Academic journal article South African Journal of Philosophy

Democracy and Equity: The Idea of the Just State Rechtsstaat) before and after 1994

Academic journal article South African Journal of Philosophy

Democracy and Equity: The Idea of the Just State Rechtsstaat) before and after 1994

Article excerpt


The recent publication of a special number of the SAJP dedicated to a discussion of Samantha Vice's thoughts on being a white South African prompted this reflection on justice, equity and the modern idea of the state - against the background of moral feelings of guilt and shame, cultural diversity and merging identities. Its aim is to provide a perspective on the unity of the public legal order of the state, the distinct meaning of citizenship and affirmative action in terms of the distinction between constitutive and regulative legal principles also helping white South Africans to understand how affirmative action relates to injustices of the past. The classical understanding of equity will play a key role in this discussion, aimed at showing how we can avoid the apparent impasse of equality before the law and of "fair discrimination."

1. Orientation

During the past decade or two a lively debate emerged regarding the lasting issues of race, gender, culture and identity as well as attitudes related to "whiteness" in the aftermath of Apartheid. Samantha Vice (2010) particularly focuses on the effects of privilege present amongst white South Africans. She contemplates a personal, inward-directed project which "should be cultivated with humility and (a certain kind of) silence". Participants in this discussion are sensitive to the extent in which these categories are subject to continuous change and therefore co-dependent upon socio-cultural construction (and deconstruction).

Ward Jones summarizes two issues presented in the above-mentioned article of Samantha Vice: "first, white South Africans have reason to adopt certain self-directed and self-censuring emotions towards themselves, most notably shame; second, white South Africans have reason to adopt a kind of 'political silence' toward events that occur in South Africa" (Jones, 2011:405-406). He also states: "Interestingly, late in his response McKaiser - the only non-white South African in this collection - appeals to white South Africans to remain in the public sphere: 'If white South Africans are not fully present in the public political space', he writes, 'then I can never learn to overcome, as a black person, my angst in the face of whiteliness' " (Jones, 201 1:405-406). Samantha confesses, as a white South African, to be still benefiting from Apartheid owing to the fact that whites are "thoroughly saturated by histories of oppression" (Vice, 2010:323). She envisages to undertake a "personal, inward-directed project" which "should be cultivated with humility and in (a certain kind of) silence" (Vice, 2010:324). Although the notion of a constructed self has no essential link with race, according to her the South African context does require an engagement with race and oppression (Vice, 2010:324). She relates this to the uncomfortable guilt and shame1 which is "an ineradicable part of white life" - from which she concludes that if South Africans "experience these emotions they are therefore both fulfilling and failing to fulfill their moral duties" which seems to be "the morally best state they can be in" (Vice, 2010:326-327). She holds that it is therefore morally appropriate to live with shame while constantly being aware of oneself "as privileged" (Vice, 2010:229).

Among the many nuances presenting themselves within the context of these problems we may consider the issue of diverse identities and the various kinds of interaction emerging between different cultural identities in post 1994 South Africa. Natasha Distiller and Melissa Steyn note that "whiteness" is "not a homogenous category" because, "[L]ike any other strand of identity, 'race' cannot be separated from class, gender, sexuality or ethnicity" (Distiller & Steyn, 2004:6). They quote Kashope who claims that "identity is not given and fixed but rather is constantly ( reproduced in and as performance" (Distiller & Steyn, 2004:5).2 Wicomb mentions a related connection by warning that in a world where "whiteness remains bound up with privilege and economic power it cannot simply be written off" (see Wicomb, 2001:180 and Helene Strauss, 2004:26). …

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