T Watkins – How I would promote individual liberty in South Africa


By Trevor Watkins

This essay was written by me to provide a benchmark, a control, for the evaluation of the 14 entrants in the Glenister Grant FreedomFest Essay competition.  It demonstrates the qualities I personally am looking for in the submitted essays – original ideas, practical (as opposed to overly theoretical), compatible and consistent with libertarian principles, doable.

Currently South Africa enjoys a measure of largely collective freedom. Everyone over the age of 18 may vote. Anyone can stand for election. Individual rights are protected by an explicit bill. The courts are reasonably independent, arbitrary arrest and imprisonment is rare. This is much better than the situation under apartheid, and in many other African countries.

However, individuals and businesses are subject to an increasingly onerous burden of law, stunting growth, reducing employment, increasing poverty, crime and misery.

The ANC represents a monolithic bloc of the electorate, crushing all opposition groups under their vast, democratic weight.  Their agenda is uncompromisingly socialist, interventionist, authoritarian. To promote individual freedom in South Africa, we must first break the stranglehold of the ANC/COSATU/SACP alliance on the organs of state and civil society.

The Democratic Alliance is committed to an “Open Society”. It does not adopt a rigorous free market position,  nor a strong individual freedom position (waffling on the need for business regulation, capital punishment, BEE, etc). Although it is the best available alternative to the ANC, it will never achieve the electoral majority required to unseat the ANC in its current form.

Any attempt to realistically promote individual freedom in South Africa will have to attract large numbers of black people who currently support the ANC. Many of these people are very poor, unemployed, uneducated and unskilled, and heavily dependent on government handouts.  They will not respond to carefully reasoned economic arguments. They may die of hunger or disease before the “trickle down” benefits of  a free market economy get to them. Their daily survival depends on the government redistributing income from the wealthier to them. They probably hate their dependence, their joblessness, their poverty, but do not see any viable alternative. We have to start by promoting THEIR individual freedom, to earn, to spend, to act.

The most powerful arm of the tripartite alliance is the trade unions. They represent most of the employed workers in South Africa. But they do not represent the unemployed, who now constitute as much as 40% of the labour force in this country. There lies our great opportunity. I propose that an alliance of libertarians and free marketers, businesses, unemployed workers, civil society groups and the DA form a JOB SEEKERS UNION (JSU). I am aware this idea has been proposed before, but it does not seem to have taken firm hold as yet.

The JSU will require startup funding, skilled organisers, premises, computers, databases. It will be up to business to provide these. The JSU will require a clear and simple plan, constitution, ethos, working model. It will be up to the libertarians and free marketers to provide these. The JSU will require millions of members. The unemployed, civil society, the squatter  camps and townships will provide these. When all these people have been recruited, they will require someone to represent them in parliament, to fight on their behalf. The DA will provide these. If the DA does a good enough job, these JSU members may ultimately vote for the DA.

To succeed, the JSU must attract millions of members. To attract members, the JSU must be able to offer the unemployed something they want – jobs, money, respect. The JSU should offer every single prospective member a job – as a recruiter for the JSU. The tried and tested pyramid model so beloved of marketing organisations can be used here. Every new member may recruit other new members, and receive a percentage of their contributions in return. Every member has the opportunity to start earning in return for effort immediately. A network of member cells should quickly develop. Superb management and recordkeeping facilities are supplied by the higher levels of the JSU. Communication with members is through SMS.

The JSU must offer other employment opportunities from day one. Many of these ideas already exist out there in civil society, and can be utilised or expanded upon.

For example:

  • Crime spotting and prevention, with appropriate reward structures
  • Self help housing construction schemes
  • Self help saving and capital raising schemes (Burial societies)
  • Self help farming and food producing schemes
  • Self help retailing schemes (Spaza shops)
  • Self help manufacturing schemes (crafts, furniture, repairs)
  • Free enterprise areas in townships
  • Education/skills exercises (seminars, workshops, adult education, schools)
  • Labour broking/contract labour provision
  • Community care schemes (nursery schools, hospices, aged care)
  • Rubbish recycling schemes
  • Sports activities (coaching, entertainment, professional)
  • Cultural activities (choirs, dance groups, debates)
  • Tourism initiatives (township tours, drinking tours, sex tours)

There is no shortage of things for unemployed people to do, with some assistance, planning, funding and organisation. Generally, the only thing standing in their way is the dead hand of the state and legislation. It will be up to the JSU to fight this.

To promote individual freedom in South Africa, I believe we must recruit huge numbers of individuals from amongst the unemployed, offer them some realistic benefits from the free market system in the short term, and useful work and skills, including realistic economic understanding, in the longer term.

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