Last week, I drove to Johannesburg central business district, to pick up my brother at the taxi rank. I parked my car meters away from where he waited for me, and walked to meet him. As I walked along the streets, I saw many people selling tomatoes, fruits, socks, toys and much more. Others operated small cheap shelter-less salons, while men pushed trolleys to various destinations. The entire place was filthy and congested. I wasn’t struck by lack of hygiene because I always see this when I pass by taxi ranks in South Africa. Most people I saw are unemployed; they struggle everyday on those mucky streets to make ends meet.
There are many similar places near and in Johannesburg – where low income families and the poor live. Their communities have been, for reasons we do not know, shunned by their local governments. There is no service delivery, no jobs, the crime rate is staggering, no security. The majority of the people in these places, where government fails to deliver, are black.
All the people I saw at the taxi rank were black. And it’s understandable – it’s the legacy of apartheid that still plagues many communities across South Africa, and our current government who ensures that the poor escapes poverty as slowly as possible by pursuing economic policies that kill jobs.
When many of us pass by these poor places, the immediate feeling is that capitalism cannot and will not help address the grinding poverty we face in South Africa today; that the system doesn’t work; that only socialist policies will help the less-fortunate – a serious fallacy.
In my article I wrote for Free Market Foundation South Africa last month, I argued that it’s always best when more than one person is employed in the household, than a situation where only one person is employed. And sadly, our government and privileged groups such as trade unions have made sure that only one person is employed in the household, if he’s lucky enough to have a job.
The first thing that we should all think about when we pass by these places is that people need jobs. We need jobs. The people I saw at the taxi rank last week need jobs. These jobs can only be created by the private sector. The role of government is to create an environment that fuels private job-creation.
This must be done by deregulating the labour market, privatising all key sectors of the South African economy, including education, abolishing the unnecessary licence requirements that must be met in order to start a business, no minimum wage laws, and many other policies that would free the market and help the less-fortunate find employment.
It’s not the government’s mandate to spoon-feed people; where it tries to do so, it always fails. Its failure is evidenced by failing public schools, crumbling public healthcare infrastructure, wasteful spending by various public departments and many other initiatives that mostly hurt the poor.
The role of government is to create a society where people can strive to be independent and nurture their own lives. Our people can only be independent and willing to face challenges only and only if they have jobs.
The destitution I see in Johannesburg can also be found in many countries across the African continent. It can be found in the slums of Kenya, in Nigeria, in Sudan, in Zimbabwe and many others. In all these states, free-markets have never had a chance to flourish. Rather, we have seen more and more government interventions, which have largely benefitted the political elite at the expense of the poor.
People who believe that socialist policies will save Africa are wrong, in my opinion. Socialism is very expensive and arduous to maintain. It does not do much for the poor, because those on the control sit pursue their interests that have nothing to do with the destitute.
I hope the people I saw in Johannesburg will find jobs soon, instead of selling rotten tomatoes that no-body buys; instead, of being regularly evacuated and their goods destroyed by the police. I know that it is hard to live without a job.
Every time I see the unemployed and destitute around Johannesburg, I begin to wonder what they will eat tonight, tomorrow, the next day and beyond.
It’s this sense of empathy that has prodded me to join the Free Market Foundation South Africa. This is the organization that, along with African Liberty, African Students for Liberty, Institute of Race Relations, will play a critical role in the fight against massive poverty in Africa.
Millions of Africans desperately need jobs. The only way we can meet their needs is through free-market reforms.