The political editor of the Rapport newspaper, Jan de Lange, last Sunday penned a rather scurrilous attack on me and the Institute for Race Relations (IRR), accusing us both of being blind to the plight of the ‘working class’. Factually, he is simply wrong.

After my Daily Friend column, The careful massacre of the bourgeoisie, was translated and reprinted in Rapport on 24 May as Die slagting van die middelklas, De Lange responded with a piece of his own on 31 May, headlined, Ivo Vegter is blind to the plight of the working class.

From the outset, he turns vicious, rhetorically wondering whether my opinion might be a ‘swart gevaar’ conspiracy theory from some racist, Afrikaner far-right extremist group, and describing me as a ‘hired gun’ of the Institute for Race Relations (IRR).

I am a freelance writer, and recently joined the IRR as a member. The Daily Friend does remunerate me for my writing, and the IRR pays me when I write research reports for them, but I paid for my membership like any other member, and my seat on the IRR Council is unremunerated.

My association with the IRR is a simple matter of my own libertarian ideology meshing well with its classical liberal principles, and a mutual desire to grow the space for liberal discourse in South Africa. None of that is a secret.

If De Lange considers someone’s association with a think tank ‘mercenary’, I’m guilty as charged.

I have no association with the Afrikaner right-wing, and never have had. I’m not even Afrikaans. When they last were a force of any consequence, around the transition to democracy, I voted African National Congress (ANC) because I believed liberation from Apartheid was the greatest priority for South Africa at the time.

My own views don’t comfortably fall on a left-to-right spectrum, since I believe in individual freedom both on social issues (which is generally associated with the left wing) and on economic issues (which is associated with the right). My libertarian views stand opposed to authoritarianism and collectivism, no matter which wing it comes from. I oppose the radical right as strongly as I oppose the radical left.

Personal attacks

The personal attacks over, he gets to the meat of his critique: ‘He is apparently blissfully unaware that those who used to earn their bread in the informal sector have been without income for two months. Those are people who before the lockdown had at most a week or two’s worth of disposable income in their pockets. … They are the country’s working poor. … Yes, the middle class is suffering, but they aren’t the ones being massacred. It is the working class – those over whom the ANC competes against the EFF for votes.’

It isn’t a contradiction to point out that the destruction of the middle and upper classes is a strategic objective of those who seek a socialist revolution, even while the means through which they achieve this harms the poor more. It isn’t a competition. Everyone is being hurt by the lockdown, and everyone will be hurt by socialism.

My column merely placed the lockdown in the context of the odious socialist ideology of the ruling party, to which it is committed in word and deed.

To suggest that I’m blissfully unaware of the plight of the working poor or the informal sector is, quite simply, false.

De Lange could not know that my wife is a nurse who daily works on the front lines of the Covid-19 response, predominantly in the townships. I am acutely aware of the plight of the poor in those communities.

He could, however, have known about my public writings over the months and years.

In Cozying up to the commies (3 May 2020), I wrote: ‘The lockdown is decimating the informal sector… It has little access to bridging finance to survive a period in which business is prohibited, and also does not have access to formal financial relief measures.’

In ‘Behind every silver lining is a dark cloud’ (7 April 2020), I criticised ‘elitists’, ‘living high on the hog’, who saw in the lockdown a chance to ‘put a grinding halt to the cult of unnecessary materialistic consumerism’. I wrote: ‘…the cost of taking Covid-19 seriously is economic catastrophe. It is destroying productive capital and driving millions back into the destitution from which capitalism lifted so many.’

‘Worse than prisons’

In Ramaphosa may be destroying the economy for nothing (31 March 2020), I wrote: ‘For people living in crowded townships and shantytowns, being confined inside their homes would be worse than prisons. Many don’t even have access to their own running water or toilets, yet aren’t allowed out on the streets to use communal facilities. Imposing a lockdown in these circumstances is a gilt-edged invitation to starvation, dysentery, cholera and, ultimately, riots.’

In How meekly and fearfully we march into totalitarianism (25 March 2020), I wrote: ‘The president has announced limited relief measures, but they are mostly targeted at formal businesses and salaried workers. The informal sector, the self-employed, contractors, freelancers and gig workers can expect no relief, and will face an extended period with zero income.’

And later in that same article: ‘The consequences of widespread layoffs and loss of income will be disastrous for millions. The country’s poverty levels and unemployment rate will go through the roof. And poverty is deadly – perhaps more deadly than the pandemic itself.’

Before I left Daily Maverick to join the Daily Friend, I routinely wrote about economic freedom in the context of the poor and the unemployed.

In Why socialism thrives nowhere except at universities (24 September 2019), for example, I described the findings of the Fraser Institute Economic Freedom of the World Report for that year: ‘The report notes that nations in the top quartile of economic freedom had an average per-capita GDP six times higher than those in the bottom quartile. The average income of the poorest 10% in free countries was seven times higher than in unfree countries and exceeded the average per-capita income in the least-free nations. In the top quartile, 1.8% of the population experience extreme poverty, compared to 27.2% in the lowest quartile.’

In an article about the proposed National Health Insurance, I described a scheme by which government would pay for the healthcare of rich people, who are perfectly able and willing to foot the bill themselves, as ‘a perverse redistribution of government resources and taxpayer-generated wealth from the poor to the rich’.

In one of my first tweets about the lockdown, I wrote, ‘I really fear for our liberties, I fear socialism, and I truly fear the consequences of this lockdown, especially in a country with so many poor people.’

‘More severe consequences’

About Sweden’s strategy, I tweeted: ‘And that’s in a rich country, where shutting down the economy for a month or two shouldn’t lead to outright starvation and destitution. In a poor country, lockdown has far more severe consequences than it would have in Sweden.’

In a tweet about the payment ‘glitches’ involving social security grants, I wrote: ‘when you’re poor, not getting paid is the difference between life and death. It’s not an “inconvenience”’.

I could go on, but I’m sure you get the point. When the lockdown hit, my very first concern was for the millions of poor South Africans who would lose their jobs and incomes, and for whom this would spell destitution and starvation.

How does De Lange square all this with my alleged ignorance of, or lack of concern for, the poor? Is a single article about the destruction of the middle class evidence that I don’t know about, or care about, the working class? Or is De Lange just setting up a giant straw man so he can attack my free-market views?

That he is so glibly dishonest about my opinions and concerns rather strongly undermines the validity of his entire article.

He describes the damaging impact of the lockdown on food supply chains, including rising prices at large supermarket chains, as ‘a classical failure of the free market’. Why would you describe the effect of draconian restrictions by the government as a failure of the free market, though? It is the very opposite: it is a failure caused by government interference in the market.

De Lange neatly segues from his attack on me, to a similar attack on the IRR. ‘There are … many people on the top floor [of the economy] who are blissfully unaware of the existence of the bottom floor. Like Vegter and the other hired hands of the IRR.’

This is also false. I can’t speak on its behalf, but as a policy think tank, the IRR has published several reports since the start of the lockdown, all of which address, in part, the plight of the poorest South Africans.

The report Friends In Need – Covid-19: How South Africa can save #LivesAndLivelihoods, was published on 25 March 2020, even before the hard lockdown was imposed, and was written by ten contributors and three editors associated with the IRR.

Discussion about unemployment

Its chapter on income security starts with a discussion about unemployment, and ‘focuses on those who did have an income going into the Covid-19 pandemic, but have now, will soon, or might lose their jobs through no fault of their own’.

‘Now is their hour of need’, the report says, blissfully unaware that two months later De Lange would accuse them of not recognising the needs of the working poor.

It goes on to describe exactly how low salaries are in South Africa, focusing specifically on the 50% of workers who earn less than R3 500 per month, and the 25% who earn less than R2 000. It also notes that most workers earning less than R6 000 per month wouldn’t be able to make their savings, if any, last more than a month. It highlighted many other ways, from hunger and malnutrition, to social instability, to interruption of education, in which the poor would be the worst affected.

This is almost word for word the reality that De Lange accuses us of not knowing about.

‘If the most vulnerable South Africans are the elderly in multi-generational households and the immuno-compromised, the most at-risk communities are the poor, typically living in informal settlements,’ wrote Hermann Pretorius, the IRR’s deputy head of policy research, in A Trim Down Approach for South Africa: Getting SMME’s, the economy, and the country into a state of recovery (16 April 2020).

In Lifting The Lockdown Now (30 April 2020), Anthea Jeffery expresses concern about the number of working class people being pushed into poverty, and quotes an estimate by economist Dawie Roodt that this could lead to an excess of 300 000 deaths over the next 10 years.

‘Bereft of economic independence’

‘Draconian lockdown controls have also triggered an upsurge in dependency on the limited support the state is able to provide,’ wrote Jeffery in Keeping Liberty Alive Through Covid-19 and Beyond (14 May 2020). ‘Until such time as the lockdown is lifted and the economy recovers from the massive blow it has been dealt, millions of South Africans will find themselves bereft of the economic independence they previously enjoyed and ever more reliant on the government to fulfil their core needs.’

This is the IRR allegedly doing nothing to try to relieve the plight of the working class and the nation’s poor. If I didn’t think that the political and economic conditions of the poor were among the concerns of the IRR, I wouldn’t have associated myself with it.

De Lange claims that the IRR has kept itself occupied with ‘the darkest predictions about everything the evil, communist and socialist ANC has in store for us’. He mentions, specifically, the threat of prescribed assets for pension funds, the National Health Insurance, and expropriation without compensation.

He is apparently blissfully unaware that these are real policies, written down on real paper, proposed or announced by real politicians, and intended for real implementation.

He disputes my description of President Cyril Ramaphosa as a committed socialist, preferring to describe him as ‘a capitalist with a conscience’, perhaps because he got stinking rich on the back of black economic empowerment. Wealth, however, does not a capitalist make, and socialist leaders are rarely poor.

Blissfully unaware

De Lange appears to be blissfully unaware of Ramaphosa’s background as a trade union leader, and that Ramaphosa describes himself as a committed socialist. He also frequently refers to the National Democratic Revolution, the ideological touchstone of the ANC, which calls for a socialist revolution to follow the democratic revolution of 1994. His recent comments on the ‘new economy’, or ‘radical economic transformation’, he wants to build on the ashes of the economy destroyed by the lockdown also eloquently express his socialist ambitions.

For someone who presumes to admonish others about walking around with ideological blinkers, De Lange seems pretty blinkered himself.

It is unfortunate that De Lange felt the need to make such a litany of false allegations against me and the IRR. His underlying concern – that the poor, working and otherwise, are hit the hardest by the lockdown – is perfectly valid, and bears being repeated as often as possible. They are often the silent victims of government policy.

It’s just dishonest to say that I have never said so, or that the IRR never does.

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR

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Ivo Vegter
Ivo Vegter is a freelance journalist, columnist and speaker who loves debunking myths and misconceptions, and addresses topics from the perspective of individual liberty and free markets. As an independent researcher, he is the author of the recent report from the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) – South Africa’s Minibus Taxi Industry, Resistance to Formalisation and Innovation – which assesses the potential for innovation and modernisation in this vital transport sector.

20 COMMENTS

  1. Ivor, thanks for a thorough put down of De Lange’s faux outrage and obsequious virtue signalling. De Lange represents the worst of white nationalists who feel the need to display their collective guilt as a means to absolve their own confused consciences. They hated the IRR then and still do.

    “Wit brood vir die wit man” comes to mind…

  2. You don’t even need to bother reading Jan De Lange or any other institutional sycophant’s diatribe. If it’s published in a legacy media platform that is quickly going the way of the dodo because of their own tone deaf ideological regurgitation, then you can safely bet that it’s firstly not worth reading, and secondly that the exact opposite is more likely to be relevant and true. Well worth reading the rebuttals and offering them, though. Neat little hijack to ensure at least some value add to that drivel.

    As a long time fan of the IRR and long time critic of the ‘whorenalistic’ profession due to their naive vanguardism on behalf of the silent majority working class, they can take their Khaleesi tendencies and shove them where dragon’s fire can’t even reach. I’ve just resolved to become a paid member of the IRR, just to underline the point and put my money where my mouth is. By the way, I am not subscribed to any legacy media platforms and I actively avoid them as to avoid even giving them advertising revenue. They had their run and they can lie in the bed they made for themselves in the censored Big Tech platforms like the dumpster fires on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. May they live in interesting times.

  3. It seems to me that De Lange is “the hired hand” and that his motivation has little to do with fact and reality.

  4. Thanks Ivor, for responding to this unwarranted attack on you and the numerous sideswipes aimed at the IRR by De Lange in his incoherent rambling in Rapport on Sunday 31 May. How this shameful piece of rubbish was even published is a mystery.

    I am incredibly grateful for forums such as the Daily Friend. If there is anything that is going to help us as a society to pull through these hard times, it will be balanced, sober reporting by responsible journalists. I have become a member of the IRR in order to be closer to this kind of reporting, and to be kept informed of the brilliant research they do.

    The vested interest of mainstream media shines through in their reporting, and this in itself will hasten their journey to irrelevance.

  5. Personal attacks are just so unprofessional and in this case unsubstantiated. Me thinks he flies his own flag! Enough said.

  6. Excellent rebuttal Ivor. A pity to waste thinking and time on the dishonesty of those who fear responsibility, particularly self or individual responsibility, a no-go area for the Left, thus the waste. What you are doing is fundamental to the human journey: Freedom of the individual is paramount in our search for knowledge and ultimately, self-knowledge. To borrow from George Orwell “The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those who speak it” and “In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act”. Keep up your brilliant, logical and penetrating articles. Here is a link to an exceptional article in The Spectator, Australia, which you may have missed: http://www.spectator.com.au/2020/02/the-fury-of-the-left-explained/

  7. Its telling that comments are open on the Daily Friend but not on Rapport, so I believe. Well done Ivo – strong writing as usual.

  8. Socialists like this morally outraged moron profess deep empathy for the poor but note what happens when they implement their utopian hogwash. The poor become much poorer. Always…

    • I agree with you, except I would respectfully suggest not playing the man. We need yet more of the kind of honest, courageous, robust dialogue that challenges the foolish (& moronic) ideas in this dangerous battle of ideas. It strikes me that we mustn’t lose sight of our humanity – including that of our misguided opponents – while striking furiously, intelligently, wisely, candidly … we must keep our wits.

  9. Well done Ivo. Cheap shots at the IRR are a classic Goebells technique of telling a lie so often it gets to be accepted. Your shotgun response was just the ticket to stymie the tactic.

  10. The basic thing that De Lange, in his shamelessly pro-government diatribe, ignores, is the fact that the middle class is the driver behind any functional economy, as they are the ones creating employment for the working class. That is why trade unions across the world are always attacking the “rich” middle class. Without the middle class – the entrepreneurs, the risk takers – the working class would be starving and living in absolute squalor.

  11. A good response to his article and attack on you.

    I am surprised that you voted for the ANC though, I would hang my head in shame admitting something like that. That of course is your indaba of course.

    Why did you ever decide to work for the DM as they are the DA mouthpiece? Okay you don’t have to answer. It is as most know, sponsored for and paid for by the DA, the ANC must be really anti you too.

    I suspect though that De Lange was a paid up member of the NP and the broederbond. So ignore him.

    I still admire your honesty.

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