THE IRR, which was once regarded as one of the foremost guardians of liberal values and a major player in the human rights movement in South Africa says it is not influenced by who funds it. As it happens most of the IRR’s funding comes from donations by ordinary South Africans – “Friends of the IRR” – who on average give about R100 per month, writes Mlondi Mdluli.
Sizwe Dlamini (Are we seeing a case of the paid piper with the IRR’s Daily Friend?, also published on IOL) makes several false statements and misleading arguments about the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) and its online publication, Daily Friend.
I focus, here, on three of them: that the IRR has abandoned human rights; that the IRR is violating its own constitution by criticising the ANC; and that the Daily Friend is willing “to sell the soul of South Africa”.
The role of the IRR post 1994
Dlamini has one thing right in acknowledging the IRR’s historical reputation as “one of the foremost guardians of liberal values in South Africa as well as a major player in the human rights movement”. This has not changed.
But Dlamini incorrectly accuses the IRR of “abandoning its defence of human rights in favour of defending property rights”. He refers specifically to letters I sent to the heads of all the major banks last week asking them (as Dlamini puts it) “to clarify their position on expropriation without compensation (EWC). This after the ANC stated at its policy conference that it would not back down on EWC.”
Dlamini’s first mistake is to misperceive human rights as excluding property rights.
Dispossession at the hands of the state is a fundamental abuse. How can anyone look back at the violation of black people’s property rights under apartheid and fail to recognise that the victims’ human rights were thereby violated?
Regardless of your race, you have every right to expect the state to protect you from dispossession. EWC is the opposite, and it must be opposed.
Moreover, the upcoming Expropriation Bill will not just hurt direct targets of EWC, but the entire population whose well-being depends on economic stability and growth. EWC, in contrast, will only prompt investors to disinvest, which will in turn worsen the country’s unemployment crisis.
The IRR commissioned an independent polling company in 2020 to ask a large, randomly sampled, demographically representative group of South Africans a range of questions, one of which was: “Do you prefer a political party which promises faster economic growth and more jobs, or one which promises land expropriation without compensation as redress for past wrongs?” Roughly 15% of all respondents, including 15% of black respondents and 15% of white respondents, said they preferred EWC; 80% of black respondents and 80% of white respondents said they preferred faster growth and more jobs.
But what do the big banks’ CEOs think? They have a moral and fiduciary responsibility to protect the interests of their clients, which is why the IRR sent letters to them seeking clarity on their position on this looming crisis. This is part of the IRR’s new campaign to stop the Expropriation Bill from becoming law.
This campaign, along with others like it, remains central to our striving to sustain our role as “one of the foremost guardians of liberal values in South Africa as well as a major player in the human rights movement”.
Steering clear from endorsing a political party
Yet Dlamini asks: “Why would the IRR go this route [confronting the ruling party on the consequences of its policy-making], considering that its founding constitution excluded it from identifying or associating itself with any organized political party?”
The IRR has been non-party political and independent since its formation in 1929 and continues to operate as such. During the Zuma era it was accused of being an “ANC mouthpiece” for drawing attention to the benefits of social grants, and the contribution that rolling out piped water and electricity had made to improving the lives of millions. Now, Dlamini implies that the IRR is just criticising the ANC’s EWC policy because of “who funds it”.
As it happens most of the IRR’s funding comes from donations by ordinary South Africans – “Friends of the IRR” – who on average give about R100 per month.
But the major point is that the IRR sticks to principle. A bank once withdrew millions in donations because the IRR refused to submit a BEE form. What other human rights group could claim so unmistakable a commitment to the principle of non-racialism?
Contribution to the public debate
The IRR launched the Daily Friend in 2019 to promote classical liberalism, at the heart of which is the idea that debate between contending views is fundamental to free speech, vigorous public debate, and the preservation of a free and open society.
In this spirit, the Daily Friend welcomes guest columns from individuals who hold a variety of views (some that are contrary to the IRR’s views). This has been very successful, as is evident in the large number of engagements from both left- and right-leaning readers. Far from “selling the soul” of South Africa, as Dlamini mistakenly claims, this is a demonstration of the IRR’s confidence in the maturity and wisdom of South Africans, and its commitment to acknowledging their dignity and upholding their rights.
The IRR will not be bullied into disregarding its classical liberal values to satisfy critics. We will continue to unapologetically stand firm by our liberal principles to protect and grow liberty in South Africa.
Mlondi Mdluli is an economist, and Campaign Manager at the South African Institute of Race Relations