THE human race is a surviving species. From Darwin’s theory of evolution to all other theories in social sciences, a vast amount of evidence exists supporting this thesis. Humans have had to strive to survive by working hard to provide basic needs such as food, shelter and housing. Self-advancement is not a modern invention.
At various times in history, there have been certain groups of people who have been marginalised by those who have grabbed power. However, there is evidence that those people adopt a certain attitude — they can promote progress and change their situation.
In South Africa, blacks, in precolonial, colonial or even apartheid days, never sat back and accepted reliance on the state. It was not an option. To feed themselves and their families, they worked hard, initially in agriculture and later in trade. As society developed, the need to improve their lives increased and, as they continued to trade, certain cultures developed that helped them to advance even further.
No one depended on the state. However, things began to change when the colonial and apartheid governments started interfering and dictating the kind of interaction that could occur between blacks and whites. Blacks were excluded from many practices and prevented from pursuing avenues of self-advancement. This bred a culture that encouraged a hatred of productive work among some blacks. The state-dependent mentality that prevails can be said to be a creation of the government of the time.
The present democratic government has not deviated from this path. It has sought to correct the ills of the past by introducing more government interventions. But what have these provisions done? They have cemented the idea that reward can be obtained for no effort. The number of people on state welfare increased from about 3-million in 1994 to about 15.7-million in 2011. This is conservative in that it does not include about 7-million students who depend on free education, the recipients of 3.2-million RDP houses built since 1994, the patients who benefited from public health spending, which increased from R15bn in 1994 to R121bn last year.
Generally speaking, in South Africa today, most black people live in townships and rural areas and experience a lower standard of living than whites. They have lower incomes, education achievements and occupational status, less employment stability and a lower life expectancy. While one-third of South Africans, mostly blacks, are allowing the government to take control of their lives, there are millions of others who are taking advantage of our "new" democracy. They are buckling down and grasping every opportunity that comes their way to advance their situations without government assistance.
If more people were made aware of the startling benefits these independent and successful blacks are reaping from their own efforts, a healthier and likely more successful outcome will result in the drive for black advancement.
Since 1994, discrimination, whether deemed from the past or happening in the present, is cited as the cause of differences between black and whites, be it discrimination in schools, housing, employment, law enforcement or institutional racism.
The question is: does the progress of black South Africans depend on whether whites like or dislike blacks? Will black people advance only by offsetting or reversing the inequality of the past through black economic empowerment and affirmative action? Would living conditions and aspirations improve if all remaining apartheid discriminatory policies were removed? Does our constitution make it possible for all South Africans, regardless of colour, to advance themselves economically?
Black people can achieve greater rewards and improve their living conditions with or without political power, as seen in pre-apartheid and apartheid years. Black people have the ability to identify opportunities and find ways to improve their lot economically without having to rely on charity from the government, whites or society. They just need an economic environment that encourages and rewards hard work, an environment that encourages success, an environment that supports excellent education for blacks. Backs have done it for themselves in the past and, with the right incentive, can do it again. They need not to be told so frequently that they need everything to be given to them because they do not have a choice in how they should to live their lives or the ability to achieve their dreams.
• Atud is an economist with the Free Market Foundation.