Potiphar12's Blog
An Octogenarian in the modern world


Everywhere this week, the news of the death of Nelson Mandela has been the Number One item. The worldwide media were full of justified tributes. It was a fantastic achievement to end apartheid and bring reconciliation. As I read all about it, I was worried that there were points in that long story that we might overlook, but should rather remember and learn from. We celebrate the ending of apartheid, but how did it start? It came into being because the National Party won the 1948 general election in South Africa.  The political future was a big issue on account of the emergence of a competent and educated African population in a country where African people were the vast majority but only white people  had a vote. Many white people feared being swamped by the black majority and losing the ‘first class citizen’ privileges that they enjoyed. Nelson Mandela, then aged 30, could have been seen as exemplifying a feared future. The United Party  confronted the issue by offering  a vague programme of gradual racial integration and democracy. It recognised that rule by the black majority would happen some time, but bit-by-bit and ‘not just yet’. The National Party spelt out its policy of Apartheid very clearly.  It discussed “the course of equality” as one of two ways forward for South Africa and concluded that “it must eventually mean national suicide for the white race.” It appealed to fear and promised security. Many of those who abandoned the United Party in favour of the National Party did so from the ordinary human motive of fear. They were not all racist bigots filled with hatred.  Most voters, everywhere, are partly motivated by self-interest. In South Africa in 1948 the National Party made capital out of that fact and won – narrowly. Then they implemented their promised policy and fixed the political system so that they would remain in power for a very long time.

In general terms, the thing feared was alteration of an existing way of life  by something that might prove damaging and might demand uncomfortable adjustment. People value comfort and security. Yet the world is always bringing new things, and when one thing mixes with another, both are changed. Britain today has the UNITED KINGDOM INDEPENDENCE PARTY which owes some of its support to the fear of immigration. In different ways immigration can threaten jobs, wages, social security and a variety of English traditions.  One can adapt the words of the National Party manifesto and say that substantial immigration from Eastern Europe “must eventually mean national suicide for ‘Englishness’ as we know it.”

Fear of change is natural. Can a feared development be stopped? The National Party in South Africa tried for fifty years, causing an awful lot of evil and misery, and failed. The alternative strategy is for people to adjust, which may mean expanding skills and knowledge or changing priorities. A possible response to lower wages or job loss is working longer or harder or smarter. And some lowering of material standards may not be so awful if other forms of satisfaction can be found. It may be that we have become so conditioned to seeing economic benefit as the ultimate good that we have lost sight of other things. The best answer is to extend our own physical and mental capabilities.

In the last few days our Home Secretary has annoyed an EU official by urging some watering-down of the ‘free movement’ policy. The answer was. “If you don’t want to be swamped by people taking advantage of your over-generous welfare rules, then change those rules and the flood will stop.” The catch, of course, is that the change will apply to US as well as THEM.


  1. Fear is a powerful motivator and not just used for politics. Yesterday I received a piece of sales literature claiming we were due to have 100 days of snow and the worst winter for 60 years. Reading this lierally 100 days of snow? So, if it starts today we might get rid of it by the end of March? I suspect this is unlikely and that the company is seekign to generate paranoia amongst small business owners rushing out to buy their mobile accounts software. I didn’t purchase on the basis 100 days of snow = mass disruption and it will be hard enough to generate business. So invoicing and chasing paymetns will be way down the list.

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