Lessons for SA: Where 37 years of socialism gets you. Just look at Zimbabwe.

JOHANNESBURG — After 37 years, Zimbabwe finally has a new president. The only question on everybody’s lips right now is whether Emmerson Mnangagwa will be able to reverse the damage done by Robert Mugabe. Many Zimbabweans will be hoping that there’s a realisation that autocratic, socialist policies just simply failed for Zimbabwe. Will the politicians also be on the same page though? We’ll have to wait and see. – Gareth van Zyl

Former president of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe

By Chris Hattingh*

The bigger government grows, the more control it has. The bigger government grows, the higher the risk that it will abuse its power. The bigger government grows, the worse the effects on the people when the tide turns. When Robert Mugabe’s party took power in Zimbabwe, they promoted socialism. They introduced the minimum wage. Government spending on education and healthcare nearly tripled between 1979 and 1990. Government expenditure as a share of GDP reached 44.6% in 1989. With all this government spending, levels of inequality decreased. Now, Zimbabwe is one of the poorest countries in the world.

When Robert Mugabe came to power almost four decades ago, Zimbabwe’s economy was the 10th biggest in sub-Saharan Africa. It is now 20th. Property rights saw their end in Zimbabwe when, in 2000, Mugabe’s government authorised the seizure of about 4,500 white-owned farms. The justification? Redistribution and redress. Whatever the justification may be, once the principle of property rights is compromised, every government intrusion is given the moral sanction. Ayn Rand explained in The Virtue of Selfishness that the “essential characteristic of socialism is the denial of individual property rights”. Within a socialist system, your right to property “is vested in “society as a whole”. Now, who dictates what is best for ‘society’? Who determines what will be done with your property? That is correct – the government.

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According to the Zimbabwean government its economy has halved in size since 2000. It is well known that the country abandoned its own currency at the height of hyperinflation in 2008. As of October this year, Zimbabwe owes various money-lender entities $9bn. All of these numbers indicate a ridiculous collapse but imagine living through such a collapse. Imagine not knowing whether you will have electricity the next day, or whether there will be bread in the shop the next morning, bread which will sustain your children. The hardships and suffering of the people of Zimbabwe are on the hands of the people, including Robert Mugabe, who implemented socialism, and the same will be the case here in South Africa for those academics and commentators who argue for redistribution, equality and radical economic transformation.

The moral code of socialism is sacrifice. The rich must sacrifice for the poor, the farmers for those in the cities, the middle-class for the lower-class, this race group for that race group, this individual for that individual. There is always someone else with a greater need than you – your life and its worth are determined by how much you can surrender to the collective. As sacrifice of all to all is the moral ideal of socialism, the proponents had to implement the ideal in reality – the economic disaster of socialism and its effects on the people of Zimbabwe are the implementation of socialism.

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The socialist system demands that you only have freedom to the extent that you do not threaten the authority of the state. When, not if, the next government representative decides on the next grand undertaking for society, your life, property and freedoms are foreit.

A changing of the leadership in Zimbabwe may be better for the people. Things can, of course, stay the same. Or they could become worse. The ousting of Mugabe may encourage foreign investment in the hope of stability and at least nominal economic freedoms. But as long as the people give sanction to the government as the centre of society, to sacrifice, to the philosophy of socialism, the ship will remain on its same plodding, struggling course, with perhaps a good gust of wind when a politician allows a freedom here and there.

Newly sworn-in Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa

What are the goals of those who advocate for socialism? The elimination of poverty and the achievement of wealth equality. What are the actual results of socialism? At the very least, economic paralysis. Followed through, it has wrought economic collapse, death and starvation to every country that has fully implemented its philosophy. The degree to which socialism has been implemented in a country has determined how disastrous the results have been. The philosophy of socialism, equality in all its glory, is writ large across our neighbour to the north, Zimbabwe.

  • Chris Hattingh is a researcher at the Free Market Foundation. 
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