‘Get over’ government: Stateproofing against harm begins in the psyche
Martin van Staden is the Head of Policy at the Free Market Foundation. He is pursuing a doctorate in law at the University of Pretoria. For more information visit www.martinvanstaden.com

A responsible society is one that does not wait for politicians to solve problems on its behalf. It does the work without standing meekly by or grovelling for permission. But before this practical stage can be reached, society must first, in the minds of its members, believe that it may take responsibility.

‘Stateproofing’, an idea coined by Sakeliga (then known as AfriSake) for its 2018 conference, ‘Prospects for state-proofing business’, is an exciting notion. When the Free Market Foundation also began employing the concept in earnest during 2023, we saw people’s eyes light up.

Those who might otherwise feel despondent about our collective future get excited about the potential of stateproofing for their families, communities, and for the country.

They rightly see it as a practical means to protect themselves from the immense harm of politics and state collapse. It is the vehicle through which you build a future, setting the pace, agenda, and incapacities of the political class aside.

Stateproofing, however, is more than merely a sum of practical steps. It is also psychological – indeed it must start in the psyche. Even those who get excited about the theoretical prospect of stateproofing are not themselves necessarily already stateproof-in-mind. But when the mind is not stateproof, achieving it in practice is extremely difficulty.

Mental stateproofing

How does one become stateproof ‘psychologically’? It is all about a mindset shift – and here are two simple examples.

have written before about the phenomenon of impostor ‘traffic wardens’ in Johannesburg abusing the commons. They continue to do so today.

Every few days one of my fellow community members complains on our WhatsApp or Telegram groups about these disruptors, imploring the metro police to ‘do something’ about the problem. The local Democratic Alliance (DA) councillor then defends the metro police, saying they ‘are trying.’

That is usually the end of the attempt – the problem simply persists.

These residents are not psychologically stateproof. They have identified a problem as being disruptive to their commute, and some of them have expressed reservations about safety. They feel intimidated. But they sit, meekly, waiting for the metro police to ‘do something.’ The DA councillor is too kind to the metro police, of course, because anyone who has spent any time analysing South African municipal politics, particularly in Johannesburg, knows that they are not ‘trying.’

The problem of impostor traffic wardens will persist forever unless the community itself steps in.

One way to do this is to organise the traffic wardens and pay them a wage rather than having them extort motorists ad hoc. This would also mean they would be supervised, and that they do not (as they have been accused of doing) switch off traffic lights to artificially generate work for themselves.

Of course, formally, it would not be inconsistent with state diktat to do this, because the ‘traffic wardens’ will likely be paid less than the minimum wage. What the state’s diktats say will not feature in your determination if you are psychologically stateproof – rather, only how to get the problem solved in spite of any such hurdles.

Another way of solving the traffic warden problem is to approach a local security company and pay them from a common pool of money to place their officers at every intersection the traffic wardens (allegedly) disable. They are legally allowed to intervene physically if they witness the impostors switching off traffic lights, as this would amount to damaging public property.

Yet another way of solving the problem would be to come to an agreement with Outsurance to deploy its pointsmen at all hours. The impostors have not – in my experience – interfered with Outsurance pointsmen when they direct traffic. This will also likely cost some money.

None of these avenues for solving the problem will pop into the minds of those who are preoccupied with the fantastic notion that the metro police or some other government institution is going to ride in on a white horse and solve the problem, or into the minds of those who obsess over regulatory formalities.


Another even simpler example, applicable throughout South Africa, is the plague of potholes.

That pothole that has been right outside your driveway for the past five years will, in all likelihood, still be there in another five years if your plan is to wait for any sphere of the South African government to fill it.

Either fill the pothole yourself, or pool money with neighbours and contract a qualified professional to do so. Yes, the local DA councillor is going to send angry texts about how municipal approval is necessary before potholes can be fixed. But if you are mentally stateproof, you would simply reply with a thumbs-up emoji.

Let the councillor worry about authorisations and formalities, and let the community worry about addressing the problem timeously.

If you ever find yourself considering calling a government official to do something or fix something that can conceivably be done or fixed without government, you have not yet attained the requisite amount of psychological stateproofing.

To be sure, I do not think anyone except the most ardent anarcho-capitalists can be 100% mentally stateproof. I often catch myself mentally holding government responsible for something that I know it will never in fact do – and, municipally, it has not mattered whether it was an ANC or a DA government – so I have to keep ‘pinching’ myself.

But it is this act of ‘pinching’ that psychological stateproofing hopes to inculcate.

Law and order

‘It is outrageous to suggest such a nonchalant approach to the minimum wage and municipal approvals! We are law-abiding!’ is a common refrain from South Africans who, unfortunately, believe that we live in Norway.

By being ‘law-abiding,’ you are not satisfying some higher-order moral calling. When people think of themselves as ‘law-abiding,’ they usually have in mind an abstract notion of ‘law and order.’ In reality, of course, by being ‘law-abiding,’ you are in fact simply being a mindless automaton complying with the codified opinions of ANC members of Parliament. For, ‘the codified opinions of politicians’ is all that legislation ultimately amounts to.

The same is true of provincial legislation and municipal bylaws.

There is law that necessarily binds us in conscience, of course, but it is certainly not all law.

Most of the common law binds us in conscience, because no opportunistic politician ‘made’ that law – it is law that was forged in the fires of experience over millennia, and it was subject to constant judicial refinement and adjustment in light of considerations of fairness, reasonableness, and applicability.

Respecting the life, liberty, and property of our fellows – stated legally: not engaging in mala in se – is also a transcendent legal requirement that no law has to ‘tell’ us to do, but which we are simply to do by nature of living in a society with other people.

But dotting all the is and crossing all the ts required by the political diktats of the National Party or the ANC, is not (ceteris paribus) binding in conscience. Ceteris paribus, because some legislation might well be binding in conscience. What I am saying is that each law must be considered on its merits, rather than throwing all laws under the blanket of ‘I am law-abiding.’

Rather than asking whether something is compatible with the political class’s codified sensibilities, inquire instead whether it is necessary to protecting your own legitimate vital interests, or those of your family and your community, and respects the freedom and property of those around you.

Get over government – at least in South Africa, and at least for the foreseeable future

As a liberal, I believe stateproofing (psychological or otherwise) is good in and of itself. Under the best of circumstances, government is meant to be a service provider, not a leadership figure to be mindlessly obeyed. The law (subject to the above distinction between legislation and common law) as a transient institution, not government as a necessarily whimsical and self-interested organisation, is to be obeyed.

That said, certain contexts lend themselves to legitimise stateproofing more than others. While I think a Swede would be perfectly within their rights to engage in stateproofing activities, it does ‘make more sense’ for a South African, or a Russian, or a Palestinian, to do so in practice.

Getting your mindset right is by no means the be-all and end-all of stateproofing. It is after all the most impractical and amorphous step in the process.

But I argue that it is the most important and the most difficult step. Once the mindset shift has truly been made, the practicalities will become more obvious, because the old (and extremely strong) mental block of ‘I am doing something wrong’ or ‘I owe it to society to be law-abiding’ will no longer be present.