Free Market Foundation president Leon Louw resigns following organisational fracture
Bitter, angry, resigned. The founder and president of the Free Market Foundation, Leon Louw, has resigned from the organisation he founded four decades ago, claiming a kangaroo court disciplinary hearing was the last straw.
Leon Louw, who for the past 47 years has been the embodiment of the Free Market Foundation (FMF), has left the organisation in disgust after it fractured into two opposing camps.
In a long and angry letter, Louw said he had “decided I cannot ethically be associated with an organisation where those in power no longer represent the values for which the FMF was created and fought. Under the new regime’s watch the FMF has all but been destroyed and its values violated.
“We are left with a crippled shadow of a once glorious libertarian force. I have chosen to no longer work or identify with people I regard as inauthentic. It is deeply gut-wrenching, depressing and painful to see my life’s work in ruins at their behest.”
At the core of the split was a difference of opinion on how to position the organisation strategically – a similar difference in strategy that has afflicted other liberal organisations in the wake of the decline in the popularity of the ANC – with one side advocating an explicitly political position and the other favouring political neutrality.
The split is particularly acute for Louw, who has long favoured a politically neutral position, partly in an attempt to keep the libertarian ideas from being overly politicised and to rather root them in the day-to-day lived experience of South Africans.
“The FIRM’s commitment to independence and political neutrality has been replaced by personal political agendas,” Louw said in his letter. “The FMF’s positive influence across the political spectrum at the highest level is no more. I was welcomed by politicians of all creeds and factions, and they sought FMF ideas. Now it punts a politically partisan line. The politicised FMF sabotages my efforts to influence all.”
For the other side of the split, Louw’s views are outdated and rooted in a different era, and they want the organisation to be more specific and direct in its criticism of the government’s actions, spurred by an increasingly dire political situation and low economic growth. Members argue that fundamentally, the values of the organisation have not changed.
Louw’s ousting ironically takes place when the organisation has never been richer, following generous corporate donations for its Khaya Lam programme which helps township residents get titles to their homes.
Leon said the “cabal” of his “self-selected enemies” failed over nearly three years to drive him out, but then resorted in desperation to a “bizarre ‘disciplinary process’ in which I was expected to answer to multiple “allegations”. “Their ‘charges’ included allegations of me being ‘insolent’ towards Gail Day, a subordinate whom I had employed, and towards the disputed chairperson, Rex van Schalkwyk.”
The FMF executive committee said in a statement “Louw’s refusal to work within the lawful structures of the Foundation and work with its executives has been intolerable for the proper functioning of the organisation.
“Louw’s allegations of financial impropriety were addressed comprehensively with audits by both donors and independent auditors, who found nothing amiss. Louw’s continued insistence on something being amiss amounts to serious misconduct.
“Attempts by the FMF to resolve this problem have failed and as in all cases where two parties can no longer work together a parting of the ways becomes inevitable.” BM/DM