The Sins of the Father

During a book launch held at Stellenbosch University’s Institute for Advanced Study, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu called for a ‘wealth tax’ to be imposed on all white South Africans. Tutu said that the effects of apartheid had left many black South Africans riddled with “self-hate” and was the raison d’être behind why some blacks commit acts of gratuitous violence – I don’t know if I agree with this, as it seems perverse to lay the blame for an iniquitous act on a sense of self-loathing! The intent to commit violence is a choice made and is wrong no matter against whom it is committed.

According to Tutu, it was also behind the defensive attitude of whites, a defensiveness which is apparently, underpinned by feelings of shame and guilt. The Archbishop also felt that ‘white South Africans’ had failed to acknowledge the magnanimity of the black people since the end of apartheid! The Business Day portrayed Tutu’s call as a ‘clarion call’[i]from a moralists point of view, calling on white South Africans to acknowledge their benefit under apartheid and to shoulder some responsibility for reversing its negative repercussions.

I thought that they had already done that?

As an initial response, one has to ask the question – has acceptance of this responsibility not already been acknowledged (willingly or otherwise), in many different ways over the last 17 years? It is my opinion that, the continued stigmatisation of the white sector as shameful characters with a shady past and who must now accept and reap the rewards of their ill doing, is not a healthy socialistic ideal! Is this the shame and guilt, the ‘defensiveness’ that Tutu alluded to earlier? Perhaps – perhaps not but I would surmise that this is contributing to the identical ‘self-hate‘ syndrome that Tutu ascribes to the black community in his initial address – in which case we have a problem, that is according to the Archbishop’s thinking! This reversal of roles, if you like, is in my opinion going to be the view of many average white South Africans going forward, consciously or sub-consciously, especially if finalisation of this tragedy is not forthcoming soon!

No one can deny the ills of apartheid and no sane person would argue the merits of such a repugnant system – it was an abhorrent practice and is patently indefensible. Joy is the memory of a free Nelson Mandela, a true icon of freedom and reconciliation – oh, that we would follow his gratuitous example of reconciliation and forgiveness, for he above most had every reason to be bitter! Easy to say I suppose, but reconciliation and that forgiveness, while it may have been gratuitous for Mandela, appears to come at a dear but necessary cost when applied to others within the black community!

As a start in our examination of this issue, I believe that it is significant in the scheme of things to acknowledge that during the referendum of 1992[ii]a full 68% of the white population voted for change. This, I believe, is indicative of a willingness to change. A tacit acknowledgement by the white grouping that apartheid was wrong, very wrong and that an inclusive change was urgently needed.

Tutu first raised the issue of a wealth tax on the white populace during the TRC [iii]hearings, even at that time there was a perception of ‘guilt tax’. This call was rejected by the government of the day, but did not negate that pervasive feeling within black society, that something was needed to reverse the ravages of the past. Given that economic power at that point was (and when all is said and done, still is) predominantly under white control, it naturally followed that this was where the remedy should lie!

How then, has this remedy played itself out thus far?

First there was the introduction of AA – affirmative action, the enforced preference of black over white in all spheres. From promotions to job selection – the derogatory dysphemism ‘only blacks need apply’ became common in job adverts and the like. It has contributed strongly to a perception that the previously advantaged are now the presently disadvantaged. That is perhaps understandable but we must accept that this is the correct course of action and very necessary if we are to reverse the imbalance of those many years of discrimination! However, a counter view, a caveat is raised; after seventeen years nearly two generations of white school leavers, who never knew apartheid, are facing what they see as an unfair disadvantage. They are rightly asking what they have done to deserve this – the proverbial sins of the father visited on the son! But how does the government differentiate without correcting at a macro level and conversely, for how long must AA be in place before all are considered on an equal footing?

A broader formalised corrective action was Black Economic Empowerment or BEE; a program designed to ‘redress the inequalities of apartheid by giving previously disadvantaged groups economic opportunities previously not available to them…it includes Employment Equity, skills development, ownership, management, socioeconomic development and preferential procurement.’ One cannot deny that this has worked and the country is now starting to reap the benefits in seeing many more of the black community move up the social class structure. There have and will always be critics of this means of redress and some of those criticisms are valid, with results that proponents will not readily admit to!

Legalised enrichment schemes, such as the much publicised subsidised share issues, to which many in the white community say they never had similar benefit of during their formative years (though they should remember the other advantages that they did have!) and together with other discriminatory actions against them, have forced many skilled white folk to emigrate to less discriminatory shores; this is an exodus that South Africa can ill afford. Angry proponents of the schemes do not help with their denigration of these migrating individuals because perversely it reinforces the migration syndrome; instead they should be encouraging them to stay and work together for a better solution.

In response to the criticism levelled at BEE, in particular that it favoured a few black individuals, the South African government introduced a much broader based policy termed BBBEE or Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment – its objectives are pretty much the same as before.

These and I suppose others I may be unaware of, form an indirect monetary penalty on the white populace – so why is another penalty being mooted? A cynical reason, alluded to in Tutu’s address, is the high level of fund maladministration – not enough of the collected revenue is reaching the intended beneficiaries – I do not suppose that this is the sole cause of poverty, but it certainly contributes directly and indirectly. It is for this reason that there is so much scepticism among the citizenry at large – black and white!

There is no doubt in my mind that there is still an unacceptable gap between rich and poor but understand that in a free economic society there always will be. This is not bad, providing that the playing fields are level; this, however, is where South Africa went wrong and where redress is required.

Steven Friedman, columnist to the Business Day gets it right when he posits the following:

Appeal to our sense of justice, not to our guilt::THE way we say things may be more important than what we say. Nowhere is this truer than in this country, where saying things in certain ways ends reasonable discussion.”

I firmly believe that had this whole issue been approached differently, there would have been a far more compassionate response and a more serious intent toward serious dialogue. As it stands now, each side has retreated to their own corner and they have started ‘throwing stones’ at one another – not very productive!

Let us get round the table and debate as equals. Jacko Maree CEO of Standard Bank Group has shown the way with moral courage and leadership others would do well to emulate.

[i]My choice of words!

[ii](Wikipedia contributors 2011, § The 1992 Referendum)

[iii] The TRC was set up in terms of the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act, No. 34 of 1995, and was based in Cape Town. The mandate of the commission was to bear witness to, record and in some cases grant amnesty to the perpetrators of crimes relating to human rights violations, as well as reparation and rehabilitation.


1. Business Day.

—. “Guilt tax offers no solution.” Business Day. Johannesburg: BDFM Publishers (Pty) Ltd, August 16, 2011.

—. “Maree’s lesson in how to spend it.” Business day. Johannesburg: BDFM Publishers (Pty) Ltd, September 06, 2011.

2. Friedman, Steven. “Appeal to our sense of justice, not to our guilt.” Business Day.Digital. Johannesburg: BDFM Publishers (Pty) Ltd, September 07, 2011.

3. Johns, Lynentte. “Wealth tax not about guilt – Tutu.” Cape Argus – Business Report.Cape Town: Independent News & Media, August 24, 2011.

4. Merten, Marianne. “Tutu explains ‘wealth tax’ comment.” Daily News.Durban: Independent News & Media, September 06, 2011.

5. The FW de Klerk Foundation. “Referendum – Speech by State President FW de Klerk – 18 March 1992.” Cape Town: The FW de Klerk Foundation, March 18, 1992.

6. Wikipedia contributors.

—. Affirmative Action. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. September 07, 2011. (accessed September 08, 2011).

—. Black Economic Empowerment. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. September 06, 2011. (accessed September 08, 2011).

—. Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. April 22, 2011. (accessed September 08, 2011).

—. South African referendum, 1992. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. June 28, 2011.,_1992&oldid=436761927 (accessed September 08, 2011).

—. Truth and Reconciliation Commission (South Africa). Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. August 24, 2011. (accessed September 08, 2011).

7. Williams, Murray. “Tutu calls for wealth tax on whites.” The Pretoria News.Pretoria: Independent News & Media, August 12, 2011.


[i]My choice of words!

[ii](Wikipedia contributors 2011, § The 1992 Referendum)

[iii] The TRC was set up in terms of the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act, No. 34 of 1995, and was based in Cape Town. The mandate of the commission was to bear witness to, record and in some cases grant amnesty to the perpetrators of crimes relating to human rights violations, as well as reparation and rehabilitation.


About Anthony

I am a married Catholic who is interested in Theology, History, Philosophy and the search for truth. I also have a penchant for photography.
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