On 21 March, South Africans celebrated Human Rights Day, enjoying a day off work and reflecting on what progress the country has made since the fall of the Apartheid government and our first democratic elections in 1994. President Jacob Zuma celebrated the day in King Williamstown where he addressed a gathering on the subject of socio-economic rights. The President said our country “needs liberated minds in order to achieve radical economic transformation. In the same speech, he assured recipients of government social grants that they would receive their money at the end of the month. While I may agree with the President that much progress has been made since 1994, it defeats me to see how liberated minds can possibly be linked to government hand-outs.
The Constitution of South Africa protects all South Africans equally under the law. We live in a country where, especially after the downfall of the Apartheid system, the reach of government ought to be limited. Why, then, do we operate under the assumption that the state must be the caretaker of all people? While free people can agree to provide assistance to their fellow citizens who may be struggling or indigent, the view that, without the state, those people would be helpless, philosophically removes their dignity, their agency and their individuality.
The time and money spent on the hearing into the social-grant crisis is a prime example of a government solution to a government-caused problem. Instead of investing in meaningful and lasting change through methods such as title deeds, the protection of property rights and the cutting of taxes imposed on all South Africans, we simply allow matters to proceed unopposed as we lurch from one government crisis to another, every time fooled into expecting a different result.
Government grants serve a purpose, but that purpose wouldn’t be needed if the 9 million unemployed people in South Africa had jobs. If we had fewer regulations and government spending was cut (meaning less taxes have to be paid) these 9 million could earn money for themselves, start businesses and employ others. We must make it easier for people to lessen their dependence on the state, not increase it. The government is a necessary force in society, which protects our rights because we grant it a monopoly on force to do exactly that. Government grants can only exist if people pay their taxes – why do we not make it easier for people to care for each other by cutting taxes? Once we do so, it is one less burden on the shoulders of people who are trying to make a living for themselves.
The use of buzz-phrases such as “radical economic transformation”, by politicians of all stripes, is becoming exceedingly frustrating and diminishes the agency of poorer people in this country. By convincing people that government can provide the solutions to all their problems, that government bureaucrats know better how they should run their lives, and that to obtain wealth they have to take something from others, politicians and commentators on the left are consistently frustrating the progress we could be making in this country. Government grants and liberated minds are not intimately linked – they are diametrically opposed. The institution of government grants assumes that the government gives us agency, that the government is the driver of society and that people have to base their lives on monthly interactions with the state.
Instead of telling South Africans that they will have to continue depending on the government, the President could give a truly moral speech by applauding the businesses that ordinary South Africans have started, the ways in which they continue to improve their lives despite government regulation, the innovative methods they pursue to trade with each other and the world. If he really wants people to liberate their minds, all politicians and society must end their dependence on the government and its edicts. For the phrase “liberated minds” to have substantive meaning, the reach and power of government must be drastically cut. People have to be free to live their lives as they see fit, to own property and to use their money as they see fit. From schooling to commentary in the media, we must jettison the assumption that we are government dependents; we need to be free.
Author Chris Hattingh is an intern at the Free Market Foundation. This article 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 Free Market Foundation.