Getting the fundamentals right

(This policy bulletin is an extract from Themba Sono’s  Five Steps to Real Transformation, first published 1999)

All people, in every country and throughout history, act in their own self-interest. This may seem contrary to the principles of ubuntu / botho / vumhunu, but it is not. If you have no love for yourself, you will have no love to give to others; similarly, you cannot share your bread if you have none.

Self-interest, operating in a free economy, will provide the energy that is needed to transform our country. The most important elements of a free economy are personal choice, freedom of exchange, rule of law, and protection of private property. Apartheid would not have been possible if any one of these principles had been observed.

In a free economy, each one of us is free to pursue our own self-interest as long as we respect every other individual’s right to do the same. I may decide, for example, that I want to become wealthy. I can do this by offering goods or services that people want, and by offering them better service, better quality or lower prices than they can obtain from my competitors. This benefits me (by bringing me more business and higher profits); it also benefits my customers, who can buy their goods for less. In this way, self-interest operating in a lawful environment creates a win-win situation.

I cannot, however, pursue my goal of acquiring wealth by stealing it from others, as that would violate their rights. It is a fundamental duty of the state to protect law-abiding citizens from crime, and to uphold the rule of law. But the high level of crime and violence in South Africa today is not just a problem of too few policemen, or overcrowded courts, or insufficient enforcement; it is a moral problem, and we must all try in every way we can to make South Africa a more moral society in which there is respect for the lives and property of others.

Just as we cannot sit back and wait for the government to eradicate crime while we do nothing, we cannot expect the government to solve all the problems inherited from the past overnight. It does not have the resources to do this. Very few South Africans realise how badly the apartheid government impoverished the nation. It:

•       overspent heavily and ran up huge debts,

•       employed excessive numbers of civil servants,

•       arranged costly government pension pay-outs,

•       embarked on massive loss-making schemes such as oil exploration, arms manufacture and synthetic fuel production in a futile attempt to make South Africa self-sufficient,

•       provided sheltered employment for its voters in state industries and government,

•       debased the Rand,

•       set up high tariff barriers which made our industries internationally uncompetitive and imposed high costs on local consumers,

•       imposed exchange controls which drove away foreign investment and inhibited trade,

•       maintained costly state industry monopolies,

•       prevented employers from hiring the labour of their choice,

•       misdirected the efforts of the army and police, and

•       imprisoned large numbers of innocent people.

All these measures retarded the country’s economic growth and drained the Treasury, with the result that when the ANC government took power in 1994 it could not, even with the best of intentions, deliver on its promises of housing, jobs, health care and education. Nevertheless, through GEAR it is making a determined attempt to right the wrongs it inherited. Implementation of the proposals in this booklet will simultaneously give GEAR the kick-start it needs, focus attention and energies on the future, and provide a measure of compensation for the past.

Source: This policy bulletin may be republished without prior consent but with acknowledgement to the author. The views expressed in the article are the author’s and are not necessarily shared by the members of the Foundation.


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