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Does Classical Liberalism Have a Chance in South Africa?

The long-ruling African National Congress is on its way to losing power, but could go with the "Zimbabwe option."

Last week, the Cato Institute hosted a policy forum with Herman Mashaba, a self-made millionaire businessman and libertarian, who serves as the executive mayor of South Africa's largest city, Johannesburg. Reason interviewed him shortly after Mashaba's political party, the Democratic Alliance, unseated the African National Congress in a number of South African metropolitan areas during the 2016 local elections. Since then, Mashaba has made some progress in tackling corruption and failing public service delivery in Johannesburg, but he has his work cut out for him.

Over the last 23 years, South Africa has been run by a tripartite alliance consisting of African nationalists (the African National Congress), communists (the South African Communist Party) and trade unionists (the Congress of South African Trade Unions). Since 1994, the government has done some good. Millions of houses, for example, have been built and either given or sold (at a heavy discount) to poor Africans. Drinking water and electricity were delivered to shantytowns and far-flung rural areas.

Being a relatively rich country, South Africa could afford to finance public works out of the general tax revenue. In normal countries, people buy houses (including piped water and electricity) with the money they earn in the market place. Providing jobs to the populace, alas, is something that governments in general and South African government in particular are very bad at doing.

The country is in a recession and the overall unemployment rate is 36 percent. Close to 50 percent of South Africans between the ages of 15 and 34 are unemployed. In the last 23 years, incomes per person rose by about 1 percent per year. In neighboring Botswana, they rose (cumulatively) by over 80 percent.

Over the same time period, life expectancy in Botswana rose by 7 years. It declined by 5 years in South Africa. Both countries were hard hit by HIV/AIDS, but whereas the government of Botswana did everything it could to stop the spread of the disease, the government of South Africa denied the link between HIV and AIDS and actively hindered the distribution of anti-retroviral drugs. (It does not help that South Africa also has eighth highest homicide rate in the world.)

The bad news, unfortunately, does not end there. The World Economic Forum in Davos has ranked South Africa's healthcare as 132nd out of 144 countries surveyed. The country's Corruption Perception Index ranking fell from 21st in 1994 to 62nd in 2015. And, according to The Economist, South Africa's education system is "one of the worst in the world."

It is, perhaps, unsurprising that the ANC-led government is increasingly unpopular, with much of its remaining support coming from rural areas, where the least educated and most traditional people live. The question on everyone's mind, therefore, is: What will the ANC do before the next general election in 2019? Will it observe South Africa's democratic Constitution, freedom of the press, and the independence of the courts and of the Electoral Commission?

If so, it will almost certainly be defeated and have to retreat into opposition. A break-up of the tripartite alliance, which is held together by political patronage, would be certain to follow. Or, will the ANC-led tripartite alliance opt for the "Zimbabwe option" and attempt to steal the 2019 election? Either way, expect to hear more from Herman Mashaba, and his principled stance for freedom and classical liberalism in South Africa.

Photo Credit: MastaBaba/flickr

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    ...much of its remaining support coming from rural areas, where the least educated and most traditional people live.

    Sound familiar, America?

    Or, will the ANC-led tripartite alliance opt for the "Zimbabwe option" and attempt to steal the 2019 election?

    SOUND FAMILIAR, AMERICA?

    Either way, expect to hear more from Herman Mashaba, and his principled stance for freedom and classical liberalism in South Africa.

    And also, no doubt, from the commies.

  • sarcasmic||

    Only uneducated yokels support liberty. Smart urbanites understand that people need to be controlled.

  • gaoxiaen||

    I'd be worried when they start printing bank notes in the ten-thousand unit of currency range. Taiwan's doing fine in the one-thousand range. The USSA would like to eliminate cash.

  • Will4Freedom||

    "Being a relatively rich country, South Africa
    could afford to finance public works out of the
    general tax revenue."

    Sound familiar, Venezuela?

    Who's rich? People or the Government. Never mind... silly question.

  • Bra Ket||

    "Since 1994, the government has done some good. Millions of houses, for example, have been built and either given or sold (at a heavy discount) to poor Africans. Drinking water and electricity were delivered to shantytowns and far-flung rural areas."

    Yeah I'm not getting this. It sounds like she's saying that taxing people and redistributing their money is "doing good".

  • Will4Freedom||

    Tell that to the critters in District 9. There was no mention of providing cat food.

  • gaoxiaen||

    I always wondered if they spit out the steel belts.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    No, everything is relative. "Some good" means that some people have houses now who didn't have them before. The clear read-between-the-lines message is that they are so bad that this is the best you can say about them. You know, like Mussolini at least made the trains run on time (even though he didn't).

  • gaoxiaen||

    A quarter of the population has HIV. So much for rising expectations.

  • I can't even||

    "Does Whitey have a chance in South Africa?" would be a much more relevant question.

  • gaoxiaen||

    A better chance than on the moon.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=goh2x_G0ct4

  • Rebel Scum||

    Does Classical Liberalism Have a Chance in South Africa?

    Not as long as their Constitution contains positive rights.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    Does Classical Liberalism Have a Chance in South Africa?

    No. I don't think it has much of a chance here either.

  • Philadelphia Collins||

    27% unemployment rate.

  • Free Society||

    Since 1994, the government has done some good. Millions of houses, for example, have been built and either given or sold (at a heavy discount) to poor Africans. Drinking water and electricity were delivered to shantytowns and far-flung rural areas.

    You're writing an article about the prospects of classical liberalism in South Africa and then you check off (racially discriminatory) "subsidized housing" as a moral victory for the ANC....

    There's no fucking way classical liberalism has a hope in hell of taking root in South Africa with a critical mass of people. But does classical liberalism stand a chance at Reason magazine? I'm more optimistic on that count, but still doubtful.

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    overall unemployment 36%
    50% for those aged 15-34
    Income up 1% per year for 23 years

    Add one of the worlds most dangerous countries [sexual assault is No 1, homicides number 8]

    and world's worst education system and next to worst in health care

    And Zuma is already on record saying that they need "radical" land reform to solve problems rooted in colonialism and racism.

    Hey, it worked* in Zim, right?

    *kept Mugabe in power for his entire life

  • The Last American Hero||

    No, it has no chance. When the change of power occurred, the first thing that happened is that they went hard socialist. A handful of farmers saying "Maybe we should go more free market and less redistrubutionist" does not make for some classical liberal revolution.

  • Free Society||

    If they went free market, they'd have to stop stealing land from white farmers. They don't even need to wait for the entire family to be brutally murdered and tortured first. They still sing "Shoot the Boer" at ANC conventions.

  • damikesc||

    Sad to think that the average African might be better off under colonialism.

  • Free Society||

    On an empirical basis, the black South Africans fared much better under white rule. It's hard for people to admit that any other people on Earth just don't have the wherewithal to build and maintain a first world society.

  • damikesc||

    I don't mean just South Africa. Under colonialism, Zimbabwe was a net exporter of food. Now...well, things changed.

    You cannot shame the current governments because Western values mean nothing to them.

  • MarkLastname||

    East Asians have done pretty well.

  • Free Society||

    I didn't by "any other people" that no one except white Europeans can build a first world society. I meant that it's hard for most people to admit that any other culture would not be not capable of the same thing. And yes the east Asians have done quite well for themselves.

  • Sidd Finch v2.01||

    If this is parody, well done.

  • Free Society||

    All cultures are equal so when there aren't equal outcomes, it because of colonialism or some other nefarious western scheme, right? That's not a parody?

  • Sidd Finch v2.01||

    "cultures" stahp

  • buybuydandavis||

    Or, will the ANC-led tripartite alliance opt for the "Zimbabwe option" and attempt to steal the 2019 election?

    Bet on that.

    Just as Jews need to get out of Europe, Whitey needs to get out of South Africa.

  • JFree||

    As long as Botswana is seen as both a model for development and a competitor to see who can be the most successful, yes classical liberalism has a chance in South Africa.

    But if the only 'classical liberal' model is some anarcho-libertarian theory - or if South Africa can't figure out how to get beyond the structural problems created by both the apartheid and the 'struggle' mindset, then no.

  • Sidd Finch v2.01||

    Where did this 'tiny country run by De Beers is actually amazing' meme come from?

  • JFree||

    Probably - the highest economic growth of anywhere over the last 50 years. Esp looking at where it started - a desert with illiterate nomads. It's now roughly Brazil or South Africa or Thailand. And they tax diamond mining (40% of govt revenues) - rather than subsidizing it - so their govt is funded via (roughly) land tax system not a distorting tax system.

    I wouldn't call it amazing but its a good model for post-colonial Africa. Esp since the next development step up (to Chile/Bahamas/Croatia/etc) is more difficult.

  • Sidd Finch v2.01||

    I was asking seriously. You have a meme and talking points. Where do they come from?

  • JFree||

    I'm not parroting some single source. These sorts of examples in other countries interest me. Botswana, Chile, Estonia, Taiwan. Stuff is out there on Botswana and obviously not all 'successful'/'amazing' propagandistic stuff.

    Here's (a lengthy) one - http://bit.ly/2sNgbXo

  • Sidd Finch v2.01||

    I wouldn't call it amazing but its a good model for post-colonial Africa.

    This is ridiculous. A tiny country sitting on huge deposits and run by a mining company isn't a model for the vast majority of SSA's people. It's arguable whether it's even post-colonial.

    Here's (a lengthy) one

    Sorry, but I don't for one second believe you, or anybody else, read that.

  • JFree||

    Africa is full of countries with mineral deposits. Most aren't deserts either - they have good land. And I'd argue that botswana is far less 'run by DeBeers' than most other resource countries are run by the Chinese or foreign multinationals or nationalized companies with grandiose notions of their role.

    Sorry, but I don't for one second believe you, or anybody else, read that.

    Ok. So you weren't asking a serious question then. Good to know that. Now fuck off.

  • Sidd Finch v2.01||

    It must be a coincidence that you people have the exact same talking points after reading obscure UN papers.

  • JFree||

    Not a coincidence at all. My people's primary goal in life is to organize talking points about Botswana so that you will be convinced to send all your money to us and then proselytize the glories of Botswana to random strangers on the street and the Internet. But you have discovered our plan and the secret tomes we use. You are just too clever for us. Botswana is now doomed.

  • Neil||

    "If so, it will almost certainly be defeated and have to retreat into opposition"

    Haha, What? I'm sorry, but this line completely invalidates the entire article. Nobody with even a passing familiarity with South African politics could possibly have written it.

    At the last election, despite a leader who was under investigation for fraud (for taking a bribe in the awarding of an arms contract) and who had been found to have misused public funds on upgrades to his personal home, and in the aftermath of a massacre of striking miners by the police (47 miners were killed), the ANC got 62% of the vote! The DA got 22%, which was only 5.5% up from the election before.

    There are no circumstances - none whatsoever - under which the ANC will not win a majority at the 2019 election. To think otherwise is to be utterly delusional.

    The ANC might see their majority sink. They might fall as low as 55%. The DA might reach the giddy heights of 25%. Quite likely, the hard-left EFF will eat into the ANC's vote share more than the DA will. But it is just laughable to imagine that the DA will get anywhere near actually winning the election.

  • dexter||

    Classical liberalism is the ONLY chance for Africa.

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