I had the tremendous privilege of meeting and listening to one of South Africa’s greatest thinkers, Moeletsi Mbeki on Tuesday evening. He was speaking about his excellent new book, A Manifesto for Social Change. It is a fairly short book he wrote with his niece, Nobantu Mbeki, who is an economist. The book is packed with statistics about our economy, and full of suggestions about how we can make the country a better place.
During his speech, he quashed many myths about who ‘owns’ the South African economy, and addressed the land issue with facts and common sense. All his solutions and proposals were pro free market, and pro liberty. One of the things he said was that the elites and the underclass should join up and work to each others’ benefit. He said that that there is no reason South Africa can’t compete with China in areas like manufacturing.
I must however note that when it came to the Q and A section of the evening, I was really not impressed (I was at some times disgusted, actually) by how some members of the audience spoke to Mbeki. Almost all of the questions came from UCT students – you know the type: they denounce capitalism, yet dress expensively (they don’t mind handing over piles of their parents’ cash for those converse high tops), wear glasses they probably don’t need, and use big words they probably don’t understand. They were disrespectful and rude, spewing the same old Afro-nationalist tripe we’ve come to expect from them. When he calmly and rationally answered their questions, they replied with the stock “you didn’t answer/understand my question,” or insulted him by telling him that he is “pandering to white capital”. How disappointing that these people, instead of being open to new ideas and thinking outside the confines of what is popular among their peers, rather choose to sit there with dissatisfied looks on their faces. Mbeki joked at one point that he needs to see Prof. Max Price and ask him what exactly they are teaching students at UCT.
All in all, it was a nice evening and good to hear Mbeki’s ideas. What is so disappointing about hearing these ideas and suggestions is that his views, together with those of the likes of the Free Market Foundation, the Institute of Race Relations, and numerous other economists, won’t be taken seriously by those in power.