The Hanseatic Approach

Trevor Watkins is the founder of the Individualist Movement, the author of two books, and a contributing author for the Free Market Foundation. He publishes on a blog at  

For interviews:

The views expressed in the article are the author's and not necessarily shared by the members of the Foundation.

The FMF is an independent, non-profit, public benefit organisation, created in 1975 by pro-free market business and civil society national bodies to work for
a non-racial, free and prosperous South Africa.
As a policy organisation it promotes sound economic policies and the principles
of good law. As a think tank it seeks and puts forward solutions to some of the country's most pressing problems: unemployment, poverty, growth, education, health care, electricity supply, and more. The FMF was instrumental in the post-apartheid negotiations and directly influenced the Constitutional Commission to include the property
rights clause: a critical cornerstone of economic freedom.

+27 11 884 0270
PO Box 4056, Cramerview 2060

The Hanseatic Approach

Everybody got the hots for glory. Nobody stopped to scrutinise the plans. Paul Simon
If South Africa was a horse, we would probably shoot it. But it is instead a one-horse country, and we have to find a way to save it. Imminent national collapse looms.
We know we cannot continue with the ANC. They actually deserve to be shot.
The opposition is divided, ineffectual and impotent. They will not succeed in our lifetimes.
Secession is complicated and unpredictable. At best it will lead to another government populated with self-serving politicians. At worst, it may descend into civil war.
Our future demands a different solution. Fortunately, history provides a useful template.


The Hanseatic League

The Hanseatic League was a mediaeval commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and market towns in Central and Northern Europe. Growing from a few North German towns in the late 12th century, the League ultimately encompassed nearly 200 settlements across seven modern-day countries; at its height between the 13th and 15th centuries, it stretched from the Netherlands in the west to Russia in the east, and from Estonia in the north to Kraków, Poland in the south. It is generally credited with the widespread peace and prosperity in the regions where it operated.
Echoes of this league continue today in names like Lufthansa and Hansa beer. A New Hanseatic League was established in 2018 involving the countries of Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Sweden.
I propose a solution for South Africa based on the ideas of the Hanseatic League.


The solution

Any proposed solution should have the following characteristics:
  • feasible, practical, affordable;
  • constitutional;
  • leverages existing South African skills and facilities;
  • prioritises peace and prosperity over ideology and race;
  • a proven track record of success. 
Here is a solution that does not:
  • require majority support to work;
  • require a coalition of minorities to agree with each other;
  • require large scale use of force;
  • require massive external funding (IMF or WEF);
  • require a widespread crackdown on corrupt cadres;
  • require a democratic consensus. 
Here is a solution that:
  • has a history of 400 years of success;
  • involves no coercion, corruption or sacrifice;
  • resolves the conflicting visions of individuals and communities;
  • satisfies both the secessionists and traditionalists;
  • requires no dictators, strong leaders, powerful interests;
  • serves individual self interests.

How will it work?

The Hanseatic League was established by businessmen and merchants to protect their commercial interests. It drew up a charter and elected a council, with limited powers and scope.
Anyone could join if they paid the membership fees, although it mostly targeted cities and guilds. It protected transport of goods by defeating pirates and brigands and fostered safe navigation by building lighthouses.
In South Africa we have many competent businesses and merchants. We also have many failed municipalities and districts in desperate need of good management. Let us bypass the whole political morass and establish a commercial organisation similar to the Hanseatic league to service the residents of failing municipalities.
We could call it the South African Free Trade League (SAFTeL). Its main objective would be to use the power of free trade and commerce to address
the many challenges facing South Africa in a non-political way. SAFTeL would have a decentralised, project-based management structure with a small but well-paid executive.
SAFTeL will give South African businessmen (and citizens) an opportunity to redeem themselves after years of shameful inactivity. It will not be just another business association, all talk and no action. Rob Hersov’s could provide a useful template.
Initially, SAFTeL would offer management expertise to failing municipalities, SOE’s and parastatals. It could provide protection and the rule of law to many mafia-threatened industries. It could privatise the failing services that government at all levels is too incompetent to provide. It could resist the power of unions and special interests. It would protect its members from the depredations of their own government.
South Africa is at the mercy of mafias and cabals. The aim is for SAFTeL to become a bigger and scarier operation than any of the opposing cabals, while remaining within the rule of law.


Fundamental principles

All members of the league will commit themselves to the following fundamental principles:
  1. Respect all inhabitants equally, regardless of colour, creed, origin, gender.
  2. No one may act against an innocent person or their property without their consent.
  3. Everyone has the right to own and trade justly acquired property.
  4. Everyone has a right to be judged by a jury of their peers. 
In time SAFTeL would produce a more detailed charter describing its objectives and rules of conduct.

What next?

  1. Establish a new company called The South African Free Trade League, or SAFTeL.
  2. Produce a charter containing goals, principles, and rules.
  3. Develop facilities (website, DAO platform, treasury).
  4. Develop services (security, legal, arbitration, trading, banking).
  5. Recruit members.
  6. Recruit clients.
  7. Begin trading.  

Manage failing municipalities

Like the Hanseatic League, SAFTeL could focus on recruiting the residents of failing municipalities. In 2021, 43 of our more than 200 municipalities were ranked as “dysfunctional”, and 111 were “at risk”. While a national disgrace, this does present an interesting business opportunity.
Managing basic services is not rocket science. Farmers and mines do it with barely a second thought. Privatisation of services is the key.
SAFTeL could:
  • recruit a few engineers and administrators;
  • bypass the failed municipal bureaucracies;
  • offer services directly to residents for a fee;
  • provide legal and arbitration support for freezing rates payments;
  • provide protection services to deal with any pesky protests;
  • manage tenders from new or existing service providers.
In this manner SAFTeL would assemble a portfolio of towns across the country to rival any political party, completely outside the deeply compromised political process, and probably get a reasonable return on investment in time. It would be a purely commercial operation, non-political, non-racial, legal and constitutional. It might even compete with well-run municipalities on a price basis.
In this fashion many towns and districts could become effectively independent without allegiance to any political party or movement. They would not have to adopt the one-size-fits-all approach advocated by the political parties and secession movements. The SAFTeL charter would provide support for businesses, reduced regulation, protection, while respecting local community interests and traditions. This is how it worked for 400 years in the Hanseatic League.


Other possibilities

If SAFTeL is successful, it could consider taking on other failed government projects.
For example, the Airports Company of South Africa (ACSA) does a poor job of managing this vital airport infrastructure. SAFTeL could spin off a company to buy these airports from ACSA and make money by doing a better job.
Public rail (PRASA) and the ports (PORTNET) are similar failed enterprises that might benefit from management by more commercial interests.



Many people seem to think that the same people who caused South Africa’s problems, namely politicians, are the only ones who can fix these problems. This article describes how business and commercial interests could do a far better job, much as they did in Europe for 400 years.
Economic freedom is the key to our future.

Help FMF promote the rule of law, personal liberty, and economic freedom become an individual member / donor HERE ... become a corporate member / donor HERE