South Africa is a place of contradictions. On the one hand, Dutch and English settlers who occupied and annexed large tracts of land, brought along with them various Western traditions, including the not-always-consistent respect for individuality. On the other hand, indigenous African society had always been communitarian and lived according to the doctrine of uBuntu, which can be described as “I am because we are”.
The descendants of the Dutch and English have remained in South Africa and by so doing have allowed Western values to become part of the South African story. While there was a deviation in the form of brutal oppressive Apartheid, individualism and reason spread throughout most of the Southern African region. In the late nineteenth century many black individuals had already adopted the Western style of living and were out-competing the whites in economic sectors the whites had themselves established. This eventually culminated in Apartheid: the State keeping blacks out of the formal economy, denying them property rights and generally dehumanizing them at every turn.
But due to the fact that these values of freedom, individualism, and reason initially came from white Europe, and because the framers and supporters of Apartheid were white, the values themselves were associated with that racist authoritarian system. Today, 21 years after the end of Apartheid, a self-described individualist in South Africa will be considered a racist if he’s white, or a ‘mentally colonized victim’ if he’s black. Any talk of individual rights will be met with accusations that you do not subscribe to sacrosanct uBuntu and that you want to see the majority of South Africans suffer while you live well.