‘It is not because men have enacted laws that life, liberty, and property exist. On the contrary, it is because life, liberty, and property are already in existence that men enact laws… Each of us certainly holds from nature and God the right to defend our person, our freedom, and our property.’

– Frédéric Bastiat

The IRR is a classically liberal institution. What that means is not always very well understood – especially in Afrikaner circles – so this is a good moment to set it out.

To be classically liberal does not mean left wing – as the term ‘liberal’ is used in the United States – but rather quite the opposite. All classical liberals hold dear the following principles.

The most important is that society should judge you as an individual based on your own beliefs and personal capacity to be virtuous or sinful. It is wrong to judge people because of their race or ethnicity or ancestry, which is why the IRR opposes all black economic empowerment and race-based affirmative action policies.   

The second is that property rights form the building block of every free and open society and that the state should never have the power to take your property away. The fact that middle class people own their homes, farms, businesses, and savings is not the reason why many South Africans remain poor. Rather than breaking property rights down and allowing expropriation, the IRR is fighting for those rights to be expanded so that, as the economy grows and jobs are created, poor people can also have the dignity of saying, ‘This is mine, I worked for it’.  

The third is that the government has no place interfering in your business or personal affairs. How you choose to live is your own choice – as long as your actions do not harm anyone else. Hence, classical liberals lobby for a small and effective state in which the private sector and free markets determine the trajectory of the economy.  

The fourth is that you can say whatever you like, the only limit being that your speech does not lead directly to the physical harm of another person. If you don’t like what you hear, then get into the debate and make a better argument.

Deep roots

The four values described above have deep roots in the Judeo-Christian ethic and tradition. It is fighting for these principles that saw the IRR become the most influential anti-apartheid think tank in the world. We have fought against racial oppression of one group by another, the denial of property rights, and state socialism in this country since long before most South Africans were born.   

The IRR is also very good at what it does.

The IRR turned the Democratic Alliance away from BEE and race-based quotas, and we are doing the same in the government and business and among foreign investors. And it is a fight that I think we will win.

On property rights, we run the largest independent lobby in the country, with a truly global reach. From Washington to Brussels, London, Tel Aviv, Toronto, and Beijing, the IRR has briefed foreign governments and investors on what is at stake in South Africa and how they should apply pressure to halting the present expropriation drive. Over the past three years we have publicly opposed almost every argument – foreign and domestic – in favour of expropriation in South Africa via over 5 000 media and policy interventions. We have fought off, almost single-handedly, every piece of legislation to introduce expropriation without compensation since the first new Expropriation Bill was drafted in 2008. We are still at it today, and I think it is another fight that we will win if we hold our present course.  

The IRR was the first civil society group to lobby the government to lift the lockdown that has done such harm to our economy and cost so many people their jobs and their savings.

IRR lobby

Just this past week, an IRR lobby blocked changes to South Africa’s electoral laws that might have allowed state-capture factions to cheat via electronic voting in a future election – and many people reading this might not even know that, because we prefer to work carefully and quietly.

Also, last week pensions industry figures finally came out strongly against taking pension funds to finance the budget deficit, while the government also capitulated, largely as the consequence of an extraordinarily effective lobby run by the IRR, making it impossible for large financial institutions to negotiate away the savings of their members.

How do we finance all of this? Who are our big donors?

Well, I am afraid there are not many of those. The biggest single source of income is crowdfunding – ordinary people, of whom there are now several thousand, who contribute amounts that average under R100 a month. Our big donors have largely left us because of the positions we take against BEE, EWC, and the left-wing inspired culture wars playing out in the Western world. Business leaders have often asked us to tone it down, but we have refused because South Africa’s race laws and expropriation policies are wicked policies that must be scrapped and cannot be reformed.

Termination notice

When a corporation terminated their support for the IRR because I had refused to consider taking race into account in the employment of our staff, we had the donor’s termination notice framed and hung in the foyer of our offices so that we could show it to our guests. This year both the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust and Anglo American’s Chairman’s Fund terminated support for the IRR – a significant thing given that both had been amongst the most important historical backers of the organisation.

But we do not allow the financial costs we pay for taking these positions to weigh on us too heavily. We are under such constant pressure to compromise on our principles that if we did so once in the pursuit of money, we might do so again and again until little of the classical liberal edifice we exist to defend would be left. I therefore encourage my colleagues not to let the burden of making South Africa work weigh on them too heavily. It is not their responsibility to finance South Africa’s salvation. The IRR will be as big and exert as much influence as society in South Africa determines. If we have more money and supporters we will employ new staff and run more projects more effectively. If we have less money we will cut back on staff and projects. All I expect of our staff is to do the best they can with the resources they have in defence of classical liberal principle, while behaving ethically and always with the greatest respect for the people who are affected by the decisions we make and the things we write and say. 

Liberty-orientated platform

Over the past week, AfriForum and the broader Solidarity movement launched a campaign against the IRR. The facts behind that are straightforward. The IRR runs an online newspaper called the Daily Friend. The purpose of the Daily Friend is to provide an open, liberty-orientated platform for the free exchange of ideas, given the appalling censorship and left-wing bias that has infiltrated much of the mainstream media both in South Africa and around the Western world.   

The Daily Friend employs a number of columnists. One of these, a man by the name of Ivo Vegter, penned an article critical of religion. Ivo is an extraordinary columnist possessed of the bravery true of all great columnists. I did not think, when I read it online, that the column in question was his best argument. I also worried that it would offend many religious people and could taint the IRR with an anti-religious brush – which I did not want and which would be at odds with our history. I therefore encouraged my more religious staff to go after Ivo, attack his arguments, and make the case for religion. The Daily Friend has thus far published five of these.

AfriForum now wants me to fire Ivo and apologise for his column. My professional communications and marketing advisers – who are excellent at their jobs – have suggested I do something along those lines, and their advice is sound from a financial and PR perspective. By their estimates, we are about to lose a lot of money and support. But I have told them that, with respect, I am not going to take their advice, and in this I have the principled support of my IRR colleagues. I have, instead, instructed our financial director to make appropriate contingencies – going as far as to draw up the list of staff and projects we will have to discontinue if AfriForum’s campaign succeeds.  

Not our style

You see, that is what we are like: under financial pressure, we don’t drop a colleague for articulating an argument. That is not our style. There is too much of that sort of thing in the world today – too much fear of being de-platformed, cancelled, de-funded, or boycotted because of something you said. It has the whole world walking on eggshells: this teacher being suspended because she made a comment that some child interpreted as possibly racist; that event being cancelled because the singer sang the wrong song; this actress being fired because she did not support the Black Lives Matter movement….

To our supporters, I say this; I do hear those of you who are offended and I do regret that. Know that I have the deepest respect for you all and recognise how important deeply held beliefs are. What I ask is that you read what Ivo wrote and what the many IRR staff wrote in response, and from there draw a conclusion on where the liberal tradition stands on Christianity. That is not an unreasonable expectation. You are all adults and should draw your own conclusions based on the evidence and with your eyes wide open. But, in the end, what happens to you in this country will in large part be determined by the decisions you take and you have to decide where you stand and what you are going to support.

If you then want to drop us, I will be very sorry to see you go, and I will blame myself greatly and think what I might have done to prevent that. But I am afraid that, if you choose to go, it will have to be so because I will stand by Ivo and his right to raise an argument with the same commitment we bring to standing by you all when a racist government and leftist politicians threaten and attack you, your families, and all you hold dear.


AfriForum will tell you that I could fire Ivo because I fired the Daily Friend columnist David Bullard some months ago. I fired David because he had made a joke about the K-word. David was not raising an argument about racism, he was not articulating a different view of colonialism or even apartheid – all of which we would have published. I fired him because he joked about the oppression that black people in this country endured during apartheid.

Many whites in South Africa today are afraid and with good reason. But, outside of racist criminal attacks and racial nationalist propaganda, they are not yet faced with the full gamut of horrors that black people endured in this country for generations, as they were driven from their homes, arrested and punished for their race, and persecuted for their desire to be free. But if whites think it was acceptable enough to joke about what happened to black people as Bullard did– let alone that firing the joker was a mistake – how do they possibly think they might win broad support when they are persecuted? Put differently: if black people thought it was acceptable to joke about the murder and torture of white farmers, how could black people think they could win broad societal support when, as happened last week, an 80-year-old black farmer in KwaZulu-Natal, Mpozana Khumalo, died of his injuries after being ambushed, beaten, tied to a tree, and shot?

It is, of course, not only whites in South Africa who are afraid – a misapprehension deliberately conjured up to sow fear and division by the white right, here and abroad. A rising tide of hard-working, God-fearing, family-oriented, and politically conservative, black South Africans face the same abuse – and even much worse for the fact that they are seen as traitors to black nationalism. Many of these individuals have sought kinship at the IRR and they are, I assure you, the bravest people in the country.

Enormous sacrifices

Quite frankly, had I let David stay I would not have been able to look my black colleagues in the eye – given the enormous sacrifices they are prepared to make to save our country on the back of the terrible abuses, injustices, and inequities they and their families have been forced to endure for decades. That was not the position for my many Christian colleagues as they used the IRR and its Daily Friend newspaper to write so well, and so movingly, in defence of their Christian faith last week.

The Solidarity Movement has also told its supporters that the IRR would not dare criticise aspects of Islam. But that is also not true. In fact, after the University of Cape Town had withdrawn an invitation to Danish journalist and free speech activist Flemming Rose – a former editor of the newspaper that initiated the Muhammed cartoons controversy – it was the IRR that brought Mr Rose to South Africa on a speaking tour (in the course of which he was smuggled onto the UCT campus and spoke there).     

Arranging this speaking tour required correspondence with local and international intelligence services regarding security; Mr Rose is on an international Islamic-extremist hit list, and several journalists associated with the cartoons have already been assassinated. We brought Mr Rose to South Africa to make a statement about free speech that is so under attack in this country. 

Terrible betrayal

I have supported AfriForum since long before most of you reading this had ever heard of it. It does some very important work and I will continue to support it for that work, and so should you. This is no time for South Africa’s most effective civil rights groups to play games or turn on each other – that would be a terrible betrayal of the people who have put their trust in us. But I also worry about AfriForum and where it is leading its over 200 000 followers.

There is, and has always been, a profound difference between the IRR and AfriForum.

The goal of the IRR is to unite the moderate majority of South Africans – black and white – around common values, so that we might together build a great country. That unity is the great unmet challenge of South Africa’s politics, but it is a challenge that I and my IRR colleagues think that, this time, our country can meet. Our polling shows that despite what the black nationalists and the white nationalists say in the media and on Twitter and in Parliament, a comfortable 7/10 South Africans have great respect for one another and want to work together to make our country work.

I have spoken at enough AfriForum branches (although I am told that, some time ago, an off-the-record instruction was issued that I should no longer be invited) and seen enough polls to be pretty sure that that is what its members desire. AfriForum members are not the racist, ‘blood-thirsty, knuckle-dragging Neanderthals’ (to borrow from Charlton Heston’s brilliant address to the National Rifle Association in Las Vegas) that the media makes them out to be. They are, like all of us, just mostly good and decent hard-working people who are afraid for the future and feel desperately let down by South Africa’s politicians, and, facing daily racist attacks in the media, looked to AfriForum to help them when no-one else would.

Stakes in South Africa are too high

The goal of AfriForum is to build a powerful Afrikaner lobby – and it has succeeded spectacularly in doing so over the past decade, raising hundreds of millions of rand in member fees. But with great power comes great responsibility – especially when ordinary people trust you to protect and guide them. It is not a power to be wielded lightly or flippantly or to play PR and political or power games with. The stakes in South Africa are too high for that now.

If we – collectively, in civil society – fail to unite the middle or offer the wrong advice to our supporters, the consequences will be truly dreadful as South Africa sinks into a mire of racial nationalist violence and poverty. I – and so should you – take the EFF at its word when it makes threats to slaughter every white man, woman, and child in this country – whereafter, as has been the example of every militant revolutionary group on this continent, its black critics will follow.

I have always felt that AfriForum’s objectives in defence of Afrikaners could be squared with the IRR’s ambition to unite the moderate middle – and I have tried very hard to build that bridge, as I did with every other community in the country. But I fear there is a corner of opinion within the senior leadership of the Solidarity Movement that regards the IRR’s objective, and the sway it has achieved among Afrikaners, as a threat to a racial nationalist project – to build a new apartheid on the ashes of South Africa’s democratic experiment. That leadership is playing games – last week was an example of it – with its supporters and their fears and emotions and luring them down a dark and dangerous rabbit hole from the depths of which, there must be no doubt, those supporters, and Afrikaners in general, will pay a terrible price.

A goal, and a dream

South Africa has only one sustainable route out of trouble, which is to unite the majority of decent, hard-working South Africans around a common series of values in respect of non-racial policy, property rights, and the freedom to live your life as you choose. And this is a goal, and a dream, that we can achieve.

As the pressure on the government builds, the ANC is losing support very quickly. It has lost the credibility, ethics, intellect, moral authority, finances, internal unity, and even electricity it needs to sustain itself in power. The moment at which we might begin to turn the country around is therefore very near. South Africans, black and white, more perhaps than ever before, are beginning to find one another in understanding that the policies of the current government have lost credibility and will need to change. This is the time to build bridges across society – to find each other – and to lay the groundwork for what will come after the ANC is gone. There is so much common decency and common ground among the bulk of South Africans.   

AfriForum is a very powerful lobby and very expert in its lobbying. Its attack on and attempt to sink the IRR will do great damage to our projects and efforts. It is regrettably familiar territory. But I see no clear way around that now if the IRR is to remain true to its objective of uniting the middle. If this means that we must take the financial hit, as some of our relatively new Afrikaner supporters turn away, then that is what we will have to do.

I will regret that very much on many levels, not least personally – in seeing my Afrikaner brethren walk away from what might have been, and into the dark night.

[Picture: Detail from the painting Liberty Leading the People by Eugène Delacroix]

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Frans Cronje was educated at St John’s College in Houghton and holds a PHD in scenario planning. He has been at the IRR for 15 years and established its Centre for Risk Analysis as a scenario focused research unit servicing the strategic intelligence needs of corporate and government clients. It uses deep-dive data analysis and first hand political and policy information to advise groups with interests in South Africa on the likely long term economic, social, and political evolution of the country. He has advised several hundred South African corporations, foreign investors, and policy shapers. He is the author of two books on South Africa’s future and scenarios from those books have been presented to an estimated 30 000 people. He writes a weekly column for Rapport and teaches scenario based strategy at the business school of the University of the Free State.