For the new South Africa, apartheid will be a wonderful friend in need
emocracy is an unromantic ideology, but the old girl can still draw a tear. I have never witnessed a political event to com- pare with the South African election, not even the fall of the Berlin Wall. The silent queues snaking for miles across bush and township were mesmeric. Sowetan police- men and officials who last month would have feared for their lives were respected. Streets that saw gunfights, burnt homes and necklaced corpses were graced with orderly lines in their Sunday best. Afrikaners head- ing their Mercedes out to squatter camps to vote, and blacks cheerfully shouting, `You want to buy this house: good price?' Natal's Zulu warlord, David Ntombela, laid down the gun and put on the suit.
The franchise is an astonishing prophy- lactic. Twenty-five million blacks got up one morning, and decided to put their faith in democracy. Nobody foretold this. Nobody imagined South Africa would go to the polls on a universal franchise in 1994, experience no boycott and no violence beyond what Chicago sees in an average weekend. Yeats should have been there. This was the centre holding. This was the ceremo- ny of innocence undrowned in blood.
Nothing in politics is inevitable. I believe the whites could have held power more or less messily for another decade. But last week I saw a community of nations experi- encing, however briefly, a state of grace. There was realism. There was humour. The election may have been shambolic, like some demented mediaeval pilgrimage, but chaos was redeemed by dignity of purpose.
On one point only do I part company with the optimists. We have not seen the back of apartheid, not by a long chalk. It may be constitutionally dead, but its after- life will have a ghostly presence. Apartheid now joins the ideological undead.
To many whites the apartheid years will be a fond memory, like the Indian Empire. There may be no white volkstaat, but there will be a hundred neighbourhoods segre- gated de facto, like in the American Deep South. As the National Party becomes a multiracial grouping of liberal whites, coloureds and `insider' blacks, so whites will be ever more nostalgic, and ever more fanatical. With each strike, each riot, each stolen car, each unrepaired washing- machine, Van der Merwe will curse F.W. de Klerk, open a beer and say it would never have happened in the old days. He
will feel a mild comfort at the thought.
For the blacks, however, apartheid will be a pearl without price. It will be the Great Excuse. White rule may have been nasty and brutish, but it disciplined the South African economy and made it rich. South Africa has for 20 years out-per- formed every 'liberated' state in Africa. Politically correct academics claim white rule held South Africa back by stifling black education and advancement. I don't believe it. Apartheid may have been crude and cruel, but it was no more than an elite entrenching its economic power. The 'trick- ledown' worked. The incomes of blacks were well above those elsewhere on the continent, which explained the heavy migration of blacks into South Africa throughout the apartheid period. As Third World economies go, South Africa was a thundering success. The mas- sive redistribution of wealth promised by the ANC threatens that success. So a rea- son for incipient failure must be found in advance. At a recent international confer- ence, delegates from South Africa were told to share their wealth with the rest of Africa, now that the rest of Africa had so generously lifted sanctions. The usual aid- pushers, the World Bank and IMF, were losing patience. Perhaps South Africa might like to keep the addicts supplied? The South Africans should have told the hypocrites of the 'front-line states' to get lost. Instead they explained politely that they had to concentrate on 'remedying the ravages of apartheid'. The Great Excuse had moved south across the Limpopo.
This has become a litany as western lead- ers queue up to be photographed with Nel- son Mandela at his inauguration. The Nor- wegians are said to have offered $4 million in 'aid' for one photo opportunity. Presi- dent Clinton has promised to play his part in 'helping the rebuilding of South Africa'. The IMF talks of reconstruction. Neither explains what is being rebuilt or to what unrealised design. Britain's Lady Chalker is dusting off the old Foreign Office line about 'What Her Majesty's Government wants to see in South Africa . . , ' as if what HMG 'wants' mattered two hoots. South Africa needs to be left alone. Instead it is awash with aid lobbyists salivating over the `reconstruction' contracts about to pour out of Washington and Brussels. It is as if some great hurricane had passed and South Africans were crawling from their cellars to examine the damage.
This is a lie. But Mr Mandela is human. He cannot admit that in African terms white rule was an economic success. He must behave like Lord Howe in 1979, and claim that he 'never realised how awful things were' until he had seen the books. If a school is ill-equipped, a housing estate without sewerage, a factory without orders, a mob unemployed, it will be the legacy of apartheid'. Every inequality of income, every unfairness, every injustice detected by trade unionist or investigative journalist will be put down to apartheid. No matter that white and black incomes diverge in every country in the world. No matter that race is a fierce class-divider in Brazil and Singapore, in America and India, in Sydney and Brixton; if there is division in South Africa it will be due to apartheid.
Mr Mandela, unlike leaders to his north, is not a complete fool. He is a realist. He has been frantic to lower expectations in recent months, notably since his canonisa- tion as a capitalist saint in Davos last autumn. But his supporters want the goods. He will need a scapegoat. What nobler scapegoat than apartheid? It jailed him for half his natural life, It oppressed his people and was damned by the whole world. Come on, Mr Clinton, think of apartheid and give us the cash.
Apartheid was horrible. But foreign observers in South Africa this week have remarked on the absence of bitterness left in its train. Alan Paton's African hero asked his white friend the great question, `Will you learn to love us in time before we learn to hate you?' The answer this week appeared to be yes. I believe one reason is that apartheid acknowledged, albeit crude- ly, the racial distinctions ordinary people acknowledge. It made the implicit explicit. There was no pretence at a melting-pot.
Now the explicit must be suppressed, but the legacy of racial frankness will not disap- pear just because legal apartheid is dead. The new South Africa is not a raceless community, any more than Britain is a classless one. It will still be run mostly by whites, and blacks will still be at the bottom of the economic ladder. Democracy will give a new tilt to the conflict. But all South Africans will be glad to have in their knap- sack the Great Excuse. Apartheid will be a marvellous friend in need.
Simon Jenkins writes for the Times.