Liberty is indivisible

We are at a crucial stage in the history of our country. Twenty-seven years after the adoption of a liberal-democratic constitution we have come to a point where it is clear to all of us that the freedom we fought for is being destroyed by people who place their personal interests above those of the nation.

We are now being told that the safeguards built into the constitution to protect the people from the tyranny of government were a strategy to gain power; and that they can now be abandoned. In other words, some of the negotiators are saying that they lied to their opponents in order to gain their agreement and lied to the people when they told them that they had negotiated "the best constitution in the world". This is not true of all the negotiators, only those whose lust for power overshadows the concern they claim to have for the interests of the majority of the people.

Why are we hearing these "admissions" at this time? Twenty-seven years after 1994 we find that everything around us that is under government control is broken. There is the perennial disaster of general and rotational loadshedding and in the process appealing to business enterprises and people generally to utilise or consume less electricity. All this is at great cost to development projects, high cost in jobs and economic growth lost. Added to that, the country has been downgraded to junk status by ratings agencies amidst a world pandemic. Many towns do not have clean water. The nonexistence of a functional railway system is interfering with exports and forcing companies to use road transport, causing the roads to break up. Management of cities and towns is breaking down and at least one third of them are technically bankrupt. Corruption is out of control. Crime is rife. Government hospitals, clinics, and schools are broken. The list goes on and on. A second transition was spoken about by the politicians in 2012. They, the politicians, really know how to buy time and deflect attention away from the failure of their policies.

What these statements are leading up to is predictable. Government needs someone to blame, so blame the whites, apartheid, colonialism, imperialism; all these being convenient scapegoats in the South African context. The problem government has is that non-racialism is one of the founding provisions in the constitution. Of course, this provision has been largely ignored in BBBEE legislation, government appointments, the awarding of tenders to the politically connected and other issues, to the detriment of the economy, good governance and all these especially at great cost to what could have been delivered to the poor. Imagine schools, hospitals, clinics among other things!  Racialism, in not selecting the best people for jobs, was bad for the country under apartheid and it is still bad for the country.

The purpose in blaming any particular sector of the population is also predictable. It is to persuade the majority of people to support the scrapping of parts of the constitution that are intended to prevent government from engaging in theft from the people, such as taking farms from white farmers Mugabe-style and putting them in the hands of political cronies. It did not prevent them from taking mineral rights from landowners but lack of protest can possibly be considered to be consent. Farmers are not being as accommodating about handing over their land. But it is not only farms that will be at risk if property rights protection is removed from the constitution. All property ownership will be at risk.

Socialists believe, as I once did, that all property and the means of production should be owned and controlled by the state; and don’t think any particular person will be exempted once we all lose constitutional protection of our property rights. When a tyrannical government is finished with looting from others it will be your turn. And if you think that being a member of parliament will keep your property safe, think again. Imagine in the not-too-distant future after an election or two with a totally different government or ruling coalition in place that has its own malicious agenda in terms of identifying targets (individual, ethnic, racial or some other particular social sector) for expropriation of land/property without compensation, what guarantee would there be that your land and property would be safe?  Absolutely none! Of course, it need not come to this, but it is up to the people of South Africa, and especially members of parliament to ensure that they protect everyone’s constitutional rights in order to protect their own.

In my early years of rebelling against apartheid I believed that socialism/communism was the route to true freedom for all. I became disenchanted when I realised that this philosophy, which at first sight appears to be so benign and well-intentioned, is the siren song of those who seek power for the few over the many. It was then that I discovered that true freedom does not come about because of what governments do but what they are prevented from doing.

My philosophical mentor in discovering the truth was the late American economist Professor Walter E Williams, a remarkable and great man. I watched a video of a speech he gave on a visit to South Africa. Initially I could not believe that a black man could have views such as he was expressing. In the video, Professor Williams said: "the solution to South Africa's problems is not special programmes, it's not affirmative action, it's not handouts, and it's not welfare. It is freedom. Because if you look around the world and you look for rich people, diverse people who have the ability to get along fairly well, you are also looking at a society where there are relatively large amounts of individual freedom." He caused me to start searching for the true meaning of freedom. The search has led me to read many books and articles and taken me to many places, such as Austria, Chile, the Czech Republic (in 1991 when it was part of Czechoslovakia) Germany, Kenya, the Philippines, Russia, Sweden, Tanzania, the UK, USA and Zambia.

In his book South Africa's War Against Capitalism, published in 1989, Professor Williams had the following advice for South Africans, "Now – in order to promote tranquillity, dignity for the individual, and prosperity for all – South Africa's people must strengthen its beleaguered market forces, and declare war against centralised government power."

It is the kind of individual freedom that Professor Walter Williams writes about that we should be pursuing in South Africa. That is what I fought for and that is what most people in this country want. They do not want the enslavement of whites or any other ethnic or racial group as we were enslaved. Everyone, and I, want freedom for all. Freedom is indivisible; it is not possible to have freedom for some and not for others in the same country.

This article was first published on City Press on 15 February 2021.
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