No other Human Right is as important as individual liberty

South Africa is sickening and the spirit of its people is dying. The chalice from which they are drinking is not poisoning their bodies; it is poisoning their minds. What will stop this process that if not halted will tear apart a potentially great nation?

When Nelson Mandela became President in 1994, there was joy across the length and breadth of the country, from its largest cities to its most remote villages. Apartheid was gone; the racial leech that had bled the good will from the country’s people for so long could disappear into the mists of time. Desmond Tutu’s “rainbow nation” could start healing itself.

In the second year of Madiba’s presidency, the process of healing was threatened in a manner that only South Africans could understand. There was a dispute over the Springbok emblem worn by SA rugby teams. President Mandela magnificently stopped the dispute in its tracks. Appearing at the final match of the 1995 World Cup in a jersey identical to that of the Springbok captain, Francois Pienaar, the much-loved President made large men cry with joy, his deft stroke of genius sending out an unsurpassable message of conciliation.

Last week the Sowetan wrote about the vision of OR Tambo in which he is reported to have said, in speaking about black consciousness: ““Basically, the struggle is for justice, for human rights. And because it is a struggle for justice, it is capable of being supported by all human beings who support just causes, irrespective of what race they belong to. There it should be possible, even in the South African situation, for many whites to participate and join and to sacrifice in a struggle to ensure majority rights. At that point what is called black consciousness begins to change and increasingly assumes the form of what we have been talking about all the time in the ANC – the struggle for a non-racial South Africa.”

The concern of many of us who subscribe to OR’s vision is that the essence of the vision – a non-racial South Africa – is being forgotten in another less noble struggle – a struggle to utilise political power to do what the apartheid regime did – to illegitimately take property from people and to deprive them of the rights they should enjoy in a “democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law” as promised by our constitution.

Deprivation of rights can take many forms but SA has an ignominious history of depriving people of their rights based on the colour of their skins.

Many of us subscribed rather to the vision so eloquently described by Martin Luther King Jr. when he said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.” We also took note of his warning: “But there is something that I must say to my people...In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.”

If we want our SA nation to have true freedom we must remove racial discrimination from our statute books. Otherwise nothing will have changed except that victim and persecutor will have exchanged roles.

The word “freedom” has unfortunately been interpreted in various ways. In the sense in which most of us understand the word, it means individual liberty. However, to others it means freedom from want, imposing obligations on others to supply whatever is needed. A free society can only exist if we interpret “freedom” to mean individual liberty.

Liberty requires the observance of a single moral imperative, which is intrinsic in human nature, that the means to our ends should not involve force or fraud. All human interaction in a free society should be governed by this principle for as F. A. Hayek said, "It is only because we are free in the choice of our means that we are also free in the choice of our ends".

What evidence is there that SA is going astray? The signs are to be found in a lack of equality before the law; a perpetuation of the discrimination endured under apartheid. There are arbitrary compulsions and prohibitions that are imposed on some and not on others.

We find young medical graduates being instructed to work in places that are not of their choosing, while other graduates are not. Taxi owners who own roadworthy vehicles, who have not been found guilty of any offence, being instructed to hand them over to the government for destruction. These people are being deprived of legitimate choices to achieve their ends.

Firms are instructed as to whom they may employ, whom their business partners should be, at what prices they may sell their products, and increasingly their choices are being limited. We have mass unemployment because the unemployed have been deprived of freedom of contract; they are not entitled to make any agreement they wish with employers – it is forbidden.

What kind of society are we creating for future generations? Do we not want a warm, generous, affluent and peaceful nation? If we do, we must choose liberty as the most important human right, and all the best characteristics of our people will gain the upper hand.

Author: Temba A. Nolutshungu is a director of 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 Foundation.

FMF Feature Article / 26 June 2007

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