Hostages of Hope: It’s Time To Be Realistic About South Africa’s Future

During his speech at a pre-election event in Stellenbosch on the 9 of April, President Cyril Ramaphosa implored white, young South Africans to stay in the country. Ramaphosa said that “if I could, I will tie them down to a tree and say don’t leave,...

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During his speech at a pre-election event in Stellenbosch on the 9 of April, President Cyril Ramaphosa implored white, young South Africans to stay in the country. Ramaphosa said that “if I could, I will tie them down to a tree and say don’t leave, I want you here in this country. So, I want all the skills.”

For all his talk about wanting people to remain in the country, Ramaphosa’s actions prove completely otherwise. Along with supporting expropriation without compensation (EWC), National Health Insurance (NHI), the National Minimum Wage (NMW), the President has done nothing to repeal labour regulations which both keep people from getting jobs, and business owners from growing their businesses (they will be taxed more if they do so). Furthermore, the government continues to impose BEE requirements on businesses, showcasing their hypocrisy of wanting a non-racial society while making race the basis for empowerment.

I find it exceedingly difficult to espouse the ‘merits’ of remaining in SA if the President himself says he would use force to keep people here. Instead of concrete action which could give people belief in the country’s future, the President used fanciful language to appeal to people’s sense of patriotism and community. It appears that hope is the only currency worth anything in SA at the moment – but hope can only last so long when reality does not reflect even the most optimistic person’s ideals.

Ramaphosa could have, for example, announced that the African National Congress is abandoning EWC. Any strengthening of private property rights in a country signals to both locals and foreigners that their wealth and businesses will be secure, safe from arbitrary seizure by the government. Is Ramaphosa surprised that people are leaving SA? Once adopted, EWC will mean that no one’s property, regardless of race, is safe in SA. The rational move is to leave the country before everything you have built is seized.

Are young people, black or white, supposed to remain in a country which the ANC keeps holding down through its anti-growth policies? It is each person’s moral responsibility, first and foremost, to secure their own lives and their own happiness. They owe nothing to the society or community into which they were born – only their lives and their happiness is of paramount moral importance.

A 2017 government white paper on migration found that for every one South African returning to the country, eight are leaving. The very same paper also showed that the average number of black professionals leaving the country exceeds the number of white South Africans leaving. South Africa is not business-friendly. South Africa is not individual rights-friendly.

By every measure and metric, we adopt policies and laws which hinder individual freedom. We are lucky enough that we can see that every country in history which has pursued freedom has enjoyed economic prosperity, yet we think we are different. We think that if we adopt socialist policies which increase state control over the individual, we will achieve utopia.

It is sad to say, but the President’s words contradict both his and the ruling party’s actions in recent years.

A number of analysts and political experts are betting on Ramaphosa gaining a stronger mandate within the ANC after the 8 May elections. They believe that he is, at the very least, better than the alternatives and if he can consolidate his position he could make the big, meaningful reforms that so many hoped for when he won the position of ANC leader. It is my contention that this view misses the fundamental problem at the heart of our struggles in SA. Hope can only take you so far if it isn’t based in some way on reality.

The South African state is too big. The government takes too big a part of the economic pie for its own programmes. Why does it need taxpayer funds for these programmes? Because the state views itself as the bearer of what is good for the people. Without the government, who would provide us with water, roads, social grants, and electricity (that last one’s a joke, for international readers)? Our government has long ago abandoned its proper philosophical mandate, which is that government’s role must be limited to the protection of individual rights, nothing more. For as long as our government keeps growing and spending more, it will drive away private sector growth and investment, to the detriment of all South Africans, rich and poor, black and white.

Regardless of the party for which you decide to vote come May, I implore you to consider that party’s track record on individual liberty, as well as taking a close look at what that party’s manifesto says regarding personal freedom and individualism. I hope that voters punish the ANC at the polls for all of the party’s mistakes and gross indiscretions. Democracy means very little if the politicians and bureaucrats aren’t held accountable. Ramaphosa’s words, while said in the spirit of a joke, betray a feeling of desperation. The solutions are right in front of government: get out of people’s way.

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