“Black man, you are on your own.” - S Biko
What did Biko mean when he said this? Did he mean that putting people with a black skin colour in power would automatically solve all our problems? I look around this continent and although I see black people running governments and those governments running economies, we are still the dark continent. The best of us leave for greener pastures, not because we no longer like the sun, but because we do not have the freedom to express our inherent brilliance.
Since independence, our politicians have engaged in one socialist experiment after another, driven by the idea that African traditional societies were communal and did not value free markets. Ghanaian economist George Ayittey has dismantled this idea, but it still persists among intellectuals and politicians. These misguided experiments have led to us being the least economically free continent on earth with a mean Economic Freedom Score of 5.73. The Americas have the next lowest score of 6.59 while Oceania has the best score of 7.25.
It is not hard to see why we are the poorest continent. We just do not trust our own people enough despite all the rhetoric around black affirmation and consciousness. Our government does not trust us with freedom and the dire conditions on the continent are the result. Anyone who genuinely cares about uplifting black people and solving the self-esteem issue that seems to affect us disproportionately, to bring about a true African renaissance, will realise that solving the economic problems is of the utmost importance.
We know what to do, there are decades of clear evidence that economic freedom leads to economic prosperity. The fact that we have ignored this for so long, the fact that there are only two African countries in the first quartile of economic freedom (Mauritius at #8 and Rwanda at #40), should have us hanging our heads in shame. Why do we put up with this? Why do South Africans accept their country being 110th in the world in the EFW (Economic Freedom of the World)?
This is a symptom of a people who do not have confidence in themselves, who do not fundamentally believe they are worthy of freedom. We keep accepting bad ideas on our beautiful and bountiful continent because, despite what the Pan-Africanists say, we do not believe that we can handle the responsibility that comes with freedom. I believe Biko would be sad to see the sorry state we are in.
We will not get anywhere if we do not accept the primacy of the individual and their rights, chief among these being property. This is not to say that people who endured dispossession should not get restitution for what they lost. In fact, a society that values individual freedom takes care to treat those individuals justly, therefore everyone who had their property stolen now or in the past should get it back. This is non-negotiable. We, ordinary citizens, should be at the forefront of fighting for everyone’s property rights. The mistake we should never make is to assign these rights to groups instead of individuals as this serves no one’s interests except those of the power-hungry.
In a democracy, it is convenient for politicians to unite some groups around an issue regardless of whether pursuing this issue makes us better or worse off. They invent demons for which they then set themselves up as exorcists, at a fee of course, the taxes you have to hand over to them. We need to stop falling for this trick and realise that prosperity can never occur in an environment of wealth destruction and diminished freedom.
We need to have the basic self-respect to do what will make us and our children better off. I cannot bear to live on a continent that is pitied rather than respected. A continent that exports its most valuable human capital to places where it is needed the least. This has to stop. Here, in South Africa, we should have a target of being the top-ranked country on the EFW within the next five years. That means cutting state spending and taxes, selling SOEs, deregulating across the economy - especially in the labour market and allowing people to sign employment contracts that we may not agree with but which are an expression of the will of free individuals.
So where to start? These are South Africa’s bottom five worst EFW variable scores:
Using the EFW makes it possible to see which things we are good at so we can keep doing them. It also makes it possible to see where we need to improve. So, what are we waiting for? Let’s get to work, we owe it to ourselves and posterity.
Mpiyakhe Dhlamini is a data science intern at the Free Market Foundation