Ubuntu, the free-market way
- Ivo Vegter
- 18 Apr 2011 09:37 (South Africa)
In January, Jan Scannell, whom I only knew online as Jan Braai, world-record-holder and author of the phrase “may the wors be with you”, contacted me with a note that he'd like to come braai with me in Knysna on 17 April.
It wouldn't be the first time that a reader, media colleague or Twitter fan dropped in for a drink on their way through my beautiful home town, and I certainly wanted to meet the guy who braaied with Desmond Tutu and founded Braai4Heritage. I instantly agreed.
It soon became clear, however, that this was no ordinary meet-up. Jan had planned a 40-day tour of South Africa, visiting 40 iconic locations and heritage sites, to hold 40 braais. I would be one of the 40 hosts. It would be on TV, and in Getaway magazine.
This presented an interesting set of problems. I'm a freelance writer. Among the reasons is that I suck at organising anything longer than an interview, and corporate or government bureaucracy gives me hives.
Although I've chosen to make Knysna my home, and I dearly love this little woodcutting town with its enchanting forests and woodwork heritage and the iconic sandstone heads at the entrance to the river estuary, I've only lived here a very brief while. I have not yet driven my car into the lagoon, so I could hardly claim to call myself a local.
What happened next was nothing short of astonishing. Starting with Reneé de Bruyn, a neighbour, friend and devoted Daily Maverick reader, a network of companies and friends pulled together to help. She works at the town's famous Mitchell's Brewery, and promptly arranged to have beer on tap supplied. Any day with free beer is a good day.
To braai with, a bakkie load of frighteningly expensive wood – offcuts from the local furniture industry that is at the heart of Knysna's history – was provided by Kluyts & Co. More than that, they introduced me to their factory manager, Martin Lucas, who knows every trail in Knysna's vast forests, and played a big part in the story Knysna's great elephants. Reneé's husband, Stefan, a former goldsmith who now runs a master diver training outfit cleverly named Hippo Dive Campus, made his trademark potbread on the braai. He tells great stories about the wrecks of the Paquita and Emu, and his work protecting the famed Knysna seahorse, hippocampus (get it?) capensis. The Van Rensburgs, arguably the best butchers on the Garden Route, came from nearby George with superb meat and enough of it to feed us all twice over.
Tables, umbrellas, glasses and all the other annoying paraphernalia of putting together a party were delivered, for free, by Plates & Things. Salads arrived from Cornutti's – with free wine which I hadn't even asked for – and East Head Café. Both offered logistical help, including staff to help me carry stuff. The braai on which all of Knysna braais turned up from the local Nissan dealership. A great many friends and guests pitched in with food preparation, setup and cleanup.
Perhaps the most startling example came from Sue Landers, of the Oystercatcher, the restaurant of the Knysna Oyster Company which cultivates oysters in the lagoon.
Knysna had to compete with great locations, such as the edge of Kimberley's Big Hole, the cliffs above Augrabies, and the top of Spion Kop. We have the Heads, so I wasn't too worried. But we also had to compete with a marvellous array of local South African food. So when the oyster supplier ran out of stock, I had a crisis. I went to Sue.
“Sue, I have a crisis,” I said. She asked me how she could make it go away.
“I need 200 oysters, by Sunday.”
“Sure, we can do that.”
“And I want them for free, please. We're going to braai them with Jan Braai.”
“Okay. Need to know how to braai them?”
I had to insist on wearing a Knysna Oyster Company t-shirt, to give her some thanks for her generous help. I nearly cried.
The point of all this is not only that these people have earned a little publicity. It is that the entire braai, from oysters to beer to meat to the things you eat them with, came together like a dream. It did not cost me or Jan Braai a cent. Other than obtaining the required permissions in case we caused public riots or forest fires, it did not require support, promotion or organisation from the local authorities. I couldn't even convince the people whose bakkie I borrowed (thanks, Phillip and Sanchia O'Riordan) that I probably ought to pay for the diesel.
This got me to thinking. I have a reputation as a hardcore free-market capitalist. I believe self-interest is the primary motivator for human action, and that governments shouldn't interfere with free economic choices of individuals. I believe that this will result in the most prosperous and most just society for everyone.
How does this outpouring of voluntarism and generosity taint my apparent image as a cold-hearted industrialist who enslaves and exterminates people for profit (see the comments on last week's column)?
The answer is that it doesn't. The success of Knysna's Braai4Heritage event underlined for me an important reason why I have so much faith in people to act freely on their own account, instead of having to be coerced into caring about their society by rules and regulations and restrictions.
The notion of contributing to your community – the “pay it forward” principle, if you like – is not mutually exclusive with a strict free-market philosophy. In fact, self-interest motivates people to do exactly that. The ability to exercise our individual human rights does not impose on us “responsibilities”. It does, however, depend on strong social relations. The better they work in our local communities, the better-off its individual members become.
That's why so many of us contribute time or money to charities dear to our hearts. Making a profit is entirely dependent on your ability to provide for the needs and wants of someone else. Serving others is a fundamental prerequisite of working for your own self-interest.
Ultimately, I think, it does not matter whether you self-identify as a free-market capitalist or a philanthropist or a left-wing socialist. Ultimately, the need for strong social bonds is why people are generous with their time and treasure, as they demonstrated so graciously on Sunday in a town where I now truly feel at home.
This ties in very neatly with the ultimate aim of the day. It wasn't just to eat braaied oysters and drink free beer. The aim was to promote Heritage Day (24 September) as National Braai Day.
Photo: Ivo Vegter (left) with Jan Braai, tasting freshly-braaied Knysna oysters at The Heads.
Jan Braai spoke to me about “Koninginnedag” (Queen's Day) in Holland. Being Dutch by birth, I'm well familiar with it. It is an unashamed celebration of national heritage. Flags fly from every house, parties are held in every square, and a celebratory madness overtakes the entire country. It does not need government to organise it, nor does it require official rallies, nor do people feel obliged to “do something” out of a sense of civic duty. It just happens spontaneously in towns, cities and local communities, because free people join together to celebrate what they have in common.
This is the vision Jan says he has for National Braai Day: South Africans of every walk of life, all its different cultures, spontaneously gathering to enjoy their common love for cooking food over an open fire. We all do it, whether we're black, brown or white. We all braai, whether our ancestors are buried in Africa's soil, or whether we're new immigrants who fell in love with South Africa's landscape and people and promise.
Standing around a fire, talking about our history, experiences, beliefs, sports and the weather, is ultimately a powerful force of friendship, bonding and reconciliation. Our individual desire to build a better, more prosperous, more trusting society is demonstrated in the marvellous way that 40 different communities, in 40 different places, over the course of 40 days, pulled together to each put on a great feast for Jan Braai and the National Braai Day campaign.
On Sunday, unbeknownst to the TV crew and the Braai4Heritage team, two friends of mine who had fallen out many months ago stood next to each other, armed with knives. They did not stab each other in the eye. They were preparing oysters for the braai. They hugged. This made me very happy. Also, the oysters were delicious.
This is a small-scale demonstration of what National Braai Day can do nationwide. Whether it involves staff getting together for a company-sponsored braai, restaurants arranging braais on the pavement out front, clubs or associations setting up gatherings in our public places, or a church providing a braai for those who rarely enjoy a square meal, celebrating National Braai Day on Heritage Day each 24th of September has the potential to bring South Africans together in a grand, spontaneous celebration of all the things that make 50 million very different individuals one great nation.
For that vision, I salute Jan Braai.
I don't know where you plan to be on 24 September, Jan, but I do know that I'll be braaiing with a great many people from all walks of life, from all over Knysna. I now also know that one way or another, this will all happen, not because the government said we should be patriotic, or our teachers instruct us that it is our responsibility to celebrate our heritage, but because of the endless generosity of individuals, motivated by their own private reasons. For me, it will be a symbol of how individuals work together for a common goal. For others, it will be a celebration of altruism. For some, it will be a celebration of our natural splendour or history. For most, an affirmation of our united future. For none, of course, will it just be excellent excuse to sit in the sun, eating meat and drinking beer. We're not that shallow.
Whatever the motivation, I know one thing. If you're not here you'll be missing a splendid day in a truly generous little town. But I'll know that wherever you are in South Africa, you'll be with friends, because a lot of people will be making that grand vision of yours a reality. DM
- Don’t worry, bee happy
- Climate changers want to rob central banks
- The unquestioned recycling mantra
- How much does smartphone convenience really cost you?
- Governments tell you deflation is bad. Is it?
- Cowardly farmers’ chickens come home to roost
- Rhino horn: The proposal that could save the species
- Twelve years on: I was wrong about the Iraq War
- When environmentalism becomes a crime against humanity
- In a water crisis… Let them drink beer?
- Everyone is autistic nowadays
- The WWF weighs in on fracking economics
- Are the oceans really dying?
- Gunning for Eskom? Fracking could solve your problem
- The broken blue line closes ranks
- Fear-mongering – unhelpful in the fight against cancer
- Uber permits as protectionist central planning
- Design your own genetically modified freak show
- 13 ways the media tries to scare you
- Star Trek 50 years on: A vision of hegemony
- The toothless climate change agenda
- Apartheid’s censors ride again
- Only Big Tobacco and Big Pharma want e-cig regulation
- Since when do we believe the tobacco industry?
- The blockchain: How Atlas will shrug
- The mafia bosses and the gambling cartel
- The planet is getting greener
- The tinfoil hat loonies were right all along
- ‘The cheque is in the mail’
- WWF report proves the sustainability of growth
- WWF alarmism raises even green eyebrows
- Chernodeal: Shopping for discount nukes
- Star Trek, 50 years on: A study in sexism
- Let me mansplain statistics to you
- Free the hippies! Don’t ban their drugs!
- Which principle: precaution or progress?
- How to kill a baby, naturally!
- Miserere mei, the Ebocalypse is here!
- Advanced technology or magic?
- Tourism: Still doing okay? Let’s fix that!
- Green-left messiah desperately seeking spin-doctor
- The gun genie and its bottle
- On energy, environment, and regulatory independence
- South Africa’s schools of witchcraft and wizardry
- Grab shale gas opportunity, but avoid opportunism
- It’s about who you don’t vote for
- Free markets as a moderate position
- Voting: there’s still time to change your mind
- Green tech is cool, but not because it’s green
- How Mmusi Maimane swindled a vote out of me
- The case to elect Malema to Parliament
- The intellectual gnome, Chomsky
- If Malema isn’t Pol Pot, is he still dangerous?
- Do Malema's followers understand ‘agrarian reform’?
- Look ma, I'm defending Shell's record in Nigeria!
- Any weather is evidence for global warming
- U-turn prof finds his fracking fears are avoidable
- Ramphele et al: The world according to angry feminists
- On HIV/Aids and scary-big numbers
- Cherry-picking ‘grey literature’ on rhino horn
- 350,000 reasons to kill a black rhino
- Eight myths about libertarians
- New Year’s resolutions for other people
- All I want for Christmas is a fire pool
- In defence of Donald Trump
- My old South African flag
- Fearful Fukushima fiction fatigue
- Do we tolerate private sector corruption?
- In defence of a lion killer
- Save the rare wine and endangered craft beer
- Forever blowing bubbles: shale gas economics
- Promotion and Protection of Investment Bill: When “certainty” means “wait and see”
- This land is my land: a revolution
- The launch of SA's Libertarian Party: herding cats in time for 2014
- The African case against the ICC
- The fossil fuel subsidy myth
- Think of the little fishies!
- The hilariously misunderstood libertarian
- The sickly history of sweeteners
- Pants on fire, but they’re not mine
- The obstructionism of shale gas activists
- How mind-numbing numbers whip up fear
- Why pick on Khanyi Dhlomo?
- Half-measures will fail the rhino
- Malema’s righteous anger... and naïve confusion
- Lottery licence to go to one lucky winner
- Vaccinations: when the state stabs the people
- Do reusable shopping bags kill people?
- The long walk to serfdom
- The Karoo desperately needs development
- The trials of Samson Shuttleworth
- The girl who kicked the hornet’s nest
- Raping the discourse about rape
- Who is the reasonable man?
- Fracking: Debating a big deal
- Who needs the Queen’s English?
- Electric cars: Taking from the poor to give to the rich
- Business Licensing Bill: An indefensible defence
- Red-tape tourism
- The Big Business Bribery Bill
- On Thatcher and society, Vavi and the market
- Extinction: Let’s make up numbers and panic!
- Feeding the world is getting easier
- Stop talking shit: Build your own toilet
- Climate change is pseudo-science
- Anti-competitive competition law
- The Department of Less Government
- An open letter to President Zuma
- In defence of Kim Kardashian
- The world’s weirdest wildlife sanctuary
- Boycott calls are simple-minded
- In defence of vegans
- The population explosion implodes
- Environmental backpedalling picks up pace
- How Mangaung can help and hinder entrepreneurs
- The elusive libertarian enclave
- The Gathering: Ivo Vegter
- The hidden overemployment crisis
- The case for constructive environmentalism
- Privatise the Western Cape's shacks
- Tenders: Not open to employees or their families
- Hurricanes fuel climate sensationalism
- Next: Gross-out warnings on food
- No new deal: The failure of Zumanomics
- Benoni has a bright idea
- Was I wrong about acid rain?
- Public food gardens: Where dumb ideas thrive
- Rethinking the costly food label madness
- Give hunting a chance
- Fracking gets green light, but here's the risk
- Socialists, bless 'em, visit Cape Town
- Buy a 1Time ticket now
- Give the ANC credit where credit is due
- The myth of the competent apartheid government
- It's a disaster that 'peak oil' is not a disaster
- No Gravy: a label for sustainable business
- This lightbulb's going to blow
- Smokers? Get 'em up against the wall!
- Inflating the obesity scare
- Bring a Shotgun to School Day
- GMOs: Hacking genes to feed the world
- The hidden dangers of charity
- Fracking: the unread paper debated
- Fracking: The “U-turn” paper nobody has read
- Eco-cronyism is as dangerous as any other
- SKA: Be grateful Karoo residents didn't object
- Energy: Get cracking on fracking
- Fair trade, unfair trade-off
- Casual labour is only bad for Vavi's unions
- 'Externalities', the catch-all justification for regulation
- 'Externalities', the catch-all justification for regulation
- How do we fix our dismal education?
- Barter: the rebirth of sound money
- Rights are not entitlements
- Debunking 'limits to growth' inanities
- Tax: Why align with "most other countries"?
- Newspaper sensationalism doesn't help rhinos
- Rolling Stone reprises Gasland's fracking fantasies
- Cosatu's manipulative march move
- Why do 16 million people not constitute an economy?
- The age of smear politics
- Does fracking cause earthquakes?
- The Chinese model is morbidly obese
- Green tech: doubling down on a losing bet
- Rape, pornography, and hell's grannies
- Petrol taxes won't hurt the poor
- Jailtime mooted for bad weather warnings
- Let's ban bans, and start with CITES
- In defence of overpaid sport stars
- On the death of Kim Jong-Il
- COP17: Let's ban fire
- Cancer gets you when nothing else can
- COP17: The 'party on' agenda
- COP17: The Blue Line of Death
- New seven natural inanities
- Occupiers' anger is all that makes sense
- The Luddites and Technocrats live on
- Malema marches for economic slavery
- Profitable purveyors of pudendal prettiness
- Sense? Us?
- If they want rhino horn, let's sell them some
- "Stimulate" economy by ending telco abuses
- Executive pay makes nobody poorer
- Malema's real persecution
- Mogoeng: Lock up your daughters
- Don't mandate insurance, deregulate healthcare
- I sympathise with Malema's persecution complex
- Short selling: panicked pols ban proof of failure
- Don't blame those who saw it coming
- What's obscene about profit?
- In defence of Bombela
- Dear president Zuma, you are not above the law
- The economics of love
- Treasure the Karoo? Ban the SKA!
- Malema is right, you know
- Gautrain's PPP: political patronage profiteering
- Kumi Naidoo is no hero
- LeadSA fails to lead when it matters
- No logo means carte blanche
- The drug war: dopey but dangerous
- A response to fracking critics
- Don't vote. It's your right.
- Welcome Walmart
- If you're happy and you know it clap your hands
- Buy local, support poverty
- Ubuntu, the free-market way
- Karoo fracking scandal exposed!
- I'm ashamed for my profession
- The bill of bunkum
- Being gay: a brand new concept!
- Who's afraid of the nuclear wolf?
- The nationalisation canard
- Ogilvy should grow a spine
- The new robber barons
- A classy revolution: Why we cared
- Bombastic Bombela balks
- Liberty is more than mere democracy
- Gautrain has a law unto itself
- The irony of 'services for all'
- How to hire a hitman in SA
- Arrive alive and neurotic
- The oppression of taxis
- Protection of Information Bill and why WikiLeaks is so dangerous
- Fifa, Russia and Qatar deserve each other
- One day, we'll all hate WikiLeaks
- The cycling mafia strikes again
- What Julius got for Christmas
- Let's return the beads
- Away with fascist seat belt laws
- Tintin Mbeki in the Sudan
- How the ANC can make everyone happy
- Currency: the race to the bottom.
- Hurrah for national healthcare!
- Give Zimbabweans citizenship
- Carte Blanche has no carte blanche
- That finger-licking, lip-smacking taste
- Bomb the barbaric lot already
- Green tax: another raid is coming
- Do strikers deserve anything?
- The media will lose this battle
- Global warmism needs a fisking
- A glass half-full
- Go ahead, have a baby
- Stop the handouts - end xenophobia
- The right to fire
- FIFA's heart of darkness
- Have some self-respect
- I ordered an orange skirt
- Secretly, Match blames South Africa
- The stupendous Gautrain: a rare marvel!
- The Fifa conquistadors are coming!
- What's wrong with everyone?
- Leave poor BP alone
- The destructive power of government
- The bonsai economy
- The darkness of Africa
- Who is ripping off whom?
- Anatomy of a whitewash
- While FIFA takes over, we fight
- The pointless pretence of Earth Hour
- Ten reasons to reject climate alarmism
- Really, boycott the FIFA farce
- The climate dominoes fall
- Lessons in ethics from Dick Cheney
- Screw the consumer
- In defence of bankers
- Break the banking cartel
- Julius Malema, the walking contradiction
- Boycott FIFA
- Climate clarity
- In defence of Boney M
- Pray Copenhagen fails
- Capitalism is not unkind
- Climate fraud kills people
- Pop goes the hot air balloon
- Peace, love and schadenfreude
- The irony of the left
- Too late to cool it?
- Going cold turkey