The soul of wit
20 September 2017 18:29 (South Africa)
Opinionista Ivo Vegter

How Mmusi Maimane swindled a vote out of me

  • Ivo Vegter
    IvoVegterBW
    Ivo Vegter

    Ivo Vegter is a columnist and the author of Extreme Environment, a book on environmental exaggeration and how it harms emerging economies. He writes on this and many other matters, from the perspective of individual liberty and free markets. He is seldom wrong.

I was going to vote for Julius Malema. Really, I was. I had plenty good reasons to do so, and not enough good reasons to vote for anyone else. That’s until the DA’s Mmusi Maimane came up with the one slogan that could change my mind.

Politicians will say whatever it takes to get elected. Every one of them swears they’ll be less corrupt, and less corruptible, than the lot in power.

That is, of course, trivially true, if only because being out of power means you have no power to sell. As long as government power exists, private interests will find a way to corrupt it. Everyone has their price. A possible cure for corruption is to elect incorruptible politicians. A more certain cure is to withhold power from them in the first place, leaving private interests with no option but to persuade people to trade with them freely.

I have no reason to believe Mmusi Maimane, the Democratic Alliance’s candidate for premier of Gauteng, when he raves about how honest his party will be, but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. As AfricaCheck recently confirmed, in the only province it controls, the Western Cape, his party’s record is not too bad. Of course, it remains in opposition countrywide, so the Western Cape is an election promise. The real test will come in the country’s economic heartland, Gauteng.

But power corrupts, so I do not believe in lightly ceding more power to government than is necessary to protect lives and property, and perhaps provide a meagre few technical public goods.

I also find it hard to trust politicians who promise wage subsidies in the same breath as they promise tax cuts, and who say they’ll create six million “real” jobs by increasing economic growth, when neither employment nor productivity are primarily within the government’s purview.

The notion that government cannot create jobs may be an attractive oversimplification, but I’d much prefer politicians who explicitly acknowledge Henry David Thoreau’s motto: “That government is best which governs least.”

“Government never of itself furthered any enterprise, but by the alacrity with which it got out of its way”, he wrote in Civil Disobedience, his landmark 1849 essay. “Trade and commerce, if they were not made of India rubber, would never manage to bounce over the obstacles which legislators are continually putting in their way; and, if one were to judge these men wholly by the effects of their actions, and not partly by their intentions, they would deserve to be classed and punished with those mischievous persons who put obstructions on the railroads.”

This alone is sufficient reason not to entrust the Democratic Alliance with my tacit endorsement. But there is a far more important reason I am reluctant to vote for them, and it isn’t just that it’s too predictable a vote for a white boy.

I can’t vote for the Democratic Alliance because I think party members appointed to political office ought to care what is and is not legal. Unlike Robin Carlisle, the MEC for Transport in the Western Cape, for example. He preaches lawlessness to his province’s duly empowered and lethally armed law enforcement officers, in the hope of getting civilians to cooperate with his road safety campaigns.

My objection to Carlisle’s public statement is much more serious than just a libertarian twitch against nanny-statism. I’m old enough to remember Adriaan Vlok and Magnus Malan – the Old South Africa’s police and defence ministers, respectively – and how concerned they were about what was legal and illegal in their pursuit of civil cooperation. (Aside: props to Neill Blomkamp for referencing the Civil Cooperation Bureau in his film, Elysium.)

I’d prefer my vote to go to a party that would nip fascist tendencies in the bud, and fire bureaucrats who open declare their disdain for the rule of law, or who encourage police officers to “do whatever it takes”. The DA has not done so.

So I can’t vote for the DA because there are too many nanny statists, welfare statists or police statists among them, and even the free-marketeers among them too often just promise to be better at implementing ANC policy than the ANC. In fact, the DA has come right out and said the ANC was worth voting for until just the other day, which is odd for a party that has been the official opposition for 15 years.

I can’t vote for the African National Congress, either, because I don’t need a first-class seat on the corruption gravy train. The movement that liberated South Africa from the oppression of Apartheid has become rotten to the core. It has delivered what it could, and it deserves credit for those achievements. But the DA is right: that was then. The ANC of today is all about red shoes and fire pools. Worse, it’s about a conspiracy of big government, big business and big labour, which led to an awful massacre reminiscent of Sharpeville and Boipatong. I once considered it the legitimate governing party of South Africa, and voted for it, but it has irrevocably betrayed its legacy. It has become an enemy of the people.

I can’t vote for the Inkatha Freedom Party, because aside from one worthy member, Mario Oriani-Ambrosini, who was recently diagnosed with advanced lung cancer, I have no idea what the party stands for. That is assuming it stopped standing for being on the payroll of the Apartheid police state, or carrying traditional Zulu weapons and sticking them into Xhosa-speaking ANC supporters.

I can’t vote for the Freedom Front Plus, because I remember its birth from the Afrikaner Volksunie, an alliance of white supremacists and separatists that opposed democratic elections, led by a long-serving head of the Apartheid Defence Force, general Constand Viljoen. I do believe in individual liberty, and fear the tyranny of the majority, but I cannot go along with paramilitary throwbacks who wear minority rights as a fig-leaf for racism and wax nostalgic for the mythical competence of the Apartheid state.

I can’t vote for libertarians, either. There’s a mistaken perception that libertarianism represents the selfish interests of capitalists, as opposed to the freedom of everyone. Liberty is especially important to the poor, not the rich. As if to underscore this truth, the Libertarian Party of South Africa was unable to raise the deposit of R200,000 required to field candidates for the National Assembly. And while a Parliamentary voice explicitly dedicated to the cause of liberty would have been marvellous, I can’t vote for them if they’re not running, and anyway, I’m too old and cynical for a legalise pot t-shirt.

That leaves Julius Malema. I’ve argued why he ought to be in Parliament: The only thing more dangerous than an angry revolutionary in power is an angry revolutionary out of power.

But there’s a more intriguing reason I’d vote for him. I’ve always been a critic of regulatory over-reach in pursuing the ideal of a developmental state, most notably in No new deal: the failure of Zumanomics. I argued against claims that inequality matters more than absolute living standards in Ginidiocy. And in several columns, most prominently This land is my land: a revolution, I’ve spoken about the importance of full ownership rights to property.

It may be wise to ignore rabid radicals and shouty socialists, but I often found myself making arguments in favour of full property rights or true economic freedom, or about the corrosive persistence of racism or the proper limits of free speech, in response to Julius Malema.

That he starts so many valid and valuable conversations, even though he’s almost always wrong, seems to me a perfectly good reason to vote for him. That is true especially in the absence of compelling reasons to vote for anyone else, or, to put it more correctly, in the presence of compelling reasons not to vote for them.

My partner keeps asking me why someone can’t just start a Land Party, which would solve my quandary. It would promise to give all state-owned land to the people who live on it, thus fulfilling the promise of the Freedom Charter: to restore the country’s wealth to the people.

A Land Party would explain that you shouldn’t just vote for the party who’ll promise you an RDP house. You shouldn’t vote for the party that will actually give you the RDP house they promised. You shouldn’t even vote for the party that gives you an RDP house that will not collapse about your ears before the warranty on the subsidised solar geyser has expired.

Instead, they’d explain that you’re nothing more than a ward of the state without title deeds. You are not free unless you own your property outright. If you can’t move to where employment can be found, because you can’t rent or sell your house, you’re condemned to unemployment. If you can’t put up your house as collateral, you’re condemned to never start your own business. If you can’t bet the farm you were given, because you don’t own it free and clear, you can’t get the loans you need to invest in capital equipment to make it productive.

Even the Apartheid government built matchbox houses to keep blacks quiet. Shouldn’t a democratic government be a little more ambitious?

Of course, it is wise to agree with one’s partner, and on the matter of a Land Party, I could conveniently agree in all honesty. I told her I would vote for any party that turned my views about private property and land ownership into a slogan.

At first, that meant I was going to vote for the Libertarian Party, because that’s what libertarianism is all about. But I can’t, because they’re not running. That left Malema, by a process of elimination.

I was about to go nationalise a red beret from some overstuffed capitalist’s revolutionary-chic boutique, when Mmusi Maimane comes along. The sneaky, low-down Son of Godzille pulled a truly slimy political stunt. He announced he was off to address a gathering in Jabavu, Soweto, with a snapshot of a pile of party posters that said, “Title Deeds for All”.

I promised I would vote for the first party that put this slogan on its posters. So, congratulations, petty-fascist welfare statists. You win. Please don’t spend my vote on expensive subsidy programmes, intrusive regulations or lawless police.

Instead, please spend that political capital on protecting private property and advancing free enterprise. Please spend my vote on allowing an economy to flourish that can make everyone more prosperous and free.

And Mr Maimane, please remember, the nine most terrifying words in the English language are, “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.” DM

  • Ivo Vegter
    IvoVegterBW
    Ivo Vegter

    Ivo Vegter is a columnist and the author of Extreme Environment, a book on environmental exaggeration and how it harms emerging economies. He writes on this and many other matters, from the perspective of individual liberty and free markets. He is seldom wrong.

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