South Africa seems to be following the familiar downward spiral common to so many African countries. As IRR chief executive Dr Frans Cronje argues, the only thing that can possibly stop this is injecting the right ideas into the public sphere. Even then, however, those ideas must still be accepted by the rest of society.

The only chance we have of saving this country in the long term lies in a massive injection of individualist ideas. We must realise that we are operating in a society in which these ideas are both deeply embedded (as I believe they are in all societies, evident from the way human beings live), and foreign, in the sense that they are non-existent in public debate. Specifically, these ideas are new to many black people, at least those who had the sort of upbringing and education I had.

I grew up in a township, Madadeni to be exact. My experience of white people was largely limited to television and the few times I would go into town. Typically, the people from whom you learned about this other group of South Africans either told you that they were responsible for the obvious difference in wealth between the town and the township, or they told you that white people were superior and better at running things, inventing things, and so on.

The latter attitude is mostly shared by older people. Even as they hate the National Party, a lot of them seem to believe white people are superior. It is reinforced through many sayings, such as ‘uzenza umlungu’, meaning you are pretending to be a white person, usually if you display a preference for food other than what is available at home, or ‘izinto zabelungu’, meaning ‘those are white things’, when you ask about some scientific phenomenon or invention.

Radical leftist position

It is such a depressing position that it is no wonder most young people recoil from this looking down on oneself. The only widely-known alternative, however, is the radical leftist position.

The teaching of history in public schools reinforces the leftist narrative. The history I was taught tended to dismiss liberalism almost as if it were some fun but inconsequential pastime. The impression I got of the Soviet Union, for example, was that it would have been fine if only that nasty Stalin hadn’t killed Trotsky! Yet, in the same school, we were required to read Animal Farm, in which you encounter Snowball, who is more complex than the story we were told about Trotsky in history class.

Liberals simply did not exist in my intellectual world when I wrote a letter to Thabo Mbeki at the age of 12 or 13, demanding that South Africa implement communism and that we should intervene in the Chagos Island dispute, for some reason. I was a happy child, but I grew up to be an unhappy teenager because I truly believed that various forces were controlling my life.

I became aware of my inferiority complex when I went to UCT and spent significant periods of time around white people. I became hyper-defensive when it came to the African National Congress (ANC), because (I now realise) of the fear that was deep inside me, created by the attitude so many older black people hold that white people are in fact superior. I did not want to live in a world where I could never hope to be great. That may sound like a cliché, but it explains my feelings at the time.

At first I vehemently disagreed

The Damascus moment for me came around the time of the 2012 US Presidential campaign. I was still at UCT (at the beginning of 2011) and on my way to failing my second year undergraduate physics degree. I watched Ron Paul’s videos and at first I vehemently disagreed, but the more I watched and listened, the more he made sense. Why had no one bothered to teach me these things before?

At UCT, by the way, Gwen Ngwenya was the SRC president in my first year. On the only occasions I heard from her and other liberals on campus, the conversation was always about race and why racialism was wrong and impractical. Which is an important conversation to have, but I couldn’t help but contrast this with Ron Paul’s approach, where the most important thing was always the underlying principle and sticking to the principle in all cases.

There’s no denying that race is one of the major issues in South Africa, but the fact is if you’re poor and you want an employer, a business partner, or an investor, skin colour should be the last thing you worry about. In light of my experience, race is still the reason why so many people look down on themselves, but it is only a barrier to the extent that the individual believes the lie of racism, often spread by their own culture and society.

Individual is sovereign

Ron Paul began from the premise that the individual is sovereign, and, from there, showed why racism is wrong. Many other liberals understand the principle, but they often assume too much. In particular, the rush to a centrist solution before we have achieved a general societal acceptance of liberal principles is reckless.

We still have much work to do; compromise positions such as welfare, and tolerance for some regulation (generally all the positions to which liberals attach the prefix ‘social’, and everything other than justice, that is called ‘justice’) tend to confuse people who were in the position I was in. Do you believe redistribution is unjust, or not? If you do, say so.

We must continue putting our ideas out there to give those young people in townships a third option – should they ever be in a position to look for one. We cannot guarantee success, but we can guarantee failure if we do nothing, as in Zimbabwe, where it is still so hard to find a liberal (I would like to acknowledge my friend Rejoice Ngwenya for fighting the good fight in Zimbabwe under difficult circumstances) even after the devastation wrought by socialism in that country.

While we may debate the effects of social media and the web more generally, one thing it has done is make it possible to hear about ideas that are not approved by an editor or a government. If we are right that our ideas represent a fundamental truth about humanity, those ideas will win out in the end. But only if liberals are willing to talk about their ideas, talk about them until other liberals are sick of hearing them, and talk about them to the point where everyone in mainstream media, politics, and academia, has to acknowledge their existence even as they disparage or dismiss them.

Clear alternative

We do not need to promote redistributionist ideas; the ANC and EFF have that covered. Liberals must provide the clear alternative, not just in efficient governance, but in philosophy. Young people may be hungry, and therefore Malema is using their idealism to accumulate power for himself, but he is still appealing to a sense of justice. And if liberalism is about anything, it is about justice. We can win this fight if we try.

[Picture: Lucas Gouvêa on Unsplash]

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

If you like what you have just read, subscribe to the Daily Friend


  1. Very nice, just one small thing, as a fellow data scientist, how is the race one of the major issues in SA? By most studies, it is neither perceived or observed as one of top 10 issues. The major issue and issue of all issues is unemployment, I can guarantee if we sort out that issue that lot of problems that we are dealing with will just fall away. OK, major issue perceived is the crime, but that will also be sorted out with more employment. Wouldn’t be nice to live in SA where main issue is how to change the hiking routes so some unknown plant can be protected? Yes, it can happen, but as ANC has no idea how to resolve the main problem, we will be stuck dealing with non-issues.

    • You are right, it is a major issue however in that the people who have public platforms are obsessed with it. It is also a major issue in the communities where individuals look down on themselves because of race. We must avoid being reductionist, jobs will do a lot of good, and disempower radicals like the EFF but they alone will not solve all our problems.

  2. Frans Cronje has hit the nail fair & square on the head.
    I believe he also knows that no matter how many right ideas come into the public sphere, acceptance will never follow.
    The majority wouldn’t know the difference between a good, mediocre or bad idea.
    It’s the same deficiency that pervades the whole of the African continent. History proves that beyond doubt!

  3. Race is the wrong peg to hang the injustices of the past on. It is also self defeating and counterproductive. The real differences between whites and blacks is not skin color, but culture and value systems. Skin color is superficial, culture and value system is innate. If your culture frowns on individualism, promotes envy as a defense mechanism against mediocrity and rejects meritocracy as the selection mechanism towards excellence, then be proud of your socialist mindset and its holy grail: equality.

    It is impossibly to make everybody rich, but it is very easy to make everybody poor. No country has ever achieved the first, many countries have achieved the second.

  4. Thank you for a very personal and insightful piece.

    It inspires me to find thoughtful ways of helping people take ownership of (what I consider) good ideas and showing them that truly good ideas are not black or white. Not izinto zabelungu but izinto zabantu.

    People are all equal and valuable, ideas are not.

  5. Redistribution is in essence robbery. It is really living on other people’s efforts to earn a living for their families. It is also called socialism.
    It forcibly takes away somebody else’s labor earnings and entrepreneural efforts. It discourages people totally. Why work hard and put in effort to have other people just walk in, sit around making things extremely difficult to run your business effectively, and then watch disinterested people just walk away with your sweat, leaving your life’s work in shambles like ESCOM and many other large businesses that folded because of BEE, political interference and hobbling laws?

    People work for their money and possessions. And often build their business or organisation for years and very hard at that.

    Politicians and others then demand redistribution of the accrued wealth. The consequences are what we clearly see with the ANC and EFF parties. Politicians are redistributing the wealth of the country among themselves and their party, and in just 25 years destroyed the built up essential productive entities of the country like ESCOM, railways, bus services, sewerage systems, roads, water systems, municipalities, etc. We then call it corruption when the country starts to fold and blame racially. Redistribution may well be the real culprit.

    Communism is essentially based on redistribution of everything. So the lazy need not work. That is why communism has to kill its people to repress the consequences. EFF is now already going that way.

    You truly say that employment is the solution. But who is going to build another business and risk your savings if it has to be redistributed as soon as your hardworking family business starts to grow and reach a certain really small number of employees or wealth? BEE and bigger ghosts then loom with outstretched hands to take your business out of your control, make demands you cannot meet, force you to waste much time on unproductive negotiations and eventually taken out of your hands, by disinterested, only money focused people. thus destroying your business before your eyes.

    So keep it small. Thus you are forced to really defeat the real purpose of increased employment – growth of wealth by honest real labor. Sharing the proceeds with your family and employees.

    This curb on the economy is a government racially enforced evil that suppresses growth really efficiently. Would anybody like to just throw your hard earned money away? And this is a draconic ever tightening racially biased policy. If one white starts a business or becomes chairman (?), it is regarded as a white business despite mostly non-white employees living and prospering by it.

    The same principle applies to pension funds: We worked hard for that money and from our earned salary an employment contracts a bit was put away every month into our GEPF pension fund, just like assurance. Now the government wants to put its hands into it and redistribute our money. The employer has no rights to its employees’ pensions, insurance or savings, just like it has no rights to their salaries after it was earned,paid and tax deducted. The state has no right to touch government employees’ pensions.

    Redistribution is extremely harmful to people and the country and is contra productive. But we need growth with newly created capital by people with vision and encouragement to go big, to grow our economy and employment. Irrespective of race. The need is too large for playing racist games any more.

    Also without whatever political ideology is touted as the dish for today.

  6. It is a fact that most people were born poor. Not everyone was born with the golden spoon in the mouth. I don’t have much but the little I have I have worked for and is still doing so. Yes there is cases where people are more foavoured because who they are not what they can do for a company.
    But the sword cuts both ways and I believe this is true for every race.
    Many years ago when white people were sent to fight for apartheid the sons of ministers got cosy jobs in the army. Poor people were send to die for rich peoples fears. And to this day nothing has changed. Yes we are all free now but we are staring to the world through burglar bars. Not a nice freedom to have. Poor black people can’t walk around in their neighborhood they get mugged or killed. By the very own people that devises them by race. Apartheid stole our lives yes. But criminals bank on that and are stealing the very most important thing… our lives…

  7. In about 10 years from now SA will be just another state in Africa, where politicians will still strive to become the richest individuals in the world and the rest (the vast majority) will be as poor as can be.

    Redistribution and corruption has the following characteristics / results:
    1 It enriches only politicians, top level government officials and their family and friends – not the general public. The general public are only being kept alive to “feed” the system.
    2 People with proven entrepreneurial capabilities become disgruntled and loose their willingness to contribute to a general economy, simply because they personally stand to gain too little in exchange for their efforts. They become relatively unproductive and self centered.
    3 The rest of the people (mostly workers in different levels of society) that was supposed to support those under 2 above, in building an economy, thus empowering themselves and their families and in turn, over time, break the circle of poverty, to their own benefit, end up unproductive and living of social grants – totally disempowered for their whole lives.

    You end up with a unproductive society, small economy and general poverty. And that is how you end up as predicted in my first paragraph – SOCIALISM EXPLAINED IN VERY SIMPLE TERMS.

  8. An excellent and important contribution, thank you. We certainly need continuous re-distribution. It is called taxes and as long as everyone pays their fair share, we can all agree that it results in an overall societal good.

  9. The Elephant in South Africa and the Developing World’s
    House – Family Planning

    South Africa’s unemployment figure is deep in the twenties and most of these people don’t have a chance to get sustainable jobs in the modern working environment and face a life of poverty. At presence about fourteen million South Africans receive a subsidy from the state. Plans to halve the unemployment figure by 2014 are based on assumptions that are variable and debatable, and few are looking holistically at the problem. Population growth is seldom part of the evaluation although it plays a major part in the outcome.
    It is totally illogical that Family Planning is not a mayor subject of discussion and that so little attention is given in the media and in strategic planning of our country. Free supply of condoms can certainly not alone addressing such a critical issue as family planning and the environmental limitations, that our planet is facing today.
    Population growth and its influence on our environment had been studied in detail over a long time period, and the following studies confirmed what was predicted centuries ago. The most recent study is from The National Geographic Magazine dated June 2009 under ‘The End of Plenty – The Global Food Crisis.’
    The following are abstracts from ‘The Essay form Malthus on the Principle of Population ’ as well as a ‘Limits to Growth’ graph from the Club of Rome to motivate the importance of family planning in our present day environment.
    • The passions of mankind drive humans to reproduce, while the laws of nature set limits to the carrying capacity of the environment.
    This in short a statement by Maltus about mankind and his environment.
    • The importance of Malthus today.
    Malthus died in Bath in 1834, but debate on his ideas continued to rage, both in his own century and our own. Each year he is refuted, and each year revived. Despite the impressive scientific progress, of our century, the frightful Malthusian forces – poverty, famine, disease, and war – cast as dark a shadow in our own times as they did in the nineteenth century. Indeed, the enormous power of modern weapons has greatly intensified the dangers posed by war; and the rapid growth of global population has given new dimensions to the problems of poverty and famine.
    Looking at the world today, we can see regions where Malthus seems to be a truer prophet than Condorcet and Godwin. In most developing countries, poverty and disease are still major problems. In other parts of the world, the optimistic prophecies of Condorcet and Godwin have been at least partially fulfilled. In the industrialized nations, Godwin’s prophecy of automatized agriculture has certainly come true. In the nations of the North, only a small percentage of the population is engaged in agriculture, while most of the citizens are free to pursue other goals than food production.
    Scandinavia is an example of an area where poverty and war have both been eliminated locally, and where death from infectious disease is a rarity. These achievements would have been impossible without the low birthrates which also characterize the region. In Scandinavia, and in other similar regions, low birth rates and death rates, a stable population, high educational levels, control of infectious disease, equal status for women, democratic governments, and elimination of poverty and war are linked together in a mutually re-enforcing circle of cause and effect. By contrast, in many large third world cities, overcrowding, contaminated water, polluted air, dense population without adequate sanitation, low status of women, high birth rates, rapidly increasing population, high unemployment levels, poverty, crime, ethnic conflicts, and resurgence of infectious disease are also linked in a self perpetuating causal loop – in this case a vicious circle.
    Does the contrast between the regions of our contemporary world mean that Malthus has been “proved wrong” in some regions and “proved right” in others? To answer this question, let us re-examine the basic assertion which Malthus puts forward in Books I and II of the 1803 version of his Essay. His basic thesis is that the maximum natural fertility of human populations is greatly in excess of replacement fertility. This being so, Malthus points out, human populations would always increase exponentially if they were not prevented from doing so by powerful and obvious checks.
    In general, Malthus tells us, populations cannot increase exponentially because the food supply increases slowly, or is constant. Therefore, he concludes, in most societies and almost all periods of history, checks to population growth are operating. These checks may be positive, or they may be preventive, the positive checks being those which raise the death rate, while the preventive checks lower the birth rate. There are, however, Malthus says, exceptional periods of history when the populations of certain societies do actually increase exponentially because of the opening of new lands or because of the introduction of new methods of food production. As an example, he cites the growth of the population of the United States, which doubled every 25 years over a period of 150 years.
    We can see, from this review of Malthus’ basic thesis, that his demographic model is flexible enough to describe all of the regions of our contemporary world: If Malthus were living today, he would say that in countries with low birth and death rates and stable populations, the checks to population growth are primarily preventive, while in countries with high death rates, the positive checks are important. Finally, Malthus would describe our rapidly-growing global population as the natural result of the introduction of improved methods of food production in the developing countries. We should notice, however, that the flexibility of Malthus’ demographic model first appears in the 1803 version of his Essay: In the 1798 version, he maintained “..that population does invariably increase, where there are means of subsistence..” and “that the superior power (of population) cannot be checked without producing misery and vice..” This narrower model of population did not agree with Malthus’ own observations in Norway in 1799, and therefore in his 1803 Essay he allowed more scope for preventive checks, which included late marriage and moral restraint as well as birth control (which he classified under the heading of “vice”).
    Today we are able to estimate the population of the world at various periods in history, and we can also make estimates of global population in prehistoric times. Looking at the data, we can see that the global population of humans has not followed an exponential curve as a function of time, but has instead followed a hyperbolic trajectory. At the time of Christ, the population of the world is believed to have been approximately 220 million. By 1500, the earth contained 450 million people, and by 1750, the global population exceeded 700 million. As the industrial and scientific revolution has accelerated, global population has responded by increasing at a breakneck speed: In 1930, the population of the world reached two billion; in 1958 three billion; in 1974 four billion; in 1988 five billion, and in 1999, six billion. Today, roughly a billion people are being added to the world’s population every fourteen years.
    • Limits to the carrying capacity of the Global Environment.
    There are many indications that both the global population and the size if the global human economy are rapidly approaching absolute limits set by the carrying capacity of the earth’s environment. For example, a recent study by Vitousek, Ehrlich, Ehrlich and Matsen showed that 40 percent of the net primary product of land based photosynthesis is appropriated, directly or indirectly, for human use. (The net primary product of photosynthesis is defined as the amount of solar energy converted to chemical energy by plants minus the energy used by the plants for their own metabolism). Thus, we are only a single doubling time away from 80 percent appropriation, which would certainly imply a disastrous degradation of the natural environment.
    Another indication of our rapid approach to the absolute limit of environmental carrying capacity can be found in the present rate of loss of biodiversity. The total number of species of living organisms on the earth is thought be between 5 million and 30 million, of which only 1.4 million have been described. Between 50 percent and 90 percent of these species live in tropical forests, a habitat which is rapidly being destroyed because of pressures from exploding human populations. 55 percent of the earth’s tropical forests have already been cleared and burned; and an additional area four times the size of Switzerland is lost every year. Because of this loss of habitat, tropical species are now becoming extinct at a rate which is many thousands of times the normal background rate. If losses continue at the present rate, 20 percent of all tropical species will vanish irrevocably within the next 50 years. One hardly dares to think of what will happen after that.
    Further evidence that the total size of the human economy has reached or exceeded the limits of sustainability comes from global warming, from the destruction of the ozone layer, from the rate of degradation and desertification of land, from statistics On rapidly vanishing non-renewable resources, and from recent famines.

    The following graph which was drawn up by the Club of Rome and recently updated indicates Limits to Growth for our Earth.

    Added to the agricultural and environmental problems, are problems of finance and distribution. Famines can occur even when grain is available somewhere in the world, because those who are threatened with starvation may not be able to pay for the grain, or for its transportation. The economic laws of supply and demand are not able to solve this type of problem. One says that there is no “demand” for the food (meaning demand in the economic sense), even though people are in fact starving.
    We can anticipate that as the earth’s human population approaches 10 billion, severe famines will occur in many developing countries. The beginnings of this tragedy can already be seen. It is estimated that roughly 40,000 children now die every day from starvation, or from a combination of disease and malnutrition.
    An analysis of the global ratio of population to cropland shows that we may already have exceeded the sustainable limit of population through our dependence on petroleum. Between 1950 and 1982, the use of cheap synthetic fertilizers increased by a factor of 8. Much of our present agricultural output depends on their use, but their production is expensive in terms of energy. Furthermore, petroleum-derived synthetic fibers have reduced the amount of cropland needed for growing natural fibers, and petroleum-driven tractors have replaced draft animals which required cropland for pasturage. Also,

    petroleum fuels have replaced fuel wood and other fuels derived from biomass. The reverse transition, from fossil fuels back to renewable energy sources, will require a considerable diversion of land from food production to energy production.
    – Conclusion
    What would Malthus tell us if he were alive today? Undoubtedly he would say that we have
    reached a period of human history where it is vital to stabilize the world’s population if catastrophic environmental degradation and famine are to be avoided. He would applaud efforts to reduce suffering by eliminating poverty, widespread disease, and war; but he would point out that, since it is necessary to stop the rapid increase of human numbers, it follows that whenever the positive checks to population growth are removed, it is absolutely necessary to replace them by preventive checks. Malthus’ point of view became more broad in the successive editions of his Essay; and if he were alive today, he might even agree that family planning is the most humane of the preventive checks.
    In Malthus’ Essay on the Principle of Population, population pressure appears as one of the main causes of war; and Malthus also discusses many societies in which war is one of the principle means by which population is reduced to the level of the food supply. Thus, his Essay contains another important message for our own times: If he were alive today, Malthus would also say that there is a close link between the two most urgent tasks which history has given to the 21st century – stabilization of the global population, and abolition of the institution of war.

    1. Malthus Essay on the Principle of Population with recent additions by John Avery, H.C. Orsted
    Institute, University of Copenhagen, Denmark, May 31, 2005
    2. National Geographic Magazine, June 2009. The End of Plenty, Special Report – The Global Food
    3. The Club of Rome website – The Limits to Growth.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here