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An Africa Perspective on the Fall of the Berlin Wall

November 13th, 2009 Posted in Uncategorized by

Having just celebrated the fall of the Berlin Wall whilst scouring the interwebby I came across this interesting and beautifully written article (which I’ve sadly had to edit down for Liberal Vision). Temba A Nolutshungu lived in Aparthied South Africa, and has the benefit of hindsight to comment on walls of tyranny, be they in South Africa, Korea, Germany and their various shades through out Africa.

“The history of the Wall symbolises the truth that a free society, based on private ownership of the means of production, best delivers what people want.”

In the early 1960s I was cutting my political teeth, becoming aware of the forces that rule the world. The all-pervasive apartheid system that was in force at the time inevitably politicised many of us. The South African government displayed a systematic and deep-seated hatred of communism and this was manifest on an almost daily basis in propaganda generated by the communications network at the disposal of the various state organs. So for us blacks the equation was simple. The oppressors, who had inflicted so much suffering on our people, hated communism. So what the enemy hated had to be good for us, the oppressed people. After all, communism was about a classless society and how the people shared everything.

I began asking myself questions related to how communism worked in practice. I found it hard to come up with credible answers. And the lack of answers stimulated my curiosity. I learnt of the Berlin Wall, which had been built by the East German government to keep people living inside the workers’ paradise – communist East Germany – from fleeing to the capitalist West, which typified man’s exploitation of his fellow man.

In Africa, most of the liberation movements, which sought to overthrow repressive European colonialism by force, embraced variations of communism or socialism. Once in power, and transformed into political parties, these movements implemented economic policies informed by a socialist perspective. It gradually became clear that these policies were very much to the detriment of the welfare of their people.

But for quite a while the vision of the nirvana that socialism would bring, along with an awareness of the manifest injustices of the colonial past (which were blamed largely upon capitalist interests), bought the system time and caused people to put up with the consequent suffering.

It was only with experience that it became clear to me that the nationalisation of productive assets doesn’t actually mean that they are owned and controlled by either the proletariat or the people and operated for their collective benefit. They are owned, controlled and managed by the state, which in reality means the elites or elite factions, which wield power and control the state.

It gradually became apparent that, as with East Germany and North Korea and other countries of communist persuasion, the leadership of these African socialist states was the only class to derive any real benefits from the policies of collectivisation. As in the case of East Germany, it eventually transpired that attempts to impose communist systems in Africa were economically unsustainable, politically tyrannical and morally bankrupt.

As I began to subject the apartheid system to more careful scrutiny, it seemed to me that it was a system that had more in common with a communist state than with a free capitalist society. Apartheid controlled every facet of black people’s lives from the cradle to the grave. Among other things, consistent with the policy of racial segregation, it decreed where black people could be born, where they could live, where they could carry out limited subsistence trade with all sorts of restrictive conditions, it denied them property rights, mandated where they could get the legislatively prescribed form of education, where they could work and what form of work they could do, which hospitals and amenities they could use, how and when they could move from place to place and even where they could be buried.

In fact, blacks were effectively nationalised by the apartheid government. Apartheid, a ubiquitous and omnipotent system, was, like its communist cousins, economically unsustainable, politically tyrannical and morally reprehensible; but, as with communism, the few who benefited vehemently rejected this characterisation of the system.

For me, then, the fall of the Berlin Wall brought home some very important truths: that people value freedom above all other ideologies; that the system that fails to acknowledge this definitive attribute of human nature will eventually succumb to pressure, however long that might take; that the system that operates on the basis of what human nature is and not what it ought to be will unleash the spirit of enterprise that runs across all cultures and all nations. This is encapsulated in the words of Svetlana Alliluyeva, Stalin’s daughter who said, “It is human nature that rules the world, not governments and regimes”.

My understanding of the history of the Berlin Wall, the circumstances surrounding its historic breach on 9 November 1989 and its subsequent destruction by popular demand has fundamentally contributed to my own ideological metamorphosis. The history of the Wall symbolises the truth that a free society, based on private ownership of the means of production, best delivers what people want.

May I add that, for Africans, faced with a plethora of trade barriers and protectionist measures which impede the free flow of their products to Europe, it may seem that, while the Wall has gone, the fortress mentality still lives on in Europe in another guise. The Berlin Wall of tariff protection impedes the free flow of mainly agricultural, but also other African products, from reaching the European markets. That wall should also be broken down.

Temba A Nolutshungu is a director of the Free Market Foundation, South Africa, an affiliate of The views expressed in the article are his own.

One Response to “An Africa Perspective on the Fall of the Berlin Wall”

  1. Ziggy Says:

    Funny enough it wasn’t until I moved to Britain that I heard the term apartheid, it was always back home as ‘our system’ & people were in conditioned into supporting it as if there was a supposed free for all then the country would be over run with commies.