Time to heed the thunderous shout of common sense

Jacques Moolman, president of the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Now’s the time to take the shackles off private initiative. Whether the orgy of looting and destruction of the last week in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng was planned that way or simply took on a life of its own due to massive youth unemployment and simple mob behaviour and common criminality, doesn’t matter. The damage has been done. Now we must rebuild.

Let the socialist academics, point-making politicians and other moralists add their pennyworths to the background noises of social media. Nothing they can say will remove the thunderous shout of common sense: only the private sector can get us out of the morass of incompetence and inefficiency that we have driven into during the last two decades.

We had a marvellous start in 1994, with a genuinely democratic constitution, plus all the checks and balances the world experts applauded – our Bill of Rights, our independent judiciary, our legal system, our functioning modern economic sector, and so much more.We were hailed as a Rainbow Nation – a lesson to the world of how multi-cultural, multi-racial, multi-lingual societies could succeed – the hope of an African continent that had seen so much fail.

Less than 20 years later, what do we have? An almost bankrupt state. A hopelessly corrupt and inept political elite bent on a socialist experiment along lines that have failed everywhere in the world it has been attempted. We have an epic failure of local government and a country ranked among the lowest in the world on any number of surveys, ranging from the performance of our ports, our railways, our airways, our economic growth rate, our levels of over-regulation of business, our sad excuse for public safety, clearly evident in our crime and murder rate, our unemployment – a list too long and too sad to continue here.

And now, in KZN and Gauteng, the inevitable result – an outbreak of anarchy on a scale not seen since the dawn of our hard-won democracy; an orgy of looting, some targeted at doing the maximum damage to the economy and key infrastructure, possibly carefully planned and stoked for political reasons, but descending into mindless criminality and edging towards racial and even tribal animosity.

But in this dark picture that horrifies all clear-thinking South Africans, there are glimmers of light. Among the brightest of these is the way communities in the affected provinces have banded together, often across racial lines, to protect each other’s premises and neighbourhoods to stop the looting from spreading further.

In places among the hardest hit, there have even been spontaneous collection and return of looted items. Perhaps best of all there is a greater understanding of the interrelationships that bind together the provision of essential food, goods and services, and appreciation that the blocking of roads and attacking and burning supply vehicles creates hunger, it does not solve it.

What we are seeing is true community spirit, not the manufactured solidarity of the political mob or the common objective of looters. This, plus the entrepreneurial spirit for which South Africans of all colours, shapes and sizes are known the world over, is what we need to harness for the task of recovery that we face.

There is no mystery as to how it can be done. The solution does not rest in the ivory towers of university sociology departments where utopian theories rule over common sense. It rests in unleashing the human mind, giving it the liberty to make and sell things, to trade and construct, to make a future for its owner and its offspring, secure in the knowledge that an honest day’s work will not be taxed to feed a gargantuan unproductive bureaucracy or be stolen by criminals.

Growing wealth does not need endless additional government rules to exist. It needs less. We can and must make the pie bigger. And we shall, whether it takes a state of emergency to calm the waters or not.

The solution to a better future is an unshackled private sector. We need now more than ever the protection and strengthening of private property rights; a repeated demonstration of and emphasis that no one is above the law, especially corrupt politicians and civil servants.

We need to be seen to be stripping away regulatory burdens on small to medium businesses like the licensing overload.

We must end labour laws that protect the few at the expense of the many willing to work even for less than the national minimum wage.

We must end threats of expropriation of private property without compensation, strip out taxes on business that only end in higher prices, and finally we must have a complete re-set of government thinking on a par with that which wrenched China out of poverty enforced by ideology into the first league of world economies.

We have the people. We know how to do it. We need to give full rein to the entrepreneurial spirit South Africans have in abundance. It will be the quickest way to haul ourselves out of the historical and economic dead-end we have been corralled into.

Now we need to review the role of socialist utopian theories as well. If we do that we can win the new battle that drew its lines in recent weeks: the fight between a free economy to create and spread the wealth, on one side, and, on the other side, the forces of outdated social manipulation, and traditions that, however noble they were centuries ago, now stand in the way of a growing population that must be fed and educated to compete in a highly competitive modern world, one which our ancestors could never have predicted.