There’s an odd column in American Greatness, on the 30th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s prison release, lamenting the fall of apartheid in South Africa, which it portrays as a calamity negotiated by “conniving Communists in the ANC and their knavish collaborator, F. W. de Klerk.”
Ostensibly, according to Ilana Mercer, as a “lesson for Americans today,” we should recall that in 1990 “South Africa’s last white president, turned the screws on his constituents, betraying the confidence we had placed in him.”
Mercer says de Klerk prior to the presidency represented her district in South Africa’s apartheid-era parliament, so she feels a special sense of betrayal. He “sold his constituents out for a chance to frolic on the world stage with Nelson Mandela,” despite having “condemned crude majority rule.” She faults him for having “caved to ANC demands, forgoing all checks and balances for South Africa’s Boer, British, and Zulu minorities.”
Warning against conflation of universal suffrage with freedom, Mercer writes, “As Iraqis learned after their ‘liberation,’ ink-stained fingers don’t inoculate against bloodstains, or, rather, rivers of blood.” She regrets that “societal structures that safeguard life and property” have disintegrated in South Africa.
Mercer mocks arguments that white South Africa, “pushed” by America, could safely surrender to majority rule once the Soviet Union was collapsing, without explaining her rationale, except that “ANC heroes were a ragtag bunch of exiled has-been Communists.” And she regrets that special ethnic carve-outs were not made for Afrikaners and Zulus.
Special nation-states or autonomous zones for Afrikaners and Zulus, requiring forced relocation for millions of people, likely would have led to civil war. South Africa today can be critiqued for corruption and for a governing political party in power for nearly 30 years, with few prospects of defeat by the opposition.
Yet the Christian Realist doesn’t compare flawed situations to an imagined ideal but calculates based on available options. South Africa 30 years ago easily could have crumbled into a racial civil war similar to collapsing Yugoslavia but likely exponentially greater in casualties, with fewer prospects of Western intervention.
Instead, for all its problems, South Africa is today a relatively cohesive society, still ranked democratic and free by human rights groups and still prosperous relative to the rest of Africa. Freedom House ranks it as 78 on the scale of 1–100 on overall freedom, comparable to Brazil, India, and Jamaica, and higher than any other African nation. By comparison, during the apartheid era, Freedom House assigned a score of 5 and 6, with the Soviet Union having the worst score of 7 and the US having 1.
In 1990–91 South Africa’s life expectancy for men was 52 and for women 55. Today it’s 60 and 67. In 1990 its GNP per capita was $3,240. In 2018 it was $6,353, or 55 percent of the world’s average. South Africa’s murder rate in 1990 was over 70 persons per 100,000 people. Today it’s less than half that.
It’s hard to see South Africa by any measure as worse off today than 30 years ago under apartheid, when nearly 70 percent of the population, which was black, lacked access to democracy and legal equality. Today South Africa guarantees franchise for all people and is governed by a constitution that protects free speech and an independent judiciary. Unlike in neighboring Zimbabwe, where the white minority was gradually forced out by Mugabe’s dictatorship, South Africa’s white population has remained numerically stable.
Mercer’s article recalled de Klerk’s negotiation toward majority rule in South Africa as disastrous. But almost certainly it skillfully averted violent calamity, eased by the reassuring presence of Nelson Mandela as the nation’s first black president.
Contrary to Mercer’s bizarre assertion, de Klerk and South African whites who supported him correctly were reassured by the Soviet Union’s collapse, which nullified the South African Communist Party and ensured the ANC would be democratic. The disastrous Marxist-Leninist examples in neighboring Mozambique and Angola, whose regimes renounced party dogma as they lost their Soviet patron, were no longer warnings against a majority-governed future.
South Africa shifted to majority rule during a global wave toward democracy of which the collapse of the Soviet empire was only a part. Rightist dictatorships in South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Chile, and elsewhere gave way to democratic elections. As the Cold War ended, free market democracies seemed to be the wave of the future. South African whites correctly understood they could not withstand this wave, and wisely chose peaceful transition to a fully participatory democratic future.
Instead of writing a thoughtful critique of South Africa’s current problems, Mercer seems to prefer nostalgia for apartheid, or spins fantasies that national division into racial/tribal princedoms would have been preferable. It’s notable for example that post-apartheid South Africa, uniquely in Africa, quickly instituted same-sex marriage and abortion rights, siding with Western secularism over African Christianity and traditionalism. Mercer seems uninterested in that novelty, preferring a racial perspective.
Mercer self-identifies as “paleo-libertarian.” In a 2017 blog she praised the Confederacy while damning the United States as “empire”: “For the War Against Northern Aggression was a just war. The other wars fought by the US, except for the Revolutionary War, not so much, unjust.” She wrote that Confederate soldiers were “heroes and patriots” while American soldiers, by contrast, are cogs in the “Empire’s unjust wars.”
Understood. Mercer despises the United States and political systems that replicate America’s democratic pursuit of equality for all. Why would an outlet called American Greatness tout this perspective?