The Outstater

July 22, 2021

THIS COLUMN is dedicated to Indiana issues. That’s why I’m writing about South Africa and Botswana. It is important for Hoosiers to be reminded of the tragedy of failed economic leadership, reminded without the distraction of competing racial and political identities.

For South Africa is falling apart, and doing so all on its own, long past the point it can blame a white-dominated superstructure, and falling apart in a way that has lessons for black leaders in urban Indiana.

For decades, the South African economy has been shaped by a policy known as Broad Based Black Economic Employment (BBBEE), a policy using the same tactics to achieve “equity” that activists here are demanding. It can be fairly said South Africa is history’s first experiment in applied Critical Race Theory.

Does this sound familiar? Companies there receive a BBBEE scorecard based on hiring black workers, elevating black management and giving black South Africans a share of ownership. Companies with high scores are given favorable tax treatment and preferences in government contracts.

If there is disparity it is assumed there is racism — as simple as that. You can hear something to that effect at any Fort Wayne or Indianapolis city council meeting these days.

Well, it isn’t as simple as that, unless you like social and economic disaster. The disincentives to be productive, to form strong families, to choose accountable political representation, have destroyed South Africa, once the richest country in sub-Sahara Africa. The same elements, please know, would do similar damage to Indiana if we let them.

The collapse of economic freedom has driven the unemployment rate in South Africa to 42 percent. More than four percent of all deaths there now are murders, and the murder rate is increasing by 8 percent a year. The South African Property Owners Association estimates that ongoing rioting already has cost the country $3.4 billion in lost output, while 150,000 jobs have been placed at risk.

There hasn’t been a word in the Indiana corporate press about any of this, including last week’s country-wide looting, some of it by the police, That is because the media elite would have to explain why its simplistic explication all these years of South Africa being a glorious extension of a Selma civil rights march doesn’t hold up. Nelson Mandela was no Martin Luther King. He was just another socialist, now a failed one.

In neighboring Botswana, better leadership brought better results.

At independence in 1965, 72 percent of the citizens of Botswana over the age of 25 had no formal schooling. There were only 22 people in the country with university degrees and only one hundred had completed secondary schooling. It had less than eight miles of paved roads. Landlocked and 70 percent desert, Botswana was the world’s third poorest nation.

Since then, Botswana has enjoyed one of the world’s fastest growing economies. Lipton Matthews, a researcher for the Mises Institute, thinks that has a lot to do with how Botswanans traditionally handled property and the relationship between the ruler and the ruled:

“In precolonial Botswana, mechanisms created by the Tswana tribe acted as a bulwark against tyranny. Relative to other tribes, their precolonial institutions sought to limit the authority of chiefs. Chiefs were required to consult the Kgotla (traditional assembly) before presenting a decision, even though they had the final say. As a result, compared with other ethnic groups in Africa, the culture of the Tswana fostered dissent. Moreover, in precolonial Botswana, communal and private property rights coexisted. For instance, unoccupied land, which was abundant, served a communal function although the chief reserved the right to redistribute it to members of his tribe for agricultural purposes. But, on the other hand, private property rights mandated by customary law allowed for the accumulation of personal articles and cattle.”

Mathews says that the post-independence government of Botswana rejected the envy-driven anti-white racism that swept the region in the 1970s. Instead, Botswana embraced refugees from South Africa and Zimbabwe and they made a significant contribution to its economy. 

For instance, Botswana invited foreign capital but did not allow its mineral wealth to be stolen, channeling it instead into critical national institutions. It rejected the rank redistributionism and cronyism that characterizes the leadership of South Africa and Zimbabwe — and, come to think about it, characterizes Chicago, Atlanta, Detroit or Washington, D.C.

Botswana now has a GDP per capita that is the highest in all of Africa. It has the highest Human Development Index of continental sub-Saharan Africa.

Black lives indeed matter there. — tcl


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