The acceptance speech by John Steenhuisen on his recent election as leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA) hit all the right notes. He accurately diagnosed South Africa’s overriding problem, issued necessary warnings, set out an excellent criterion for evaluating remedies, and put forward those remedies within an unashamed liberal framework.
“Bureaucrats and central planners” had robbed people of their destiny, he declared in the speech as published on Politicsweb. The state was “utterly incapable and corrupt, yet absolutely hellbent on telling you what to do”. People were poor because “government crushes entrepreneurship, growth, and job creation”. Everyone could feel the decline “created by decades of ever-expanding state control”. The government’s solution to the problems caused by excessive state control was more state control. “The more the central planners fail, the more furiously the central planners plan.”
This is exactly right, not least because it recognises the menace of central planning. It is also refreshingly different from identifying inequality as the country’s major problem and blaming that on apartheid, thus neatly letting the present government off the hook and providing a pretext for state intervention.
Then came the warnings about attacks by the African National Congress (ANC) on private property, private medical insurance, and forcing pension funds to invest in government projects. “No longer content with controlling you, the government now wants to own you. They are coming for your home, your health, and your savings”. Again, spot on.
Mr Steenhuisen’s remedies? “Take power back from the corrupt and incapable state that stole it away.” “Replace state control with people power”. People wanted to stand on their own two feet as autonomous human beings with the power and freedom to make their own choices. The criterion for evaluating every decision would now be: “does it give more power to politicians and bureaucrats or does it give more power to the people?”
This is the language of freedom and individual rights. It is also the language of limited government. As Mr Steenhuisen put it: “We are a liberal party committed to non-racialism, a market economy, and a capable state that empowers citizens and cares for the vulnerable.” Further: “Liberalism in its purest form is a commitment to give power to the people so they can decide for themselves how to build lives of value.”