Stand Up For Liberty

In this March 26, 2012 file photo, Tibetan exile Jamphel Yeshi screams as he runs engulfed in flames after setting himself on fire at a protest in New Delhi, India, against Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit to India. Yeshi died two days later while hundreds of other activists were being held without charge before the president's arrival. Hu arrived in New Delhi for a summit with India, Russia, Brazil and South Africa. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup, File)

I believe a strong case can be made that liberalism has not taken hold in South Africa; indeed, our imperfect constitution is more liberal than most of the people of this country. That explains why an ANC rooted in communist/nationalist principles could enjoy so much support for so long.

What can be done?

I don’t believe that your average South African is unwilling to accept the notion that each individual’s interests are best represented by that individual rather than a collective of some sort. We’ve gone from the equivalent of Middle Ages Europe in the pre-colonial era to colonialism, Afrikaans nationalism, and now African nationalism.

In other words, we have a tendency to romanticise our pre-colonial history because we didn’t document that history. At least the Europeans of the Middle Ages had writing. The oral tradition is highly malleable (the history that was written down is generally untrusted because it was usually written by white people and if you come into it being suspicious of all white people anyway, you see the problem), so when our forebears faced oppression for their race the oral history could be changed in order to facilitate a unified opposition to the oppression of that time.

I would bet good money that if you ask any ANC voter, they’ll tell you a version of history in which black people were living in a utopia before the arrival of white people. As I’ve often been told by my African nationalist friends, Shaka was a good king who used persuasion rather than force, who was playing a sort of game in which no one was seriously harmed and with no intention to violently dispossess other tribes of their property.

That sounds dumb, I know, but without any writing by people who suffered under Shaka listing why his empire building was wrong and how it destroyed lives through the Mfecane, as just one example, there’s nothing that has forced these people to consider the absurdities of their beliefs. The victims of Shaka are silent because it was both politically convenient and possible to ignore them.

Luckily for us, we now have a not-so-insubstantial body of African post-colonial history showing that things won’t be okay just because the person in charge has the same skin colour as you. What is needed now is people who won’t be afraid to challenge the dominant narrative that somehow outsiders can be blamed for the actions of the individuals we chose as leaders, and the supporting evidence for such an argument is being provided through the increasing liberalisation of parts of the continent. We can point to Botswana, for example, when Jacob Zuma blames the CIA for the downgrade of government’s debt.

It’s still not easy and it will require bravery to face up to the African nationalist establishment which has somehow managed to portray itself as a victim continuously since independence. I don’t know that politicians can be much help in this regard – even liberal ones, because, from what I’ve seen, their first instinct is to follow the crowd rather than stand up to it (I’m looking at you, DA – somehow BEE became liberal between Leon’s and Zille’s tenures as leader of the party).

What is really required is people willing to stand up for what they know to be right, backed up by evidence, and more importantly, a sense of right and wrong. People willing to go into their communities (luckily, South Africans tend to be social people) and stand up for the individual. I can make no guarantees that we will ever achieve true freedom here but I know for a fact that if we all stand on the sidelines waiting for someone to do the work for us, the battle is already lost.

So, stand up for liberty, in your workplaces, your social circles and your schools. The information is out there, particularly, I’ve found FEE useful for getting ideas about the effects of government policy on economic liberties, the Mises Institute is my go-to for public domain digital material on classical liberalism and liberty, and the FMF is where you can get detailed discussions on issues of liberty in the SA context.