How does one keep up with the avalanche of authoritarian policy?


While the President tries to fool South Africans about him apparently being a reformer and that we are approaching his so-called “New Dawn”, the economy is being suffocated and the country is being placed on the path of irreparable decline. South Africa is now inundated with laws, regulations, and public policies that are simply riddled with nonsense and cumbersomeness.

The committee responsible for amending section 25 of the Constitution, to allow for the confiscation of fixed assets, will soon publish its revised amendment bill. There is a possibility that the EFF’s catastrophic idea of state ownership of all natural resources in South Africa, including land, may be included in that bill. Minister Patricia de Lille is persisting with her Expropriation Bill, which makes it very easy for the State to confiscate any real property. We must keep a close eye on these developments.

Trade and industry minister Ebrahim Patel recently announced that government wants to stop businesses from paying senior executive staff “too much”. Patel also noted that the Competition Commission will begin its investigation into e-commerce platforms such as Takealot and UberEats. Furthermore, the minister wants to make amendments to the Companies Act that will undermine shareholders’ ownership in companies. There are also stricter restrictions on imports on the cards. All of these proposals will be devastating in practice for the free market, consumers, and for investment, and must be closely monitored.

The Department of Communications’ recently published Draft National Policy on Data and Cloud focuses on the nationalisation of any and all digital data generated in South Africa. South Africa would then be the only country in the world to adopt such a policy, with the predictable consequence that many internet-based services will simply block South African IP addresses. Individual consumers may always be able to use a virtual private network, or VPN, but it will become difficult on a larger scale, especially for businesses that depend on foreign internet services. A VPN redirects a consumer’s internet traffic through a private network so that its contents are effectively invisible.

As regards the Law Reform Commission, it was recently announced that existing pre-1994 Apartheid and colonial legislation (in the “portfolio of justice”) to be aligned with the Constitution would be investigated. It is not currently clear which legislation is to be considered. What does seem clear is that commission has the Riotous Assemblies Act in its sights. All that this law does, is prohibit incitement to violence and crime. In addition to the fact that EFF leader Julius Malema was recently charged under this law and then argued that the law is unconstitutional, this law is uncontroversial, and the commission’s investigation in this regard appears to be based on political pressure from the EFF. The Constitutional Court has already ruled that this law is not unconstitutional.

Probably the most obvious and absurd development in the legal field is that the South African Post Office is now heading to court to confirm that the Post Office has a monopoly on the distribution and delivery of parcels weighing less than one kilogram. If the court agrees with the Post Office, it would be devastating for the existing courier companies that have been serving South Africans efficiently and on a cost-effective basis for years. This court process should definitely be monitored.

Outrage broke out across the country after police minister Bheki Cele announced that he wanted to disarm South Africans who possess firearms for the purpose of self-defence. Given the prevalence of violent crimes such as murder and rape in South Africa – among the highest in the world – Cele’s proposal is a disastrous plan that must be opposed by all South Africans. Cele is certainly not going to give up his own armed bodyguards.

With the spate of invasive bills and draft policies emerging in 2021 under the Ramaphosa administration, it is hard to keep up. However, it is obvious that civil society and their representatives, in organisations such as Sakeliga, must keep a close eye on these developments, as in practice they will undoubtedly lead to the collapse of economic sectors, dilution of consumer choices, and a general restriction on public freedoms.

It is unfortunate that the industries affected by unfavourable policies usually cannot oppose them too strongly, because these industries depend on the good grace of their regulators. Those who object may find themselves without a license or permit. Even the organisations that represent large corporations in particular cannot speak too loudly because they must also retain access to the President, ministers, and regulators, and will forfeit privilege if they criticise (especially ideologically-driven) harmful policies too harshly.

There is also the additional complication that much larger businesses can actually benefit from more invasive (and more nonsensical) regulation. They can afford to comply with the provisions of these harmful interventions. However, smaller businesses cannot, and therefore such policies protect existing, more affluent incumbents at the expense of future enterprises. An economy cannot grow in such an environment.

Civil society must therefore fill the gap in responding constructively to proposed and existing policies that are harmful, and proposing better policies where relevant.

Various civil society organisations oppose harmful policies and promote good policies. These organisations are independent of state and political forces. These include the business community Sakeliga and the Free Market Foundation, a think tank.

However, there are very few such entities in civil society and they obviously cannot keep up with the hundreds of pages of policy proposals that are published every week. Each government department has at least hundreds of staff with the capacity to formulate and publish increasingly far-reaching policies, and they do. They are very comfortably funded by the very economy and taxpayers who try their best to undermine them every day.

This civil activism must go beyond civil society organisations. Each individual citizen must join the fight.

The tremendous public outrage over Cele’s Firearms Control Amendment Bill is a prime example, where thousands of citizens have registered and are still registering their opposition. There is good reason to be optimistic that the bill will not be enacted, as this government has made it clear in the past that it is very concerned about the balance of power. If there is fierce opposition from citizens and organised civil society, the government will back down.

However, the same resistance must be offered to government’s confiscation plans.

Everyone can make a significant difference during the policy process, and they can make their voice heard about an increasingly authoritarian government that is mostly interested in entrenching its own power. In this way we can prevent our own entanglement in an authoritarian policy environment.

Martin van Staden is a Legal Fellow at the independent business community Sakeliga. He is pursuing a doctorate in law at the University of Pretoria. For more information, visit