A Brief History of South Africa, A Briefer History of Pre-Columbian America And How to Think About Justice
I’m no expert on South Africa, but I did some reading and pieced together a brief history of the country’s last 50,000 to 150,000 years. It begins with the San. Depending on who you ask and what evidence they are looking at, the San people have been in Southern Africa for somewhere between 50,000 to 150,000 years. For most of that time, the San and a related population, the Khoi Khoi (more on them below) have been the only people in Southern Africa. As a result, the Khoisan (as the San and the Khoi Khoi are sometimes collectively called) are somewhat genetically distinct;. The San seem to have split off from the rest of human race somewhere around 80,000 to 100,000 years ago. At one time, the Khoisan were most populous group of people on earth.
In the West, the San are sometimes referred to as Bushmen, and are perhaps best known for their click languages or their appearance in The Gods Must be Crazy. They maintained a Stone Age hunter gatherer culture, and tended to live in small groups.
Somewhere between 2500 and 2000 years ago, the Khoi Khoi (aka KhoeKhoe, aka KhoiKhoi, aka Khoi) began expanding out of their home territory of Namibia and into what is now South Africa. By that point in time, the Khoi Khoi were pastoralists, and they were more sophisticated and lived in larger groups than the San. Nobody was writing history in that region back then, so the precise nature of the interactions between the two groups are unknown. Nevertheless, archaeological evidence is clear: very quickly the Khoi Khoi ended up living in the the choice real estate and the San abandoned those areas to live in the mountains.
Around 1800 years ago or so, the leading edges of the Bantu Migration reached the southern edges of Africa. (I use the word “Bantu” with some trepidation. From what I can tell, it was a pejorative term in Apartheid South Africa and still used that way by those who feel the end of Apartheid was a mistake. On the other hand from my perusal of the literature, elsewhere in Africa the word “Bantu” seems to have no negative connotation. More than that, the word is widely used by the scientific community and is the most precise description of the population in question.)
The Bantus were tribes originating in or around Ghana. Around 5,000 years ago or so, Bantu groups began radiating out from their ancestral home. The Iron Age Bantu tribes were more advanced than the San and Khoi Khoi. The result was that several Bantu groups, the Nguni and the Sotho-Tswana, carved out territories for themselves in areas that had previously been inhabited by the San or the Khoi Khoi. Nevertheless, the displacement of the existing population moved slowly.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, though, the pace picked up. On the one hand, there was the arrival of the Europeans. Sometimes the Dutch and English found virgin territory, but often they simply ousted established Khoi Khoi or Bantu tribes. At the same time, one Bantu tribe, the Zulu, under King Shaka, began a period of rapid expansion. Shaka was cruel but effective, and the Zulu quickly subjugated other Bantu and Khoi Khoi tribes alike. (One of the few benefits of being forced into the worst land was that the San, in general, weren’t subjected to much interaction with Shaka’s Zulu or even the Europeans.)
Eventually the Europeans defeated, subjugated, and marginalized the Bantu tribes, which in turn had defeated, subjugated, and marginalized the Khoi Khoi before them, who in turn had defeated, subjugated and marginalized the San who were the first people in the area.
Fast forward a bit, to a few decades ago. The afore-mentioned Apartheid came to an end. This was brought about through secret meetings between leaders of the European-descended groups and the leaders of one of the most populous Bantu groups, the Xhosa tribe. The South African system has, since then, been run more or less democratically, though it should be noted that the the same party, the African National Congress or ANC (sometimes referred to locally as the Xhosa Nostra in an obvious allusion to the Mafia) seems to win all the relevant elections despite representing less than half of the Black population, let alone the San, Khoi Khoi or Whites.
So how should one think about all of this? Apartheid is obviously horrible system and it is tremendously unfair. That, incidentally, is the most charitable description I have for it. Leaving aside allegations of impropriety by the ANC, one person one vote seems, on the face of it, to be the fairest way to run a country. And now, if never before in the last 150,000 years, South Africa does have (in fact or in appearance) such a system.
On the flip side, consider this from a different perspective that is popular these days: the perspective of racial justice. Its a useful perspective since it was a term people used to define the struggle against Apartheid. Maybe I’m missing something, but from that point of view, the current outcome is only fair if the San don’t count. Otherwise, the power, the land, and the resources of today’s South Africa would be hands of the San, the original residents of the area and the victims of 2,500 years of oppression at the hands of pretty much everyone else.
That won’t happen. At this point, the San population continue to face discrimination. Few of them are left. There might be 10,000 in South Africa, and maybe 100,000 in all of Southern Africa. Nor is the South African government showing much concern toward the San. For example, South Africa has eleven official languages, but none of them are San languages. Or Khoi Khoi languages, for that matter.
Now let’s change gears and bring this a bit closer to home. We can do a similar look at the history of the Americas, though the time frames are compressed. The latest genetic research of which I am aware seems to suggest the possibility that in many (most? just shy of all?) places in the Americas, the populations that were present when the Europeans arrived had, ahem, replaced earlier populations that had previously resided in the same areas. The less polite description for what happened (time and again) is genocide.
Now, there’s an old expression in Brazil: Ladrão que rouba ladrão tem cem anos de perdão. Loosely translated – a thief who robs from another thief deserves 100 years worth of pardons. Personally, I disagree with this proverb. But I also strongly disagree with the idea that we can somehow achieve justice by giving unearned advantages to descendants of yesterday’s perpetrators simply because their ancestors have since fallen victim to more effective perpetrators. If we start out with realistic notion that just about all of us are the descendants of both perpetrators and victims, the rule for achieving justice becomes obvious: try to arrange for everyone to start out on as equal a footing as possible, and then let each person rise and fall according to his or her own merits.
Not sure I get the logic you used, which was, synopsizing:
1. Assertion: Might makes right — everybody replaced somebody else at some point in time by driving them off, killing them, or by subjugation.
2. Conclusion: Therefore Equal Opportunity = Justice
I must be missing a lot in reading comprehension because I missed the part that relates 1 to 2.
This is like the logic: The Sun rises every day, therefore Apple pie is best. ..
I would have thought that the fact that the one group of people who comes off as sympathetic in this post are the San would be a tip-off that this post is suggesting something very distant from “might makes right.”
To assume that I am condoning or even advocating “might makes right” requires reading words that show up in the essay, such as “subjugated” and “marginalized” and “genocide” and “oppression” and “perpetrators” as positive, perhaps even endearing.
Well, I did not see a “might makes right” message here. Nonetheless, I believe the conclusion that JUSTICE means, “try to arrange for everyone to start out on as equal a footing as possible, and then let each person rise and fall according to his or her own merits” is also deeply flawed.
Such measures could entail making private schools illegal. Should we make it illegal for parents to send their children to SAT prep classes, because some parents cannot afford them? Children whose parents send them to science-based summer camps are more likely to get into Thomas Jefferson High School for Math and Science, because it shows that that child has an interest in science. Of course, it also shows that the parents have the resources to send their children to $1000+ summer camps.
There are some who say it is “unfair” to read to one’s children, because some children do not have parents that read to them. It is also unfair to help one’s children with their homework, because some parents do not know the subject matter and others may have to work at that time.
Was it unfair for Archie Manning to spend so much time with his sons playing football? Was it unfair for Cal Ripken to spend so much time with his sons playing baseball? Of course! Should we try to prevent such things? Of course not!
Life is not a solitary race, but a relay.
“try to arrange for everyone to start out on as equal a footing as possible, and then let each person rise and fall according to his or her own merits.”
Strangest sentence written in “The Neverending Story” that is unfolding in here. And the first one I totally agree with.
The problem is that the story, before this point, held the exact opposite view in that it stated that the equal footing would only be offered to certain people.
“There are some who say it is “unfair” to read to one’s children, because some children do not have parents that read to them. It is also unfair to help one’s children with their homework, because some parents do not know the subject matter and others may have to work at that time.”
You’ll go a long time before finding a statement this incredibly stupid. Personally, I hope I never find one.
I assume this references your repeated failure to understand my point on Immigration. I have stated repeatedly that I am not in favor of rewarding people who do not develop skills or traits that are beneficial to the country to which they wish to emigrate. In comments to the last post I wrote you seemed to feel that granting preference to Indian MDs over Indian goatherders was wrong. You keep arguing that preferring people who have skills and traits that are correlated with growth, such as punctuality, is a bad thing. I don’t see how rewarding people who become dependent on food stamps is letting them rise or fail according to their merits.
Obviously some people are better parents. And everyone has a different endowment. Not everything can be controlled for unless we go the BrVe New World route which (for the benefit of Longtooth I will state here) I believe none of us would favor.
While it is true that the San have been royally done in by everybody, the Khoe people (now the PC name for them, with Hottentots being the much earlier unacceptable one) are much more present than you let on. They survive in large numbers as the main ancestors to the mixed race “Coloured” group (that is the current PC name for them, especially with that spelling). That Khoe is not an official language is because the vast majority of the Coloured speak Afrikaans, which is also the language of the heavily Dutch-descended Afrikaners, with the Coloured way outnumbering them, the Afrikaaers being those who ran the show under apartheid (the Afrikaners having been known earlier by the British as “Boers,” with whom they fought two wars in the late 19th century).
A curious fact is that the oldest known written example of Afrikaans dates from the 1850s using the Arabic alphabet by Muslim Malays in Cape Town.
A follow up… rewarding people with extra preferences because they were the offspring of bad parents or aren’t willing or able able to perform as well as their peers is not very bright. You get more of what you encourage. Unless someone is severely handicapped, not holding them to about the same standards as everyone else does everyone a disservice.
No, you do not understand my thoughts at all. You believe restricting immigration to certain countries, or cultures, makes sense in terms of economic contributions alone.
I feel that US immigration owes a fair chance at “equal footing” with disregard to country or culture.
That is our difference.
The “mds, illiterate goat herders and food stamp recipients” are simply attacking by stereotypes to “prove” your thoughts correct.
I am not going to wade through the long past, but South Africa is a heck of a great place to spend some time. Namibia too.
I agree, EMichael, yet some do hold that view: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/417997/professor-if-you-read-your-kids-youre-unfairly-disadvantaging-others-katherine-timpf
So we agree that we will not go to the extreme of outlawing reading to one’s children, but what government intervention should we attempt “to arrange for everyone to start out on as equal a footing as possible”?
In response to Warren’s last question, that is the essence of participatory and “liberal” government strategies. I guess my feeling is that the accident of birth should not be the only determining factor in where the government and our social structures impact winners and losers in the lottery of birth. We once believed in the power of our institutions to help equalize the playing field as much as possible. Apparently, we are now moving towards an age old aristocratic standard where the mythology is based upon merit rather than treating all human beings equally. We cannot guarantee outcomes in a capitalist system, we can guarantee opportunities, education, equality under the law and some sense of fairness in regards to improving outcomes across the board.
“[We] can guarantee opportunities, education, equality under the law and some sense of fairness in regards to improving outcomes across the board.”
That is a very tall order. We cannot guarantee equality of opportunities without outlawing many common activities, such as sending kids to summer camps and private schools, and having friends and family get kids their first jobs. The state-run public schools are far from equal, and putting them under the control of the U.S. government would not make them any better. (The D.C. public schools are under U.S. government control. How’s that working out?)
Even equality under the law would require that everyone be assigned a public defender.
When I think of South Africa, I think Kipling:
“Soldier and Sailor Too*”:
“To take your chance in the thick of a rush, with firing all about,
Is nothing so bad when you’ve cover to ’and, an’ leave an’ likin’ to shout;
But to stand an’ be still to the Birken’ead drill is a damn tough bullet to chew,
An’ they done it, the Jollies—’Er Majesty’s Jollies—soldier an’ sailor too!
Their work was done when it ’adn’t begun; they was younger nor me an’ you;
Their choice it was plain between drownin’ in ’eaps an’ bein’ mopped by the screw,
So they stood an’ was still to the Birken’ead drill, (2) soldier an’ sailor too! ”
In 1852 HMS Birkenhead a British troop ship enroute to Algoa Bay East of the Cape of Good Hope. It sank against a reef a couple hundred miles short.
The origin of “women and children first”.
(2) In 1852 the Birkenhead transport was sunk off Simon’s Bay. The Marines aboard her went down as drawn up on her deck.
Thanks for the comment. That was information I did not know about the Khoi Khoi.
Warren & Woolley,
I guess the phrase I used in the post should have been more along the lines of trying to ensure everyone has some sort of a fighting chance. Even that doesn’t quite apply. Bad enough parenting gets a kid killed. My kid is in 1st grade and there is clearly a wide gulf not just between the means of different families, but the amount that parents are willing and able to help their kids. Mine is lucky – we don’t have a tv in the house (we do watch Netflix on tablets though), both his parents have graduate degrees, and both his parents are willing to work with him. You can’t legislate that. He is also an only child, so the resources we have (time and money) don’t get diluted.
On the flip side, asking the conscientious parents to pay for someone else’s bad parenting doesn’t seem fair either. Finding the right balance is something important. I glossed over that in the post.
Careful. Kipling is a favorite of the alt-right. Beverly or EMichael should be here to condemn you any moment now.
So, Kimel, Warren and Ilsm walk into a bar……………..
No program or society is truly fair or equalizing but it is a worthy goal to have as a community and as a nation. All we can do is keep striving and not give up the hope that we can overcome as much inequity as possible. If you give up on that, you give up on us. I personally do not care to live thinking that the goal is impossible so therefore we should not reach for it.
When the goal is to “overcome as much inequality as possible,” you end up with Venezuela or North Korea. Is that really a worthy goal?
Let’s look at a specific example, and try to apply the goals of FAIRNESS and EQUALITY. Two families have the same income. One scrimps and saves and invests, and has substantial sums laid aside for their kids’ college education. The other family buys a new car every year (she gets a new car in the odd years, and he in the even years), and they take two family vacations every year.
So, is it “fair” to give need-based scholarships to the kids whose parents didn’t save?
I recently read a book on DNA and early European history, ‘Ancestral Journeys’. The whole area has seen wave after wave of population replacement. There were waves of hunter-gatherers, then early farmers and pastoralists, then the secondary products revolution, then the potters and waves of Celts, and we still haven’t gotten close to historical times. If Europe tried to impose some kind of “justice” or measure of legitimacy based on the first arrival of people’s genetic ancestors on the continent, we’d be looking at complete chaos.
One thing that stands out in the book is that there were often areas that were depopulated. There were gaps in the archeological record between various arrivals, and it is usually unclear whether the old population was removed by war, better options elsewhere, disease or alien abduction. History is a tricky thing, even in an area with a written history. Studying DNA, ancient and modern along with cultural artifacts can give a better picture, but even in Europe which is full of well trained archeologists and has long supported a physical culture that leaves useful artifacts, the picture is far from complete and likely subject to revision as new evidence is found and new techniques developed for interpreting it.
I just wonder if South Africa has really been as simple as you describe it. The San are not the only “bush” people living among, but genetically isolated from, iron working farmers in Africa. The San could be relatively recent arrivals, perhaps even arriving in conjunction with other groups. There were all sorts of Africans before the Bantu. Surely, some of them made it to South Africa, though they may have vanished or been assimilated. A lot of African lifestyles do not leave a lot of fossil evidence and parts of Africa preserve little for scientists. If you are going to use genetic ancestry as an argument in setting policy, it makes sense to make sure that one has the requisite genetic ancestry right.
Quite contrary to your own understanding, Venezuela and North Korea are among the MOST UNEQUAL, not the most equal .
You said “When the goal is to “overcome as much inequality as possible,” you end up with Venezuela or North Korea”
Here are the facts you can perhaps learn something from to become more informed of the realities as they are understood by people who don’t live in an alternate universe.
Selected Nation’s GINI Coefficients
Lower = more equal
Higher = less equal
North Korea >60.0
World Bank https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_income_equality
North Korea- Peterson Institute https://piie.com/blogs/north-korea-witness-transformation/distribution-income-north-korea
The impression I get from my layman’s look is that the field of genetics has changed tremendously in just the last few years.
From what I can understand, the San carry enough genetically distinct markers that they are known to be the population that was in South Africa at least 50,000 years ago, and nobody else was there.
As to the possibility that population replacement can happen with no genocide. Sure. It can happen. But if genes that correspond with the so-called Andamanese-like people are the only ones found across South America 10K to 12K years ago, and found in choice spots, and then 8K to 10K years ago a second population shows up in the same half a dozen or spots and the Andamanese-like genes are now only found in inaccessible parts of the Andes, it is possible to construct a where that population decided to abandon all the easy living locations and all the members of that population decide at the same time to move to more remote areas. It would take some rather heroic assumptions to do it, though.
Thanks, LT, but you just prove my point. Indeed, on that (simplistic) GINI scale, China and Russia are also more unequal than the United States. But the great masses of the people in those countries ARE equal. They are all very poor, and the wealth gets concentrated in the kleptocracy that runs them.
I did NOT say that those nations actually achieved “fairness” and “equality.” Far from it. Their kleptocrats merely waved the “fairness and equality” flag so the gullible would give them power to plunder their countries. When Stalin did his “gathering and sharing” in the Ukraine, EVERYONE starved, except those doing the gathering.
“Equality and fairness” sound like great goals, which is why the gullible fall for it over and over again in country after country. It has never worked for anyone except those in power, and it never will.
These are NOT goals for the government, but for the people. Jesus did not tell us to have the government spread the wealth, but told US, as individuals, to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, and comfort the widows and orphans.
If you want “equality and fairness,” or “social justice,” get out and do it. That’s why I am in a church that provides shelter for the homeless, that feeds kids in schools, that has after-school tutoring programs, that goes to minister to those in prison, and that has mission trips to Africa, Haiti, South America, and Appalachia.
If you don’t want to be in a church, there is plenty you can do on your own. Go be a tutor. Donate to a food bank, or to a homeless shelter. Do you want everyone to have access to affordable medical care? Then donate to free clinics or Doctors Without Borders. You do not need the government to do it for you.
Is it fair to provide a subsidized education to a family that does not save enough for the child because they spent money that someone, Warren, thinks was wasteful when they could have been penurious. This is a very Puritan way of looking at things but it seems to be a common concept that pervades much of what the right calls the “welfare state”. I really can’t answer that because because there might be extenuating circumstances that Warren does not know. Perhaps the parents needed a car to to work, perhaps not. Is it fair that a child is born to heirs of massive fortunes and goes to Yale because Dad went there? Nope. Life is not fair. What would be fair though is that education did not cost a fortune and that loans were not revenue sources for banks and governments. This entire subject could be fair if we simply paid for higher education for everyone, no favorites, no Puritan value judgements, no gestapo investigations of a families lifetime spending habits, no welfare queen stories, none of that. Just treat everyone fairly. For instance, in 1975-81 I got a BEOG grant up to 2 grand per year at 3% interest payable over 10 years after graduation. That paid for my college tuition, books and even food. The prime was over 8% and even more during that era. That was fair. Now the prime is almost zero, kids and parents pay 8%, they dock you a fortune if you miss payments and collection agencies take a 10k loan to 15k in an instant. is that fair?
You prove my point — that trying to establish public policy on the basis is FAIRNESS and EQUALITY are impossible and often counter-productive. The government cannot be aware of all extenuating circumstances, and thus end up punishing good behavior and rewarding bad behavior.
You also point out the result of the government’s pouring money into student loans and grants — ridiculous price increases to suck up the money.
Warren. I proved you right? That government cannot make things fair via policy aimed at fairness? I think we have ourselves a libertarian here, he actually thinks government has no power to equalize the end results of capitalism. If true, then Warren is ignorant of history post FDR. Government does aid in equalizing the outcomes of capitalism, that is the main purpose of government that hopes to survive the inevitable result of “unfairness” in all aspects of life. The sad truth is that many more lose in this battle of parents and luck than win. Every civilization that has ever existed failed to deal with this reality, we are not immune. If we do not strive to bring fairness and equality to every person regardless of wealth or status, we will end as all others did, in revolution. Do not buy the mythology of America, we are not immune from history or the human condition. Can we improve? Yes. Will we fail? Yes. But if we do not keep trying and if the people do not believe we are trying, the end result will be the same it has been for thousands of years.
No, Wooley, it has the power to EQUALIZE, but not to be FAIR.
Go back to my example of the two families. To equalize the opportunities of the children would be unfair to those parents who saved for their children’s education.
Similarly, if two families have similar income, but one saves while the other squanders, you could equalize their retirement income, but it would not be fair to do so. You could equalize the inheritance of their heirs. Would that be fair?
I should point out, though, that the UNITED STATES government was not given such power, though it has usurped it.