Imagine for a moment that after a herculean effort raising capital you are able to start a business. A business that employs some people in your community who, previously, had been living in poverty. A business serving the needs of its customers, consenting adults who also happen to be poor.
Now imagine a politician comes into town and tells you that your business must be shut down because it fails to adhere to some obscure condition in your licence. Something like this happened when the MEC for Economic Development in Kwa-Zulu Natal, visited my hometown of Newcastle.
The story, as reported by the Newcastle Advertiser (there’s an accompanying video) is that the MEC came into town on 19 February and started flexing his muscles. A tavern owner was threatened with the withdrawal of his operating licence because patrons were drinking on his property, not the government’s property. His customers are presumably adults who gave him their custom willingly.
The MEC arrived with immigration officials who arrested a man of Congolese origin, not for doing anything violent but for simply being a human being who was born on the wrong side of an arbitrary line called a border. The officials arresting this innocent man were heard (on the video) saying in Zulu: “Put some handcuffs on him, I want him to feel pain.”
As if that was not enough, the MEC took it upon himself to order the removal of two shipping containers being used on the man’s property as a hair salon and a barber shop. The entire exercise was a violation of one individual’s property rights using the flimsy excuses of bylaws and legislation, all for some superficial political reasons rather than the constitutional rights that are supposed to define our society.
The Economic Development Department showed its true colours to the people of Newcastle. It seems to want exactly the opposite of what its name suggests. Far from promoting economic development, it appears intent on shutting down every avenue for the economic upliftment of the people of Newcastle, a sad state of affairs given that, according to the 2011 census, my hometown had a 37.4% unemployment rate using the official definition. This was at 49% for the youth (15-34 year-olds).
These actions of a provincial department in an election year show us exactly why South Africans are suffering. This kind of strong-arm behaviour is a major reason why there are almost 10 million unemployed people in the country. Political considerations outweigh the economic needs of the citizenry. Politicians would rather shut down productive businesses, businesses that create employment, if those businesses are not the ones politicians approve of.
If this kind of thinking continues, what is already a tragic situation is likely to be made worse. The simple fact is that South Africans have it within themselves to get out of poverty without any government help but the government, under the guise of offering assistance, keeps getting in their way.
Trade with each other is how humans build prosperity, utilising what they have available to them to build and get what they want. Nothing can stop this inevitable march to progress except the use of violence. Government’s (un)liberal use of mafia tactics against peaceful business owners are a symptom of this regressive force.
By Mpiyakhe Dhlamini, a data science researcher at the Free Market Foundation