The "Freedom" Fallacy In The South African Mind – Martin van Staden

The “Freedom” Charter, widely considered to be one of the most important inspirations for the current Constitution of South Africa (1996), was adopted in Kliptown on 26 June 1955 by the Struggle movement. The Charter was a manifesto for the economic and political emancipation of the black majority population during the oppressive Apartheid era. To many, it was, and today still is, considered a document of freedom. The newest and most prominent addition to the South African Parliament, the Economic “Freedom” Fighters (EFF), under the leadership of Marxist-Leninist Julius Malema, has made the Charter an important part of their own manifesto, and describe their interpretation of it as a “radical, working class interpretation”. The EFF is currently the third largest party in both houses of Parliament.

However, the Freedom Charter is very much a communist document associated with the ruling African National Congress (ANC). It therefore comes as no surprise that many in the ANC share the EFF’s mindset; however continue supporting the ANC out of loyalty to those who are perceived to be South Africa’s liberators. The EFF does not represent a fringe group, but a major chunk of the South African populace, who agree with it in principle, if not by ballot. The EFF advocates for nationalization of “key sectors” in the economy, expropriation of land without compensation, “free” education, healthcare and housing, as well as various other policies which are quite contrary to “freedom”, and “economic freedom” in particular.

As Ivo Vegter, a free market columnist and author, states on his blog in July 2013, the idea of freedom has been completely perverted by the EFF – “[the EFF does not advocate] true economic freedom, but instead calling for more of the sort of statist policies that are the root cause of South Africa’s failure to deliver on the economic aspirations of the majority of its people.” There is no doubt that the ANC, the EFF, and the mass of South Africa’s politically conscious population share this misunderstanding of economic freedom.

Economic freedom, in debate circles, with prominent speakers, and now unfortunately, even among economically responsible politicians, has come to mean poverty relief and equal sharing in wealth. Even hinting at the idea of a free market leads to expressions of shock. No, South Africans need economic freedom – the economy itself does not need freedom! Those of us, however, who are able to distinguish between communist equalism and libertarian freedom, understand what true economic freedom entails – the ability to engage in value transactions in a free marketplace without State interference. This is rejected, outright, by every prominent group in the South African political dynamic. Like Americans have redefined what it means to be liberal, South Africans are redefining what it means to be free.

After centuries of colonialism and nearly half a century of formalized Apartheid, one would have expected South Africans to embrace true freedom. Colonial powers and the racist government of the erstwhile National Party (NP) had as a cornerstone to their oppression the idea of justified State intervention in economic and social matters, which led to establishing South Africa as one of the most unequal societies in the world. The white Afrikaner minority, uneducated and poor, was promised economic opportunities and emancipation (English South Africans were the elite at that stage) and the NP won on that platform, directly causing Apartheid and excluding persons of color almost entirely from the economy. Nowadays, the same promise has been made to the majority black South Africans, and State intervention in the economy has only increased since the fall of Apartheid in 1994.

This has caused massive disinvestment in the economy. Foreign companies, including mining houses, have started selling their property. This will lead to large amounts of jobs being lost. South Africa has been losing its best and brightest for years. Mark Shuttleworth (Ubuntu OS) and Elon Musk (SpaceX) is only naming two prominent South Africans who could have played a great role in developing the local economy, but who have left for greener pastures. Our engineers, our best teachers, our economists, who are able to, do leave. The economy has stagnated and is now on the downward slope. The State is increasing its economic intervention in pursuit of this “economic freedom”, to counter this trend, leading to worse economic conditions.

South African citizens urgently require a mental realignment. Populist demagogues such as Malema need to be ostracized by, especially, the media, which has been directly contributing to his popularity and success.  This sought after “freedom” will never be achieved unless the State’s role in our daily lives is drastically minimized.


This piece was initially published on the Students for Liberty site