WHY the gloating over former UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s death? Politicians usually do what gets votes, but those who benefited most from what she did loathed her and she was fired.
Before visiting her, Nelson Mandela familiarised himself with facts beyond her inadequate support for "the struggle". He was unmoved by her argument that she, unlike African counterparts such as Robert Mugabe, Felix Houphouët-Boigny and Seretse Khama, allowed the African National Congress (ANC) to operate freely in her country. But something else impressed him: her economic policies.
What would have happened had she persuaded the ANC to emulate them?
Victims of apartheid would have been the primary beneficiaries of a 100% wealthier South Africa. Half the youth who have never worked would be employed and have rising incomes. About 10-million properties would be owned and freely tradable by emancipated, empowered and respected black land-owners instead of still living under Verwoerdian tenure. Ordinary South Africans would, like Thatcher’s working class, be able to afford holidays abroad and many would own accommodation in the African equivalents of Spanish and Portuguese resorts. The state would have R1-trillion from privatisation proceeds plus billions more from taxes. Stagnation and subsidies would have been converted to prosperity and revenue.
If Telkom had been privatised, anyone who wanted a phone would have one, charges would be 60% lower, international calls would cost 50% less than in neighbouring countries and R20bn would have accrued to the nation’s wealth in five years.
Energy deregulation and privatisation would have ensured cheap reliable electricity, gas and fuel, thus saving enough in just the first year of our Eskom crisis to give all homeless people a house, build 25 mines, have 500,000 more cars and spend 15% more on welfare. Electricity would have been 20% cheaper.
Thatcher-like privatisation of Sasol and Iscor was implemented. Losses were converted into huge tax contributions towards welfare, housing, education, healthcare, services, policing and, sadly, a bloated bureaucracy. More of the same would have ensured enough wealth for politically popular "delivery" and prevented today’s demonstrations and riots.
Decades of underinvestment in water infrastructure would have been avoided and prices would have risen by just 1% a year.
The privatisation of South African Airways would have contributed revenue and wealth-creating investment instead of diverting R20bn from the poor to the rich. We would have had top-rated airlines instead of a bankrupt incompetent embarrassment.
So why the loathing? Why did her primary beneficiaries hate her?
The media showed coal miners vilifying her for destroying their jobs and communities. What she stopped was plundering the people who produce wealth to perpetuate moribund coal mines. Had the government closed the mines and divided some of the subsidy among the coal miners, they could all have lived permanently in holiday resorts. Thatcher’s crime was the equivalent of not perpetuating wagon transport after the advent of trucks and trains.
Youth, whose sole link with her is that she gave them higher living standards, danced in the streets around an abstract icon of derision for reasons none of them could articulate coherently.
Does this make the supposed sinner a saint? Of course not. Knee-jerk binary analysis is seldom legitimate. She was, after all, conservative, which means that she never scrapped puritanical laws such as our proposed retrograde liquor regulations. The worst among her sins was the centralisation of power from autonomous local governments, closely reflecting the diversity of their communities, into cumbersome and costly "metropolitan" governments. We did that too.
If our government introduced some of Thatcher’s proven policies and avoided her mistakes, South Africans would be facing a more vibrant and prosperous future.
• Louw is executive director of the Free Market Foundation.