Serfdom awaits if we do not allow poor South Africans to help themselves


Zakhele Mthembu | Legal Researcher | Free Market Foundation | mail me |

South Africans have been slowly marching towards serfdom, and unless something drastic changes, this march will continue. With this year’s budget speech on the horizon, in an election year, the country and the world will get a glimpse as to how bad things could be in the short to medium term.

South Africa boasts an “official” unemployment rate of 32% according to the latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey. The “expanded definition” of unemployment has our rate at 42.1%. The expanded definition should be considered the true definition, since giving up on looking for employment (which excludes you from being counted in the “official” version) does not mean one is employed.

The politicisation of data and statistics should be seen for the dishonesty that it is.

Close to half of those who could be working are not engaged in any productive activity. This situation is especially dire for young people, who make up a majority of those who are unemployed with 59.9% of the total unemployed being aged 15-34.

What is more worrying is the inability of a large section of the unemployed to find employment, as represented by those who have been without employment for over a year (long term unemployment) making up 77.4% of the total unemployed.

The lack of economic activity from young people does not bode well for the long-term prospects of the country. This sentiment about the potential long lasting developmental impact of a high youth unemployment rate was echoed in a United Nations report that was released last year, which described the unemployment crisis as a ‘ticking time bomb’.

The lack of economic activity in general is best reflected in the low economic growth rates South Africa has been experiencing. In 2023, the GDP rate grew by less than 1% (0.9%). The projections of economic growth in 2024 by organizations like the International Monetary Fund have our GDP rate growing by 1% again. The economy is not growing because people are not working, and people are not working because the economy is not growing.

The problem of a stagnated economy and large levels of unemployment can be solved by deregulation: get rid of any and all laws that inhibit free trade and enterprise.

There is no grand plan that anyone, no matter how smart, can devise to create wealth for the millions who are currently in serfdom. The only solution is giving them the latitude to create their own wealth by removing as many inhibitions in their pursuit of said wealth as you can.

Those who claim that the government needs to ‘create jobs,’ which there are plenty in South Africa, are fundamentally dishonest. There have been numerous iterations of the public works programme, and the direct employment of hundreds of thousands, as indicated by a public service wage bill that is truly unsustainable for the fiscus at current and projected growth/spending levels. This is not a recipe for success.

The government has numerous ‘solutions’ to unemployment, those solutions in general being called Public Employment Programmes, of which public works is one. In his 2023 State of the Nation Address, Cyril Ramaphosa mentioned the presidential employment stimulus as yet another way to encourage job creation and economic activity.

All of these grand plans have, and will continue to, fail.

The proof is in the unemployment and economic growth numbers. The mechanism of state intervention has been tried and tested, and failed the test dismally. The only viable solution left is to give as much freedom to individuals so that they devise their own plans about how best to create their own wealth. Only private sector employment can add to the country’s productive capacity.

We should allow those we say ‘do not have wealth’ to create it. That we do not, means we deem them unworthy or incapable of helping themselves. Until we embrace economic liberty in its fullest extent, we will continue coming up with as many economic plans as there are stars in the rural African night sky.

Only people who are free to own property privately, trade it, and have their trade agreements protected, are able to generate wealth. No plan, no academic, no politician, is ever going to change this fact of life, a lesson dearly learned by all the socialist countries that have ended up turning capitalist in all but name.

The people of South Africa and Africa as a whole need to start understanding these facts of life and desist from supporting those who tell them that honey can spring from a rock. If we do not, we will continue down this road of serfdom we have been on for a while.


  1. Chief,can you please assist us with an article to make our voices heard as the governance in our are is failing us dismally for years now and I can provide video evidence and letter and refences which have gone by unheard.i would like you to help with writing the article and I could also pass it on to Mbuso Mashilela to get it published in the star and sowetan .my name is Zakhele Mthembu, contact cell and WhatsApp:0660627939


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