Press "Enter" to skip to content

Two sides of a racist coin: White privilege and cadre deployment

The appointment of Lesetja Kganyago as governor of the South African Reserve Bank provides an excellent opportunity to examine both cadre deployment and white privilege.

Lesetja Kganyago (Gallo)
Lesetja Kganyago (Gallo)

Race reductionists from both side of the racial divide confirmed the inherent problems with their thinking when the announcement was made: the white privileged types who bemoaned another cadre deployment and strangely worried about the economy despite Kganyago’s impressive qualifications; and, so too, did the black-nationalist types who proclaimed his appointment as a victory for cadre deployment.

White privilege and cadre deployment are different but essentially similar manifestations of a more pernicious racial reductionism that plagues our country in private and public spheres. Though not unique to us, the need to interrogate this is particularly important. The creation of a truly unified South Africa depends upon it.

Racial reductionism is a subject I have addressed in the past. It’s a mechanism of explaining people’s beliefs, thoughts, and actions, by ascribing predetermined values and preferences to all people who are of the same race group. As if identifying who belongs to the same race group was in itself an easy exercise. It is a crude, one-size-fits-all, analytical tool that is fuelled by stereotype, anecdote, and prejudice, rather than reasoned analysis. It robs the individual of their complex identity and singular agency. Rather, it forces them into boxes, from which any attempt to escape – and, especially where they do – is beaten back and treated as anomalous.

It is particularly dangerous because even seemingly progressive people can be guilty of it. Several well-meaning white people that I have interacted with often remark, with a tone of surprise, that I “speak so well”. They may mean it as a compliment. But the real sting comes from the incredulity that usually accompanies it. What they should say – and prevent themselves from saying or are blind to the meaning of their cynical ambiguity – is that I “speak so well for an Indian person“. Because, to their mind, my external appearance cannot be associated with being articulate. And, certainly, the fact that I do not possess a stereotypically Indian accent as portrayed in the media, but something more anglophilic, confounds them even further.

But white people are not the only ones guilty of race reductionism. Everyone can be, and usually is, especially when responding to racial prejudice themselves. And therein lays the nexus between cadre deployment and white privilege.

Cadre deployment is the specific appointment of members of a political party to arms of the state machinery as a mechanism of controlling them, and subjugating their independent functioning to the will of the party. It is the infusion of the party’s interests as the only consideration in every facet of state life. It is, technically, not a racialised concept but the way in which it has been operationalised by the ANC makes it such. That should come as no surprise: upwards of 70% of the ANC’s members are black and so it makes (numeric) sense that many of the ANC’s deployees are of that race.

What this means, however, is that where black cadre deployment appointees fail, it is not cadre deployment itself that is criticised but, rather, measures of redress like affirmative action and BEE. And all black people, too. Otherwise reasonable people can, and are, increasingly becoming trenchant in their opposition to justifiable methods of transformation because of how it is being implemented. And the hardening of attitudes, especially among white South Africans, who still benefit from unfair and unjust generational advantage, is most destructive.

Reducing all black people – irrespective of their individual merit and story – to the worst construction of badly applied cadre deployment is the site of much of our racial strife. The fact that cadre deployment, as a system, is predetermined to be a failure (because merit is not considered but servility to the party is) seems to escape most critics who misguidedly think of it as being the fault of redress, or worse black people themselves. So too, black people may be inclined to develop hardened, race reductionist, attitudes towards “their” critics who rubbish every black person as being “yet another” token appointment. White privilege, then, is as bad as its antithesis: it is a system that ignores black merit, individuality, and quality, and merely treats that which is different, usually black, as being inferior and unworthy.

Discipline when it comes to understanding what we are actually critiquing is essential when the possibility for misunderstanding poses as significant a threat as it does. An acknowledgment from both sides in an increasingly polarised South Africa is what is needed: those opposed to redress must accept the need for it, and those in favour must neither politicise it nor use it as an excuse for entitlement. Only through genuine understanding will progress be possible: otherwise the racial fury that fringe politicians thrive off will only become more popular and the hope of a truly united South Africa will be lost forever.