This is the essay and motivation contributed by Langa Bodlani as his entry in the recent Freedomfest competition sponsored by Bob Glenister.
Is this the matter about which we should be having a discussion in South Africa. After all is our constitution, hailed as the most progressive, not a sufficient guarantor of individual freedoms. The answer is in the negative: the promotion of individual freedoms is in the absence of intervention rather than in its presence.
Hence the underlying assumptions of this topic are wrong; that some positive action, ostensibly by society, needs to be taken to promote individual freedom in South Africa is mistaken. So is the other assumption that there is somewhat a uniquely South African individual freedom which can be differentiated from other parts of the world.
History of mankind has irrefutably shown that individual freedoms best flourish where there is less regulation, even when that intervention comes under the pretext of protecting individuals themselves. Examples are abounding where the politicians have passed laws, purportedly to enhance individual freedoms and the opposite being the result, our labour laws and the credit regulatory environment come to mind.
More importantly freedom is never a country specific phenomenon; it accrues to individuals wherever they are. The mechanisms used to achieve individual freedoms in America, Britain or in our neighbouring Mauritius are equally applicable to South Africa, Zimbabwe or Libya. Freedom is not open to time and space differentiation. A common trend in countries with more individual freedoms is not so much what they did; but the space which these societies left open for the individuals to flourish. South Africa is no different.
Our individual freedoms, notwithstanding our constitution, remain threatened by interventions, mainly from the executive branch rubberstamped by the legislature The intentions behind such interventions are usually couched in favour of individual freedom, but the opposite always prevails.
Take the matter of wealth creation. Individuals have more protection where they have wealth. Government intervention is always justified by the need to protect individuals from business exploitation. The result has always been high regulation, disinvestment, and high unemployment rate which collectively hamper individual freedom.
Secondly it cannot be gainsaid that individual freedoms find manifestation where individuals are suitably informed of their rights and responsibilities through a functioning education system. Where this was sought to be achieved through means other than individuals’ own initiatives, the results have been disastrous. The same goes for the provision of health, transport and even policing.
Now having established that it is rather less intervention which promotes individual freedom; I come to the universality of freedom. The second common denominator of countries with more individual freedoms is their adherence a certain value system: the rule of law.
Individuals initiative is the best promoter of freedoms. The rule of law which guarantees that laws apply generally and equally, disputes are settled by independent courts is the least positive action that can be taken by any society. . Benjamin Franklin was spot on when he observed that “those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
Why I should be sent to Freedom Fest.
Apart from the very personal and somewhat selfish reasons such as my personal wish to travel to the States, there are many other altruistic considerations to be achieved by my selection.
Firstly I have been a libertarian for a long time now. In fact I became one when it was still an anathema for a young black person to be associated with this school of thought. When the hegemonic tide was that of nationalism as espoused by the ruling party; I became a torchbearer to other young black intellectuals that it is not only okay to differ with popular opinion, it was a patriotic duty. I became the chairperson of the Wits branch of the now defunct South African Liberal Student Association; arguably the precursor what is now a growing army of liberal youths.
Fast track to the present, I now work as a researcher for the official opposition party in South Africa, the Democratic Alliance. This is arguably the most vocal party in South Africa when it comes to the promotion of the Rule of Law and Market economy. Its central tenet embraces an Open Opportunity Society, Rechtsstaat as opposed to the Machtsstaat tendencies of the ruling party which are now insidiously permeating our economic, social and political fabric.
The benefits I could derive from the discussions at the Freedom Fest will be invaluable for my party and by extension the protection of the Rule of Law in South Africa. I hope to establish friendships and intellectual networks whose experiences can help with some of the thorny questions here at home.
Being a researcher means that whatever I write, through our Members of Parliament, ends up in the Assembly, Portfolio Committees, or at the table of the Ministers or MEC’s themselves. An example of this was the very instrumental intervention I played towards the stalling of the then Expropriation Bill.
In addition, being an aspirant Member of Parliament myself in 2014 (with all modesty I am being encouraged by senior party members to stand), the lessons from the Freedom Fest will be invaluable to me as a future law maker.
Even though I very much detest the race card myself, it is unfortunate in South Africa’s highly racialised politics that if we are to make gains in promoting the free market system, blacks like me are most suitable. It is easy for the left to denounce our fellow white South Africa libertarians as Apartheid sympathizers and market economy as the guise to protect white economic privilege.
Needless to say that I am immune from such unwarranted and hurtful criticism but also that any further exposure, training and reorientation to the ideas of freedom on my part will always be appreciated.
Consequently, the reasons I should be sent to the Freedom Fest are manifold: I have the appropriate ideological outlook, I have the most suitable occupation to pursue liberal policies, and lastly with much hesitation I have enough melanin content.