The following was written by Pretoria-based ASFL Executive Board Member Martin van Staden.
When I joined African Students For Liberty in the middle of 2014, I had no prior involvement in any kind of civil society activism. I had focused on academics during school and spent the majority of my first and second years at university finding myself politically and ideologically. Shortly after reading Murray Rothbard’s The Ethics of Liberty and becoming a libertarian, was I approached to join ASFL. And only a few months after that was I introduced to the vibrant classically liberal think tank scene in South Africa.
With a great desire to see social change in my country and Africa as a whole, I was glad to see that South Africa had various institutes working toward the achievement of individual freedom, the rule of law, and emancipation through property rights. Among them was the Free Market Foundation of Southern Africa, which was founded in the 1970s to combat the oppressive and paternalistic economic policies of the South African Apartheid government.
ASFL and the FMF quickly developed a good working relationship, not least because of their co-affiliation with the international Atlas Network. ASFL has contributed to the establishment of the FMF Youth and the FMF Youth has provided support for ASFL activities.
The importance of relationships such as this cannot be understated in light of the leftward trend of South African public policy. The pool of classically liberal, economically conscious youth is rapidly declining, as high school economics makes no mention of the Austrian school, and the intelligentsia are increasingly considering economics as a ‘Western construct’. This is true not only for South Africa, but the lack of young freedom-lovers has been a problem throughout the African continent for decades.
I am able to count the amount of think tanks dedicated to individual liberty and free markets on my hands. Those think tanks dedicated to expanding the power of government, on the other hand, are so numerous that one would need to create an alphabetical index.
This is why the leaders identified and developed by African Students For Liberty should not be seen by liberal think tanks as ‘part of ASFL’ exclusively, but rather as a resource which they must invest in with an eye to absorbing these leaders into their own structures.
This is what the Free Market Foundation did.
Less than a year after hearing about them for the first time, I was offered an internship. During October and December 2015, and January 2016, I worked at their offices in Johannesburg and saw just how important free market activism and lobbying is within the African context. I was able to assist with various tasks which opened some of their staff’s time up to devote to even bigger projects. My writing skills were, and continue to be, put to good use by the FMF, which like other classically liberal institutes suffers from a quantitative lack of skilled and passionate writers.
The Institute of Race Relations – most likely the oldest think tank in Africa and certainly the oldest classically liberal one – is also investing in the youth. Frans Cronje, CEO of the IRR, recently said on The Renegade Report on CliffCentral.com that the Institute’s doors are wide open to young classical liberals who want to get involved.
However, other African think tanks are allowing this opportunity to pass them by.
Students For Liberty’s mission is to educate, develop, and empower the next generation of leaders of liberty. This mission does not exist in a vacuum, nor does it exist for SFL’s benefit. These ‘leaders of liberty’ are meant to leave SFL and contribute to the spread of liberal ideas – indeed, they are the ones who will eventually bring about a freer future.
They have been equipped with the moral and practical knowledge which free market think tanks in Africa desperately need to influence their governments to liberalize the market. Whereas think tanks would have to train their new recruits from the ground up in the ideas and philosophy of freedom, ASFL has taken up this noble job. However, when our leaders leave ASFL, they are often allowed to go to waste, and are not absorbed by pro-liberty civil society.
African Students For Liberty is the single largest libertarian organization of any kind on the African continent. It is a producer of resources where there is a great demand for what it has to offer. Our leaders are what Africa needs!