We have not gone AWOL on issues of race – Rand Daily Mail, 20 January 2016

Head of the Institute of Race Relations takes issue with a claim published by the RDM.

By Frans Cronje, 

The misplaced and poorly researched analysis of the work of the IRR, published in the Rand Daily Mail last week (Why has the Institute of Race Relations gone AWOL?) requires a response.

The charge that the IRR is absent from public debates does not easily align with the information we supplied to the Financial Mail, which first published the article in question. It may interest your readers that in 2015:

•         The IRR published over 150 opinion articles in newspapers in areas of policy ranging from how to address labour market failings to gun control, migration policy, land reform, commodity cycles, empowerment policy, and foreign policy.

•         We released 14 socio-economic reports to policymakers in areas of public policy; these ranged from the size and scope of the Black middle class to the social circumstances of the so-called ‘born free’ generation.

•         We released seven policy papers in areas ranging from how to address the housing shortfall to how to secure long-term energy requirements. One of these was the paper on climate policy around which we cautioned the South African government against introducing carbon taxes due to the negative effects these would have on growth and investment.

•         We presented 151 formal briefings to corporates, foreign governments, and the South African government, in South Africa and also in Brussels, Washington, and Berlin. We estimate that 15 000 South Africans and foreign South Africa watchers have attended our briefings over the past two years.

•         In addition, we made a series of direct submissions to MPs, emphasising the importance of property rights and growth-friendly policy, these influencing the passage of otherwise damaging legislation.

•          We presented a great deal of informal advice on demand to a range of senior actors in areas as essential as how to ensure a future for the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) agreement and how to address criminality within the ranks of the police.

•         And, of course, there was the 800+ page South Africa Survey detailing every aspect of our socio-economic evolution. This was distributed to all political parties, over 600 civil society groups, scores of government users, close to 200 corporate subscribers, and was made available free of charge to journalists on demand.

Flowing from the work above, we granted 955 interviews to journalists and our work appeared on average 6.6 times daily in the media and broader public domain, allowing us an unmatched degree of influence over public opinion and the intellectual climate in the country. This is particularly important as we, along with the Free Market Foundation, are the only civil society groups that enter the public-policy debate daily to advance arguments in favour of property rights, an investor-friendly climate, and the importance of private-sector-led economic growth.

We don’t go out of our way to blow trumpets, preferring to work quietly and effectively at building consensus around sound policies. But now, in our defence, I doubt there are competitor organisations that could match our public record in South Africa.

Our mandate therefore extends far beyond the narrow definition of race relations that some critics suggest we should occupy. The reason is that sound future race relations will hinge ultimately on the ability of our country to draw the majority of poor people into the middle classes – and if you want to distill the odds of that down to just one indicator it will be the GDP growth rate. Our primary role is, therefore, to support political leaders and public policy shapers with the ideas and policies they need to secure higher levels of economic growth, while also winning broad public support for the policy reforms necessary to achieve this.

As for the charge that the IRR was ‘AWOL’ during the recent race debate in the country, our records show that we granted 26 media interviews on the subject. These included interviews with – to mention but a few – Media 24, Voice of the Cape, Radio France International, Swiss National Public Radio, various SABC radio stations, EWN, ANN7, and CNBC Africa.

Furthermore, our records show our analysts being cited on the issue 27 times in publications such as Business Day, The Herald, The Sunday Times, News24, AFP, The Citizen, Die Burger, and the Cape Argus, to name but a few. This was despite my cautioning our media staff to steer clear of the vile circus that the debate degenerated into.
What we did not do was to enter the Twitter debate that became the epicentre of the circus. Rather than fuelling that divisive melee, we took a decision to rush the release of our first (for 15 odd years) major opinion study of race relations – in other words, to cut through the ill-informed and hate-filled rhetoric and put the facts on the table, as we have consistently done since 1929.

The results of that study (which will be released within weeks) show that the 'Twitter debate' is out of touch with public opinion and that the overwhelming majority of South Africans occupy a pragmatic middle ground on race relations. Unsurprisingly, the study also shows that an overwhelming majority of South Africans share the view of the IRR that the key to sound future race relations lies in the economy.

The IRR is a think tank that promotes political and economic freedom. 

Read the article on the Rand Daily Mail here