Urgent “federal push” needed to save SA – David Ansara

Regardless of the outcome of the 29 May 2024 Election, a “federal push is going to be more and more urgent”. So says David Ansara, the CEO of the Free Market Foundation (FMF). Speaking to BizNews after the launch of the FMF’s campaign for Home Rule, he points out that the capacity of the State has been so fundamentally broken that it’s going to take a “very, very long time” to fix. He also calls on the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) to “recognise its bargaining power” and adopt an “aggresive posture” – in the same way the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) would – before entering into a possible coalition. “And the campaign for Home Rule is suggesting that those demands should be aggressive spreading of political power and authority down to the provincial and local level”. As part of the campaign, the FMF has published a paper, ‘Ask Forgiveness, Not Permission: Practical Steps Towards Home Rule in South Africa,’ in which it sets out the legal allowance of a fully-realised federal dispensation.

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Summary of the interview

In an interview with David Ansara, CEO of the Free Market Foundation, conducted by Chris Steyn for BizNews, the discussion centred on the concept of “home rule” and its potential in South Africa. Ansara defined home rule as decentralization of political power, emphasizing individual rights, private property, and the role of local communities in decision-making. He critiqued South Africa’s centralized governance, highlighting issues like Eskom’s monopolistic control and the ANC government’s ideological leanings towards centralization and state capture.

Ansara advocated for a more federalist approach, urging political parties like the DA to assert their bargaining power in potential coalition governments, demanding greater autonomy for provinces and municipalities. He stressed the need for communities to take initiative in areas like security and service delivery, citing examples of grassroots efforts in Nelson Mandela Bay.

The interview underscored the Free Market Foundation’s campaign for home rule, signalling a push for political decentralization and greater local empowerment as a means to address systemic challenges and promote individual freedoms in South Africa.

Extended transcript of the interview ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

00:00:06:23 – 00:00:14:16
Chris Steyn: The Free Market Foundation has launched its campaign for home rule. We speak to CEO David Ansara. Welcome, David.

00:00:14:18 – 00:00:16:04
David Ansara: Good to be with you, Chris.

00:00:16:06 – 00:00:23:02
Chris Steyn: David, please define home rule for us and tell us why it could be possible in South Africa.

00:00:23:04 – 00:00:48:05
David Ansara: So this idea of home rule is very central to one of the key pillars and values of the Free Market Foundation. We’re a classical liberal organization, so we believe in individual rights and that includes private property rights, freedom, that’s trade, so that a free market economy we’re big on capitalism, we believe that that’s a big driver of prosperity and growth in society.

00:00:48:07 – 00:01:31:23
David Ansara: But one of the other pillars is the rule of law and constitutional government. And part of that concept is the idea of political decentralization. So we believe that political choices are best when they are devolved down and out through society to the smallest political unit. The smallest political unit obviously is the individual themselves, but also families, neighbourhoods, towns, broader communities, even cities and provinces we believe should have a lot more authority and sovereignty over their own affairs.

00:01:32:00 – 00:02:19:08
David Ansara: So this idea of home rule is really rooted in that tradition of limited government, of political decentralization. And unfortunately, in South Africa, we have exactly the opposite of that. But we have a high degree of political centralization, a concentration of power in the hands of politicians and bureaucrats in Pretoria, making decisions on behalf of ordinary South Africans in remote, distant parts of the country and, you know, no matter how enlightened you are, no matter how well-intentioned, you’re never fully going to understand the particular local context and circumstances that affect communities across this, a very diverse and plural society.

00:02:19:11 – 00:02:53:09
David Ansara: Right. So and obviously, there’s a major political problem in South Africa at the moment that we diagnose as being a consequence or a symptom of high degrees of political concentration and the centralized nation that I mentioned. So if you think of load-shedding, we have one vertically integrated energy utility, Eskom state-owned. That’s a concentration risk. When Eskom breaks or is captured and then that acts as a choke point for the rest of the economy.

00:02:53:11 – 00:03:47:09
David Ansara: So this I think also is a very good illustration of the ANC government’s view of the world, its ideology. At the BizNews conference you had Anthea Jeffrey there from the Institute of Race Relations speaking about Countdown to socialism. Her latest book. And that really documents in meticulous detail this idea of the national Democratic Revolution, which is the guiding philosophy and ideological framework of the ANC government, which has at its roots this idea of command and control that the state is something that’s not an independent, neutral set of institutions, but it’s something to be captured for political purposes and not just the state, but society as a whole and more broadly.

00:03:47:11 – 00:04:12:19
David Ansara: So these ideas of cadre deployments, for example, now black economic empowerment is a vehicle for this to politicize the economy. And that what we have is the political capture of so many spheres of our society and our economy. So, you know, I often say that state capture is a feature. It’s not a bug.

00:04:13:00 – 00:04:56:21
David Ansara: And it’s its baked into the political program of the ANC government. It’s not just some aberration like the Guptas coming to South Africans and hijacking this otherwise noble liberation movements. It’s its part of the philosophy of the ANC government. So this is a very good lens, I think, to think about politics in South Africa. I gave a speech last year called The Center Cannot Hold and it’s really a thesis of that speech was that the center is actually collapsing in South Africa, that all of the consequences of this high degree of centralization starting to bear themselves out.

Read more: BNC#6: David Ansara – State-proofing your assets from a failing government

00:04:56:23 – 00:05:26:09
David Ansara: And so whether it’s the collapse of infrastructure or lack of availability of energy, and you had John Endres, also from the IRR on your show, you know, speaking about the destruction of water infrastructure, ports and rail, are also massively dysfunctional and that’s having a huge drag effect on South Africa’s economy. And all of these you can draw them back to failures at the center.

00:05:26:11 – 00:05:53:06
David Ansara: And, you know, I think we’re classical liberals at the Free Market Foundation. We believe in a minimal state that the government should protect basic rights of individual citizens. But it’s really failing to do that. If you look at our elevated levels of violent crime, there are about 86 murders per day in South Africa. There are five reported rapes per day.

00:05:53:08 – 00:06:25:23
David Ansara: That’s only the ones that are reported. There must be that many more others that go unreported because victims that don’t feel confident enough to approach the police. So that is an illustration of the failure of the state to uphold its core mandates, its citizens to enforce the law, to protect private property rights. The state is moving ahead with expropriation without compensation, national health insurance, but also represents an assault on private health, on private property rights.

00:06:26:00 – 00:06:47:04
David Ansara: So, you know, I think that we have this paradox in South Africa. The state is failing in its core functions, but more and more it’s trying to extend its reach into into other areas. So we’re trying to break that dynamic where you want to say home rule is much more important. We need far greater degrees of federalism in South Africa.

00:06:47:06 – 00:07:19:23
David Ansara: We need capable local and provincial government authorities to start serving the constituencies that they represent and being more assertive in acquiring powers for themselves, for their constituents, and going against the the status quo of how things have traditionally been done in South Africa, where there’s a sort of a symbiotic or a collaborative arrangement between the different spheres of government.

00:07:20:01 – 00:07:52:17
David Ansara: We want this idea of home rule to be propagated. We’ve authored this report, which we’ve been disseminating through the Western Cape. We’ve been on this road show from Nelson Mandela Bay all the way down to Cape Town, where I’m speaking to today. And so we’ve been going from town to town. And my colleague, MARTIN VAN STADEN and I, and we’ve been in Plettenberg Bay, Knysna George Mossel Bay, Hermanus., we met with with Alec Hogg there, which was, which is great.

00:07:52:17 – 00:08:04:12
David Ansara: We had dinner with them and then we were also in Paarl and then we had our formal launch event yesterday for the Campaign for Home Rule here in downtown Cape Town.

00:08:04:14 – 00:08:20:17
Chris Steyn: David Now, constitutionally it is possible, but what would it involve practically if national government does not give that authority to the provinces and the municipalities for home rule, how do they take that authority? How do they make it happen?

00:08:20:19 – 00:08:48:00
David Ansara: Well, I think we can speak in abstract terms, but actually concretely, it’s already happening on the ground as the communities themselves are starting to to take over some of these functions. So, you know, I think we also need to distinguish between devolution, which are powers that are voluntarily granted and devolved down by the central government and federalism, which actually recognizes that they are distinct spheres of authority.

00:08:48:02 – 00:09:30:01
David Ansara: So, for example, the mayor of George, who we also met, he doesn’t necessarily have to write to the president to ask for permission to enact the policies that that his democratically elected government in his municipality is responsible for. And so I think just going to your question, when we were in Nelson Mandela, Bay, we very unfortunate to see as we were driving home from dinner one night, we saw somebody on Beach Road being being mugged and dispossessed of his his cell phone and then the the culprits ran away and disappeared into the night.

00:09:30:03 – 00:10:04:03
David Ansara: And, you know, we were told that there was one provincial or one SAPS patrol vehicle that’s that that monitors that Beach road. And there’s lots of similar violent crimes. So what’s actually happened in Nelson Mandela, Bay? And your viewers will be very familiar with some of the breakdown in services that have affected. That Metro, is that communities actually just getting together and through voluntary free association are starting a community policing forum.

00:10:04:03 – 00:10:34:17
David Ansara: So there is a mechanism called special ratings areas where a suburb or a district can collectively agree to pay additional rates over and above their their normal rates. And that entitles them to it to to procure private services like private security guards, to install security cameras and lighting. And so there’s one park in Nelson Mandela Bay where they’ve done this.

00:10:34:17 – 00:11:00:13
David Ansara: It was you know, it was a bit of a crime hotspots until they did this and they managed to turn it around. So now the businesses in that area signed to benefit from the restoration of that of that park. And so this is a bit galling for many people because obviously they’re paying their rates and not getting the services that they’re paying for.

00:11:00:15 – 00:11:34:05
David Ansara: But, you know, in the absence of a proper service delivery in these areas, we’re saying that community groups, these kind of business chambers, for example, a need to start collaborating and using these mechanisms at to start to to to take back power and to try and improve their own environments, you know, because unfortunately, nobody’s coming to save you from Pretoria and you will wait and wait for the help to arrive and it will never come.

00:11:34:07 – 00:11:38:10
David Ansara: So, you know, the only choice is to really do it yourself.

00:11:38:12 – 00:11:49:11
Chris Steyn: And many people are pinning their hopes on a coalition government between the African National Congress and the Democratic Alliance Multi-Party Charter. Do you think that coalition will last?

00:11:49:13 – 00:12:19:00
David Ansara: Well, the Free Market Foundation is a nonpartisan organization. We’re independent. So our primary interest is to maximize individual freedom in South Africa. But we do pay very close attention to the political and policy process. This policy is an expression of that. The political contests in South Africa and part of our reading is that, you know, we are picking up the sentiment.

00:12:19:01 – 00:12:46:17
David Ansara: Then there’s a lot of mixed messaging. And on the one hand, the DA has expressed its commitment to the multi-party charter, the so-called anchor tenant of the pre-electoral pact. But then we also just, you know, a lot of discussion around the potential for a so-called grand coalition. And what we’re saying is, you know, to the DA is that it must recognize its bargaining power regardless of what it does.

00:12:46:18 – 00:13:14:03
David Ansara: We’re not necessarily going to prescribe what it should do in terms of the coalition dynamics. It’s a bit beyond our scope. But that, you know, the EFF recognizes its bargaining power. If the ANC were significantly below 50%, say it was around 40%, and the EFF held the balance of power, it would come with very aggressive demands. President must step down.

00:13:14:03 – 00:13:51:21
David Ansara: And I think Julius Malema was recently quoted saying that he would like Floyd Shivambu to be the finance minister. We can all imagine how badly that will go. The DA should adopt a similarly aggressive posture, but from a different perspective, it should say, Well, we understand our bargaining power and these are our demands. And the Campaign for Home Rule is suggesting that those demands should be aggressive, spreading of political power and authority down to the provincial and local level.

Read more: Magnus Heystek: State-proofing your money in failing SA; a response to Ansara

00:13:51:23 – 00:14:12:23
David Ansara: So the court in Cape Town needs to be managed by the city with the provincial authorities, and the railways need to be managed by the DA government. Those should be some of the demands. And so that’s something that requires a bit of chutzpah, a bit of aggressive negotiating on behalf of the DA

00:14:13:01 – 00:14:21:17
Chris Steyn: You would like to then to see them set federalist preconditions before going into a coalition. Is that what you’re saying, David.

00:14:21:19 – 00:14:58:22
David Ansara: And and before going into the coalition. You know, our worry is that perhaps there might be some, you know, impulse to some patriotic duty to save the country from the EFF/ANC coalition. And that’s sort of where the discussion ends. But it should be much more assertive than that. And, you know, I think one of the things that we’ve picked up is often officials in the province or in the various municipalities, so not the public representatives or critical appointees, but they’re often a lot more on the cautious side.

00:14:58:22 – 00:15:25:21
David Ansara: And you have legal advisers who say, I don’t know about that, and you can’t take over this, you know, the Provincial Powers Bill. I think, was was a very good illustration. Was actually a pretty tame proposal. But, Alan Winde’s, legal advisers advised him that this was unconstitutional, I mean, it was merely a just in this dynamic sort of pleading for for more powers rather than asserting.

00:15:25:21 – 00:15:58:00
David Ansara: Well, so, you know, we’re saying that the legal advice that the DA is getting may need to change and needs to follow the political imperatives. And, you know, if I mentioned EWC and NHI bill, the ANC’s legal advisers seem to bend over backwards to justify what would be very clearly and blatantly unconstitutional policies. So, you know, clearly, their lawyers are following the political lead here.

00:15:58:01 – 00:16:23:11
David Ansara: And I think the DA should start to do the same instead of being the nice guys. I mean, you know, the situation in South Africa is very serious. The state is failing all around us, and that’s having real consequences for the people of South Africa. And the people of the Western Cape are not immune from this. Through our travels, we took in the beauty of the garden route to many of these well-functioning towns.

00:16:23:11 – 00:16:50:09
David Ansara: And whilst some communities, like a Knysna are really mobilizing because of effluent is flowing into the estuary, potholes are springing up everywhere that have really felt the consequences of political instability and coalition policies. But you know, in other places like, for example, George, which is very well run, we were told that the business community is pretty chilled, pretty relaxed.

00:16:50:11 – 00:17:36:01
David Ansara: And so we’re saying, you know, these trends are only going to accelerate regardless of the political outcome after 29th of May. You know, it’s there’s this leftward lurch towards the EFF and MK, then that’s obviously going to necessitate the need for local communities to protect themselves and to put as much distance as possible between themselves and Pretoria. But similarly, if there’s an MPC coalition that’s going to be very unstable, it’s going to be potentially that coalition is going to be coming together and then collapsing again similarly to what we’ve seen in Tshwane, for example, that that’s what we might see and the capacity of the state has been so fundamentally broken and it’s going

00:17:36:01 – 00:18:02:18
David Ansara: to take a very, very long time to fix those problems. So regardless of the outcome of 29 May, we’re saying the federal push is going to be more and more urgent. And so, yeah, I think that that’s that’s sort of the scene setter for this campaign. And, you know, I think we’ve we’ve been really amazed actually by the warm reception that we’ve got throughout our road show.

00:18:02:18 – 00:18:08:06
David Ansara: And we will be producing quite a lot of content on our channel just showcasing some of the discussions that we’ve had.

00:18:08:08 – 00:18:19:11
Chris Steyn: Thank you. That was David Ansara on the Free Markets Foundation, speaking to BizNews after the launch of the Campaign for Home Rule. Thank you, David. I’m Chris Steyn.

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