Shortly after I became a libertarian in mid-2013, my interest in South African history was also reinvigorated.
Of course, I had already been fed the ‘skeleton’ of how we as a nation got to where we are today, but I wanted to probe a bit deeper. In particular, I wanted to read history which was grounded within its own context, i.e. not tainted with the benefit of hindsight or, worse yet, tainted by whatever ideology dominates today. So I dug up academic journals from before 1990 and read some older books as well, among which Professor DJ Kotze’s Communism and South Africa, from 1982, stands out.
The book itself was an excellent primer to socialism and Marxism, and, thankfully, Prof. Kotze didn’t appear to be pushing any kind of personal ideological agenda, other than anti-communism. After I finished reading it, other books, some academic journals, and older newspaper articles, I realized something which I don’t believe has been sufficiently ‘problematized’ in contemporary South African discourse. Prior to 1990 South Africans, of all races, were having an honest discussion about the Red Threat – the totalitarian terrorist ideology which shrouds itself in a false concern for the poor masses and which always (like, literally, one hundred percent of the time, without exception) leads to absolute economic and social disaster – but seemingly during the course of that year, this discussion evaporated into thin air.
Intuitively, you might believe that the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Bloc was the reason for this, and I’m sure this was a major contributing factor. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the West had a collective sigh of relief. This was felt in no greater measure than in South Africa.
Contemporary commentators would have you believe that the African National Congress and its Communist Party buddies won a ‘war’ against the Apartheid regime, and, coupled with international economic sanctions, forced the South African government to the negotiating table.
But while the anti-Apartheid efforts of the liberation militias and sanctions did play a bit of a role, it was the collapse of the Soviet Union which led to the end of Apartheid. While half of what the Apartheid government did was to support its racialist collectivist ideology, the other half was to keep communism as far away from South African borders as possible. In fact, the Border War which took place on the border between Namibia and Angola was fought for this very reason.
The Apartheid regime was avowedly anti-communist (but it was, in its own nationalist way, a socialist regime), mostly because the Afrikaner community was very religious, and what the communists did to religious folk in Eastern Europe and Asia, sent shivers down Afrikanerdom’s collective spine. So when the Soviet Union crumbled (and with it, much of the liberation militias’ military support), at least half of the Apartheid regime’s problem was solved.
The Apartheid government’s concerns about communism could have, and should have, been of a more economic character. Instead, it was about religion and the preservation of culture, for, indeed, the government was not afraid of having some control boards of its own, in some industries. Civil society, however, did appreciate the more hellish economic consequences of that terrorist ideology, and did engage with it.
SEE ALSO: On the Suppression of Socialism by Martin van Staden
But in the very early 1990s, this disappeared, and was replaced by a completely new narrative discussing the future of South Africa without much further regard for the evil that is socialism. While I do believe the fall of the Soviet Union contributed immensely to this, I cannot help but think that there was something more (and I don’t have an answer to what exactly that was, yet).
This disappearance of our engagement with the Red Threat in the subsequent two decades has, in my opinion, led in large part to the situation South Africa is currently faced with – and one might argue that the United States and Western Europe finds itself in a similar situation – in other words, the first post-Cold War generation, the millennials, no longer appreciate the impossibility of, the horrific nature of, and the complete insanity of socialism. Nicholas Woode-Smith articulated this quite well to me when he pointed out the irony of South Africa seeing the death of socialism as a good time to embrace it.
As a quick aside, South Africans often forget that when the African National Congress was founded in 1912, the Soviet Union did not even exist.
Unlike many other African liberation militias, the ANC was not a completely socialist-inspired entity, and for several decades in its early existence, strove for property rights and individual freedom. Many old guard ANC comrades still share this sentiment, to a lesser extent. But the unholy marriage between the ANC and the Communist Party of South Africa, and the later adoption of the unfortunately-named ‘Freedom’ Charter, did place the ANC firmly in the socialist corner, ensuring that the ‘opposition’ to the Apartheid regime was not entirely dissimilar from the state it opposed.
Today, the Communist Party and its hardline unionist allies prance around the Union Buildings and press rooms like it has won an ideological battle against economics. These individuals, deceived by our civil society’s unfortunate silence on socialism and communism, think that the end of Apartheid signaled a ‘go ahead’ of sorts; a ‘validation’ of their terrorist belief system. The assumption, nowadays, is that it is quite alright for people to openly advocate for socialism.
Naturally, it is their right to identify as socialists, but the problem lies with our response.
Not only do we tolerate it, but we encourage it. FeesMustFall was met with cheers of support from otherwise reasonable adults who should have educated their younger counterparts on the reality of economics. This irresponsible collective reaction by South Africa reinforces the notion that, somehow, a different set of economic rules now apply in reality, simply because Apartheid is over.
The Apartheid government, and South Africa as a whole, suffered greatly due to the State’s refusal to liberalize, and the enforcement of its ideological doctrine in affairs of the economy.
Economics hurt Apartheid because Apartheid tried to modify economics. But economics will kill South Africa because socialists think they can just ignore economics. People still respond to roughly the same incentives, whether they are white or black, and will not produce for the mere sake of production. The economy still sends incorrect signals across its breadth when the State intrudes in what would otherwise be dealt with by ordinary market processes; leading to higher prices and costs of living. Businesses still struggle to get off the ground, either because of the State’s continuous threats of expropriation, or because of arbitrary regulations. Capital continues to flee from our shores because ideology – rather than economy – was declared to be the nation’s most important commitment.
Nothing about the basic reality of socialist doctrine has changed since the early 1990s. It remains, as it was then, a utopian ideology which has only caused death and destruction.