Clem Sunter

The economic liberation of Afrikaners

2010-03-24 13:10

It is an ironic twist of fate that so far the real beneficiaries of the ending of apartheid are the people who were supposed to have benefited from it whilst it was in existence - the Afrikaners.

During the years of apartheid, there was a culture of entitlement among the volk. With a good education you could end up as a Cabinet minister, a top civil servant, head of a parastasal or a senior executive in an Afrikaans-owned business like the Trust Bank or Sanlam. If you weren't so privileged, you could get a job on the railways as an artisan, join the ranks of the army or police or work for a municipality.

After 1994, all these expectations came to an end. Suddenly Afrikaners were out of power. They had to take a leaf out of Steve Biko's book: you are on your own and you will have to fend for yourself. And they have done so - fantastically well. I was told the other day that the fastest growing element of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange are companies owned and run by Afrikaners. The whole coast north of Maputo in Mozambique is now a string of safari lodges and dive shops established by entrepreneurs from Pretoria. The list goes on and on all around South Africa, and increasingly north of the border and elsewhere in the world.

One could call this phenomenon the great trek into business. Adapt or die, John Vorster said. The Afrikaners voted for the first option individually and collectively. Rather like the Jews in America, the Pakistanis in London and the Chinese in Australia, Afrikaners have a collective consciousness which is the spiritual foundation of an effective commercial network. Language, religion, culture and a common outlook on life bind them into teams that are almost unbeatable when challenged by less cohesive competitors. This trait obviously extends into sport as well. It is a form of ubuntu: you help me and I will help you because together we can achieve more. It's just that you have to speak the taal!

This article was prompted by my wife and I staying one night last week at a brilliant place called Bergwaters Eco Lodge just outside Waterval Boven. It was a real pocket of excellence in the Elands Valley. Run by a young Afrikaans couple, it offered everything from a long, beautiful walk to great food to a comfortable bed. But it was the entrepreneurial spirit that impressed me. She wants to give every room the theme of a herb and he has just bought a local hardware store as a second business. Music to my ears. You should always want to improve, no matter what the current state of your business is.

This all goes to show that we need an entrepreneurial state in contrast to a developmental state. California is the sixth largest economy in the world with only 36 million people. There is no sense of entitlement there. Everybody follows the Steve Biko code: you make it yourself. It would be a real shame if, by replacing one entitlement culture with another, we undermine the truly entrepreneurial spirit that South Africa undoubtedly possesses in its population as a whole. The Afrikaners were liberated by creating a level playing field. Necessity is indeed the mother of invention. Entitlement shackles it.

I conclude with a question: why do you think Jews, Pakistanis and Chinese people perform so much better on other people's playing fields than on their home grounds? They know the result depends entirely on their own efforts. Afrikaners have managed to make this psychological adjustment without having to emigrate. Good for them. The next job is to liberate our black brothers and sisters in the same way.

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