The year 2023 is set to be the beginning of South Africa’s electoral season, as political parties start gearing up for the 2024 general election. The broad opposition will have to hear – and ask themselves – difficult questions, and provide often difficult answers.
Clem Sunter, writing for BizNews, argues that young voters do not really know what the Democratic Alliance (DA), the biggest opposition party, stands for. To remedy this problem, Sunter poses a series of questions the DA should consider in order to make its vision for South Africa clear. As a long-time constructive critic of the DA, I have formulated a set of answers I believe the DA should provide to Sunter’s questions.
These answers might cost the DA votes, but this is something the DA should be comfortable with. A DA that is more conscious of its own identity, and South Africans that are more conscious of what the DA truly represents in the political arena – middle-class liberalism – can only strengthen our democracy. After all, the days of outright majoritarianism are over. The DA should feel content being a smaller but more effective representative of the values of its constituency, as part of a broader coalition of parties in the centre and centre-right of our political spectrum.
All of my suggested answers to Sunter’s questions line up with the DA’s historical and current stated principles as a liberal party dedicated to individual liberty, the market economy, and constitutionalism.
What practical actions will you take to improve the education and health systems in this country?
A comprehensive voucher system will be introduced. The departments of health and education will be significantly downsized, and all public clinics, hospitals, and schools will be sold to education groups or community associations. Neither department will own or manage health or basic education facilities any longer. Their budgets will be re-prioritised into health and education vouchers, which the remaining staff will administer.
Vouchers will put money back in households to spend on whatever registered health or basic education services they desire. This will give ordinary people power that they do not have within the present State-directed system, and will necessarily improve health and educational outcomes, as market forces will now discipline poorly performing service providers.
In what way would you restructure law and order and get rid of corruption?
Behind practically every act of public corruption is a piece of legislation that gives the corrupt politician or official discretionary power. This discretion is then utilised to produce outcomes favourable to the corrupt parties.
A principle of law-making will be introduced that will eliminate discretionary powers during legislative drafting. Existing legislation that bestows these powers will be amended or repealed.
Discretion will be replaced with mechanical and automatic implementation. Where officials ‘may’ now do something, they henceforth ‘must’ or ‘may not’.
Non-value-adding considerations in procurement, like race or skin-colour, disability, or nationality, will be completely discounted.
Private-sector oversight will be introduced in every area of government procurement; for instance, requiring that each of the top five oldest auditing firms in South Africa must be represented on every procurement committee and in every procurement office.
How would you handle the problems of load-shedding at Eskom and go about creating a greener economy?
All considerations that are irrelevant to the sustainable provision of electricity in the short-to-medium term will be abandoned. This means, temporarily at least, environmental impact, local content, and racial considerations will be discounted.
The division of Eskom into generation, transmission, and distribution will be expedited, and it will be stripped of its legal monopoly. All Eskom power plants will be sold to domestic and international private providers in groups of no more than three plants per provider. These providers will be given
the authority to construct new plants. The grid, in turn, will also be privatised, and transferred to the new owners of the power plants.
The law will ensure that all new contributors to the grid acquire ownership of the grid in proportion to their contribution to it.
‘Green’ considerations will be shelved until South Africa’s electricity crisis has finally been solved. At that time, government may offer incentives and soft inducements to the best clean energy providers.
In general, how would you improve the performance of state-owned enterprises?
All enterprises owned, or partly owned, by the government will be privatised. Criteria will be developed to determine which enterprises cannot be privatised, although these must be the exception, not the rule. An alternative to non-privatisation is to privatise a given enterprise but legally require that enterprise to conduct itself in a certain way.
For instance, if government fears that the products of a private Denel would be unaffordable, it may be required that despite its private nature, Denel must always offer its products to the South African state at a discount.
Subjecting these enterprises to market forces will compel them to perform at the level consumers will deem acceptable. Poor performance will result in liquidation.
How will you handle the tricky problem of widening land ownership both in urban and rural areas so that we end up with a fairer distribution of land?
Government has never been and will never be qualified to determine what a ‘fair distribution’ of property is. There is no objective or rational manner to measure such a notion.
Nonetheless, certain steps will be taken to ensure justice to individuals and households, not to amorphic racial groups or ideological conceptions of fairness. These steps include transferring ownership of all government farms to the lessees presently working the land; replacing restrictive conditions in government housing schemes with unqualified ownership; and distributing unused or underutilised government land to poor families.
Outstanding restitution claims will be finalised, alongside the introduction of a legal rule that land that has in the past been subject to a redistribution or restitution process may not be subject to another redistribution or restitution process. Once a piece of property has gone through such a process, it will in future be treated as all other property in an open market.
How will you go about solving the problems of unemployment, poverty and inequality and, in particular, how will you create a new generation of young entrepreneurs?
It will first have to be recognised that government is the cause of unemployment, poverty, and much of South Africa’s inequality. Government is not a solution to these problems. Nonetheless, since the cause of these problems is policy, government can take policy action to undo the damage.
Most importantly, all South Africa’s internationally infamous labour legislation and regulations will be repealed. The labour department will be downsized significantly, and most of its constitutional functions transferred to municipalities and provinces.
A short Employment Act will be adopted that clarifies and codifies the common law of labour. Freedom of contract, recognition of individual agency, and deference to the good judgment of those in the employment relationship will be the principles underlying this legislation.
This alone should put a significant dent in unemployment and start the process of ending extreme poverty in South Africa. Inequality is a different matter over which government has no power. To paraphrase Friedrich von Hayek, freedom produces inequality, and a government that attempts to eliminate inequality will instead eliminate freedom.
Additionally, government will undertake a comprehensive review of all commercial and economic regulations that exist in South Africa’s economy. The default rule of this review will be to eliminate rather than keep regulations, unless it can be shown with reference to an unambiguous provision of the Constitution that the regulation is strictly necessary.
After the review has been concluded, a rule will be adopted that for every new regulation that a department, agency, or regulator wishes to adopt, it must eliminate two existing regulations.
How will you link the township economies to the mainstream economy and get rid of all the red tape that currently restricts the growth of the informal sector?
The previous answer is relevant to this one. Deregulation benefits everyone except the special-interest incumbents who sought the regulations as a means of commercial gatekeeping in the first place. Township economies are sure to be some of the biggest beneficiaries.
An additional principle of government will be to abandon the unnecessary desire to ‘formalise’ all economic activity. Informal economic activity is no less legitimate than formal activity. The overbearing desire to formalise threatens entrepreneurs who are unable to comply with costly legal requirements produced in airconditioned skyscrapers.
The presently misnamed Department of Small Business Development could be reformed into a Deregulation Commission, and given the legal authority to unilaterally deregulate, liberalise, and eliminate red tape where it finds it.
How will you ensure that government spending is kept within reasonable bounds so that South Africa is seen as a financially responsible nation?
Every government department or agency that does not have an explicit and unambiguous basis in the text of the Constitution will be shut down. Where appropriate, functions will be transferred to provincial and municipal governments.
Legislation will be introduced that prohibits deficit spending. This means that government may not spend more than it is generating in revenue. Ministers of Finance must be empowered to take substantive action where they find deficit spending, and if they do not, they must be held legally and personally liable.
The public sector wage bill will be cut, as will the absolute number of government employees. Taxpayers need a break from South Africa’s underworked and overpaid civil servants. The trade unions will be faced down by the new government. Trade unions that embark on or encourage unlawful strikes, or that encourage or condone violence during lawful strikes, will be deregistered and their senior staff held criminally liable.
The DA should not expect incompetent civil servants to vote for it in droves. It is, and must be, a threat to their continued employment.
How will you attract new foreign investment to this country?
Foreign investors are quite explicit about why they do not invest here. Usually, the reason has to do with a burdensome labour environment and ‘policy uncertainty’. The labour environment will be reformed through the aforementioned labour law reviews.
‘Policy uncertainty’ is coded language for ‘bad policy’. Plans for property confiscation, nationalisation of the Reserve Bank, nationalisation of private healthcare, and outlawing physically harmless expression, will be abandoned forthwith, and the respective legislation will be amended in a way that strengthens property rights, the independence of the SARB, and access to healthcare choice.
The policies of the countries that rank highly in the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World annual report will additionally be studied and considered for adoption in South Africa.
South Africa will also strive to be both an international corporate and tax haven. It must be easy and desirable to register a company in South Africa and the burden of doing business here must be significantly lower than in other comparable states.
The idea of a true ‘special economic zone’ or zones somewhere in South Africa will also be explored. In essence, this special area will be a zone of nearly absolute free market activity, where regulations and legislation that apply elsewhere do not apply. This is perhaps the only way for Cyril Ramaphosa’s dream of government-sponsored ‘smart cities’ to work in reality.
How will you handle external problems like the war in Ukraine and our relationships with the rest of Africa, the US, UK, EU, Russia, and China?
Foreign policy is a difficult terrain to navigate, as the example that has been set to us by bigger states has been ‘principles at home but pragmatism abroad’ (think of the United States upholding due process domestically but liberally assassinating supposed ‘enemies’ abroad, or the reverse in the case of Russia: insisting on the principle of self-determination abroad but flatly denying it domestically). The result has been nominally democratic regimes supporting and/or turning a blind eye to oppressive states.
While some measure of pragmatism is obviously necessary, there is no reason why South Africa’s foreign policy cannot have a principled grounding.
South Africa will adopt a policy of preferencing relations with states that rank high(er) in the Freedom House Freedom in the World, the Cato Institute’s Human Freedom Index, and the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World annual report. And while South Africa will not go out of its way to make enemies, it must inevitably have a cautious and cold relationship with those states that rank very low on these indices.
This is to say that South Africa’s foreign policy must look favourably upon free societies and unfavourably upon unfree ones, and treat them correspondingly. Perhaps then South Africa can truly get around to being what its political elite thinks it has been since 1994: an international beacon of freedom.
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