president strongly supports the legislature’s recently passed plan to amend the country’s constitution to permit seizing white-owned farms without compensation. And speaking of those white farmers, just how many of them are “inspired” about their prospects for the near future and beyond? Not to worry though, as Obama once said, “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.”
As further justification for the farm seizures, Ramaphosa claimed during a nationally televised address that the general public supports a policy that would “promote redress, advance economic development, and increase food production and security.” So why then are investors worried? Maybe because the seizures won’t grow South Africa’s economy, which continues to suffer after years of corruption under President Zuma; most notably with an unemployment rate of 27 percent.
South African whites also know all too well the recent history of bordering Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia), where Marxist revolutionary president Robert Mugabe instituted a similar land-grab in 2000. As a result, violent gangs attacked and occupied white-owned farms. Many farmers and workers were intimidated, tortured or killed without any effort by the government to protect them. After these farms were confiscated, food production declined noticeably, 75 percent of the country’s population ultimately required food aid, disease skyrocketed, and economic decline spread across the land. Mugabe’s response: “The white man is not indigenous to Africa; all whites should go back to England.” Thus, a white population that peaked at just under 300,000 people in 1975 numbered less than 30,000 by 2012. Those who remain in Zimbabwe today are still subject to varying degrees of violence, harassment and racial animosity. Does this alarm Obama?
Is this what the future holds for South African whites? Despite Ramaphosa’s contention that they shouldn’t feel threatened by the land reform plan, many are. Activist groups also claim white farmers are being increasingly targeted through home invasions, torture and murder despite government denials. The extremist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) even sees land confiscation as a proper way to right the wrongs of colonialism and to “teach whites a lesson.” Meanwhile, Obama, the United Nations and a complicit world media fail to even mention it in passing.
Following on the heels of what happened in Zimbabwe, and an EFF message that has yet to be condemned by President Ramaphosa, South Africa’s destructive policy does little to comfort whites or “inspire new hope” for their country. And most of all, it destroys the vision of freedom, justice and racial harmony embodied by Nelson Mandela. Unless, of course, you are Barack Obama, who plays free and loose with history while continuing to view the real world through uniquely rose-colored glasses.
Mark Figley is a political activist and guest columnist from Elida.