I am very pleased to welcome Helen Zille to the IRR as a Senior Fellow in support of our efforts to unite South Africa’s moderate middle against the nationalist and socialist ideas that threaten the country’s future.
Her joining forces with the IRR marks the coming together of two of the greatest influences in the fight for South Africa’s future as a free and prosperous society.
The African National Congress (ANC) is now beyond salvation, having been reduced to a desperate power struggle in which corrupt racial and ethnic nationalists in one faction are at war with hard-line leftists and communists in another.
The business community is detached and aloof, unable to read the political environment, and beholden to the hegemony of ideas forced upon the country by the ANC. The political opposition is in turmoil and a vast effort will be required to save it from further decline. Much of civil society and the media sits on the left of the political spectrum, providing a following wind for the destructive socialist ideas that have become the centre pieces of government policy.
Addressing the Liberal Club at a dinner in Johannesburg last week, Ms Zille was emphatic that South Africa could succeed if it was able to defeat the ‘twin demons of racial nationalism and socialism’ and that, if it did succeed, ‘it will be in large measure because of the courage of people like those around this table tonight’.
The people around that table were the senior leaders of South Africa’s liberal community who have been assembled by the IRR over recent years to win broad public support for a new deal in which property rights, individual liberties, freedom of speech, a market economy and the rule of law become the basis of the policies around which South Africa rises to reach its great potential.
In practical terms, our objectives are that expropriation without compensation must be stopped; that the savings and assets of ordinary people are protected; that racial nationalists are challenged and discredited so that all race-based policies are repealed and empowerment policy is based instead on the actual established disadvantage of its beneficiaries; that complete freedom of speech is protected to ensure that failed policies can be challenged and defeated; that parents must have much greater control over how their children are educated; that communities must control what happens in their police stations; that many aspects of labour law must be repealed in order to price poor people into jobs; and finally that state planners get out of the way to allow risk-taking entrepreneurs to lead South Africa’s economic recovery.
Given the odds, Ms Zille was right in saying that ‘a great burden rests on the small band of warriors in this room, and our slightly bigger circle of supporters beyond’.
But the circle is growing. In reformist corners of business, government, and politics, the ideas and policies articulated by the IRR have secured important beachheads – as the implications of the failing ‘new dawn’ promise become clearer. From the very brave student activists of the Progress SA movement to the Renegade Report and Big Daddy Liberty, more and more reformist voices are joining the fight. By the end of this year, I hope that over ten thousand people, representing communities across the length and breadth of our country, will have got into the fight themselves by joining the Friends programme of the IRR.
However, Ms Zille warned: ‘Countries have failed to defend a liberal order in more conducive circumstances than ours. In fact, it is sobering to realise that few, if any, have succeeded in comparable circumstances.’ She went on: ‘Liberal democracies are extremely vulnerable to people who do not share their principles. And sometimes I think that this may have been the ANC’s plan from the start. It was certainly inherent in the theory of the two-stage revolution – in which the national liberation movement would first establish control of the institutions of a bourgeois democracy, and then use its “internal contradictions” to collapse it, in order to move to the second stage of the revolution, to achieve the socialist nirvana.’
Quoting authors Daniel Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky, Ms Zille noted: ‘The tragic paradox of the electoral route to authoritarianism is that democracy’s assassins use the very institutions of democracy, gradually, subtly, and even legally, to kill it.’ This, she said, ‘aptly describes the State capture project, which has always been central to ANC strategy, and is not a Zuma aberration as many people seem to think. It is also inimical to liberal democracy.’
You must have no doubt that there is nothing intrinsic to South Africa, its government, its people, its history, or its place in the world to be sure that it cannot become the world’s next Zimbabwe or Venezuela, which is arguably now the inevitable consequence of the policies championed by the government.
Given the dearth of leadership in business and politics, all that can stop this is to unite the moderate majority of South Africans around a new deal for the country, built on the principles of individual liberty that have underpinned the success of every free and open society.
Our polls show that comfortably 7/10 South Africans share those principles across all lines of race and class and history. Uniting them is the great unmet challenge of South African politics, as their unity will determine the trajectory of future South African administrations. If you are one of them, know that we are creating the opportunity for you to unite with your fellow citizens in turning South Africa’s fortunes around and building a great country.
Ms Zille closed by saying that ‘liberals have to keep on fighting’.
‘There will always be big battles,’ she said, ‘and sitting somewhere else, safe and comfortable in the world, is no way to fight them. It will certainly not make them go away. We, as South African liberals, need to fill the space in which we happen to be. Here and now. In my positive moments, and certainly in a place like this, surrounded by many of our brightest and best, I feel confident to say we can win.’