South of the Limpopo, the South African government has been busy restructuring the economy along racial lines for decades. The “colour bar,” which was a system of racial preferences designed to protect white workers from their black competitors during the apartheid era, was replaced by the Employment Equity Act and the Black Economic Empowerment legislation that require private enterprises to hire workers in proportion to their population share. Likewise, strict affirmative action policies govern civil service hiring and government procurement.
The Mining Charter, under which the African National Congress government nationalised South Africa’s mineral rights, also stipulates that at least 26 percent of shares in mining concerns have to be held by African shareholders. A recently-scrapped plan would have raised that threshold to 30 percent. That’s just as well, for South Africa’s mining sector has been, in contrast with extractive industries in other parts of the world, contracting.
In response to the government’s policies, hundreds of thousands of white professionals have left the country, thus depriving the country of valuable human capital and putting at risk Nelson Mandela’s dream of a multi-racial democracy. The delivery of public services, where worker’s racial profile is more relevant to advancement than competence, has suffered greatly. Nothing better exemplifies the negative consequence of the government’s obsession with race than the near-collapse of the state-owned electric power utility, ESKOM.
“Load shedding,” which is a euphemism for rolling blackouts, ought to be a reminder to the socialists of all parties who run South Africa that a sophisticated economy and cut-throat international competition demand that merit be prioritised over all other consideration. Zimbabwe has learned that lesson the hard way. The question is: can South Africa learn from Zimbabwe’s pitiful example?