In South Africa, in the mid-1990s, the term racist was indiscriminately applied to almost all critics of Mandela’s fledgling government. By this definition, Johnson was a very bad racist indeed.
He described one of Mandela’s cabinet appointees as “utterly incompetent,” another as “disastrous,” queried the moral caliber of influential African National Congress donors, and warned that corruption was threatening to turn into a “Gadarene stampede” as the Spartan revolutionaries of yore eased into the business of governing Africa’s richest country. As a result, his work was effectively banned here—not by the government, but by editors who felt Johnson was undermining a noble experiment in racial reconciliation.
Over the years, the ex-don’s teeming enemies have indeed found two plausible outbreaks of the dread disease [of “racism” in Johnson’s vast output. One was a passing reference to the manner in which “our enterprising Asian countrymen” had captured the ears of important ANC leaders. The other was a blog entry that drew a clumsy comparison between the desperate baboons who raid Cape Town’s garbage bins and the desperate economic refugees flooding into South Africa from failed states north of our borders.
The resulting disputes are worth Googling, but they tend to obscure the central truth about Johnson: His early skepticism about the ruling party has been thunderously vindicated by the course of events.
Five years ago, such a statement would have got me lynched in polite South African society, but…