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Review: Stay Woke, Go Broke by Helen Zille

Clear, concise and worthy.

If we cannot agree on what we are defining, the words we use cease to have meaning. The lack of clarity is the foundation of wokeness. To understand what wokeness is, we need to appreciate that it means different things to different people. If being woke means being aware of injustice in our world, I would be woke as well. But wokeness is not just political correctness ‘gone mad’; it is a neo-racist form of totalitarianism with the segregation of race, gender and sexuality as its primary aim.

Zille’s book attempts to understand the concept of wokeness and apply its tenants to the South African political scene.

Her definition of Wokeness is quite apt:

”The politics of racial and cultural identity mobilised to advance economic and political interests of marginalised groups.”

On the face of it, this definition fits neatly into that of classical Marxism, but the differences between wokeness and Marxism are distinct. Marxism employs a heavy reliance on class warfare, whereas Wokeness uses intersectionality. Intersectionality is an entirely different beast, best understood as overlapping and interconnected categories of race and gender that create further discrimination and privilege modes. Intersectionality essentially individualises class warfare to a single human being.

So a black woman may be discriminated against based on her sex and race, depending entirely on her lived experience. The contingency on lived experience and personal perspective are fundamental to intersectionality – the oppressed person has to feel oppressed. Feeling something makes it real, why this is is best explained by the two fundamental principles of wokeness:

Knowledge Principle:

All objective truth and knowledge are rejected based on the assumption that knowledge has been purposefully created to entrench privilege and power in a society. “White men” have weaponised the ability to make the scientific method and capitalism accumulate resources while suppressing ‘indigenous knowledge’ that creates more equity. Hence the rise of ‘decolonisation’, a naked attempt to strip institutions of knowledge (power) to achieve social justice. Social justice occurs when objective knowledge is thoroughly delegitimised and buried to build new modes of power.

Power Principle:

The accumulation of knowledge has created hierarchies that accord privilege to certain races and groups. Since knowledge is power, the most knowledgeable people have the most power and the most privilege. Woke ideology places a massive emphasis on policing language to combat this scourge of privilege. As power flows from the language, the suppression of language from the powerful will prevent the accumulation of privilege to the powerful.

It is a highly complex ideology at best. Still, Zille has managed unravel the various threads of woke ideology with clarity.

Whereas wokeness is a new import on the South African political scene (the 2015 #RhodesMustFall movement was the catalyst), Zille argues that a similar philosophy undergirds the policy imperative of the ANC. The essence of the primary ideology of the ANC is the racial transformation of South Africa. This transformation plan posits several things:

1) Whites have overwhelming economic power, accumulated through coercion under colonialism and apartheid.

2) Blacks are disadvantaged due to historical injustices perpetrated by whites.

3) Ergo, whites must relinquish their economic power in favour of blacks, which will be done through legislation.

The statute books are replete with such legislation, from black economic empowerment to quotas in universities and everything in between; the ANC has passed hundreds of Bills predicated on transformation. The consequences of such laws are easy to appreciate and distil. From the collapsing economy, the deepening racial tension, and the worst education system the world has seen, transformation is the decolonisation of South Africa writ large.

Zille lists clear examples of wokeness in action, specifically around the rule of law and universities. The Coligny case is a clear example of ideology trumping the rule of law, where institutions like the judiciary are used as ideological weapons in the battle of ideas. Another example is the removal of the Afrikaans language in universities. The language has been largely removed from all public universities, the latest being in Stellenbosch, the heartland of Afrikanerdom. In the quest to become ‘inclusive”, Stellenbosch has adopted English (an imperial language) as the medium of instruction.

Whereas describing the problem seems simple enough, the nub of the argument is in the solutions, and Zille has a few that might be useful.

First and foremost, bravery is the most important trait – the ability to say no to nonsense. Douglas Murray famously stated that telling the truth was the most crucial technique to confront the idiocy of wokeness. Telling the truth requires bravery, so Zille’s first solution is being brave. I consider writing a book on this topic to be brave, especially while being a public political figure. Being told to bend the knee or raise the fist is demoralising. It destroys your soul and your character. Those who refuse to walk with the crowd will be better people because they will have self-respect. Lying and appeasing the crowd is a reminder of your subjugation. So be brave and do not appease those who hate you.

Another solution is building alternatives to the current political paradigm, well encapsulated by Solidarity and the private sector. If Stellenbosch doesn’t want Afrikaans on campus, build an alternative to Stellenbosch. Suppose the NPA refuses to prosecute a corrupt official, privately fund prosecutions. If there is load shedding due to the decolonisation of Eskom, make Eskom obsolete by going off-grid.

These are complete checks on a system that wants to remove all checks of it.

The weakest solution proposed by Zille is to build a pragmatic political centre. The fundamental problem with pragmatic centrism is the lack of a myth or a story. It assumes that rationality and economic metrics are sufficient to gather support for the project. The rise of wokeness shows that myths are more powerful motivators for human action than facts can ever be.

The DA’s (and Zille’s) fundamental problem is the lack of a central myth. The ANC has a powerful myth (undoing the evil of the past), while the DA speaks of aspirations and metrics. A non-racial, meritocratic South Africa for all is a beautiful aspiration; I have been known to dabble in it myself. But as a political project, it is insufficient. A myth will need to be created around the principles for a pragmatic centre to materialise around it.

Human beings are meaning-seeking creatures and meaning is not derived through principles. The history of humanity is based on mythology, which has played a key role in developing religious and cultural movements. Wokeness is the current mythology that has infected the minds of people who should know better. But, wokeness will not be usurped through an appeal to rationalism but by the creation of a better myth. What the next great myth will be, I do not know. But I do know that it will not invoke a pie chart or a table of statistics.

Wokeness the the most powerful myth of our era. It is invoked by the most powerful leaders and corporations in our history. It has infected the greatest learning institutions of our age. It will not be undone by appealing to pragmatism or policy proposals by a political party.

I agree with Zille on all of the book’s main points except for her chosen solution – building a pragmatic centre. Her dissection of the ideology is meticulous, and her analysis of South African politics is without much competition. Her solutions are practical and valuable. However, to combat a narrative, one has to create a more powerful narrative.

Appealing to the better, rational angels of our nature will ensure that we will, in fact, go broke.

Roman Cabanac

Roman Cabanac

Founder & Managing Director of The Morning Shot. South African conservative political commentator and media host.

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