Libertarianism in South Africa

Libertarianism in South Africa has influenced political and apolitical structures. Libertarianism has not yet become a distinct political movement but is instead represented in one form or another in multiple political and non-political organisations.


Libertarianism in South Africa dates back to the mid 1970s when Leon Louw, Marc Swanepoel and several others got together informally to discuss this new and interesting philosophy. One result of this cooperation was the formation of the Free Market Foundation in 1975, identified by many as being a free-market libertarian think-tank. Regular weekly meetings were held at Leon Louw’s house in Dunkeld to which an enthusiastic group of early libertarians were invited. Leon's wife, Frances Kendall, published a monthly magazine called The individualist which was circulated around the group.

Trevor Watkins formed the Libertarian Society in 1986 as a means of maintaining a database of known libertarians in the country. Over the years the libertarian society has added websites, email groups and blogs and organised monthly dinners in Johannesburg and Cape Town and Durban. The libertarian society was also involved in organising many annual seminars.

Leon Louw and Francis Kendall published a seminal work entitled “South Africa the Solution” in 1986. This led to the formation of the Groundswell movement which was active prior to the 1994 elections. Trevor Watkins, Claire Emary and Charl Heydenrych formed the KISS party prior to the 1994 elections, which then resulted in the formation of the Federal party led by Francis Kendall. In 2013 Barry de Harde, Charl Heydenrych, Trevor Watkins and Enyinna Nkem-abonta got together to form the Libertarian Party of South Africa, which was inaugurated at the 2013 Seminar in Prince Albert. The Libertarian Party was registered as a formal political party in 2014 but did not contest the 2014 elections due to the high cost of participation. The party is currently inactive.

Two young libertarians,Nicholas Woode-Smith (a committee member of the Libertarian Party) and Martin van Staden, formed various alternative libertarian groupings, including the Rational Standard blog.[1]

Libertarian seminars

In 1985, a subscriber to The individualist named Ria Crafford suggested that a seminar be held at which libertarians from all over the country could gather. This led to the first libertarian spring seminar being held on the farm Nebo near Ficksburg in the Orange Free State in 1985. Following the success of this seminar, Trevor Watkins, Charl Heydenrych and Peter Kidson got together to organise the second Seminar at Mont-aux-Sources hotel in the Drakensberg. A libertarian spring Seminar has been held every year since that time with the single exception of 2010.

These seminars are a classic example of "spontaneous organisation" suggested by Friedrich Hayek. There is no central committee or structure that takes responsibility for organising the next seminar. After the last seminar it is commonly unknown who will organise the next one. Around about June or July of each year the pressure to organise the next seminar begins to build up, suggestions are exchanged, and eventually the person(s) who want it most emerge and undertake the quite arduous task of organising the seminar completely voluntarily. These organisers choose the date, duration, location, theme, target audience and agenda, yet there is a remarkable consistency between seminars. The date is commonly late September or October (Spring in South Africa), the venue is often close to mountains (the central parts of the country are more accessible to more people), the target audience is all known South African libertarians, with a smattering of overseas intellectuals. The Libertarian Spring Seminars have outlasted 6 South African presidents, the oppressive apartheid regime (whose secret service agents threatened the organisers of the 2nd seminar), and massive and unprecedented changes in the governance and structure of South Africa. A full list of the seminars is available here .


Libertarians do not respond well to central management and hierarchical organisation. Organising libertarians is commonly likened to "herding cats". Various libertarian organisations and movements have emerged spontaneously over the years. Some persist, others die away, dependent on the enthusiasm of the founders.

While most existing libertarians favour one existing forum or another, new libertarians or non-libertarians seeking enlightenment are faced with an unstructured and sometimes conflicting smorgasbord of choices when researching libertarianism in South Africa. The following table provides links to and descriptions of most libertarian-leaning organisations in South Africa.

Name Description Founded Link
Libertarian South Africa A forum for people who share libertarian principles based on the Consent Axiom. Google blogger based, 3000 views, articles, seminar proceedings, 1986, Trevor Watkins, Charl Heydenrych, Peter Kidson
Rational Standard A commentary platform covering politics, culture, philosophy, economics, and more 2015, cofounded by Nicholas Woode-Smith, Martin van Staden and Christiaan van Huyssteen
Free Market Foundation World renowned South African Free Market Think tank 1975, Leon Louw, Marc Swanepoel, and others
Libsa email group Active email based libertarian discussion group, +2000 topics, 200 members, 20 active 2007, Trevor Watkins!forum/libsa
Libertarian Party of SA Website for the Libertarian Party of South Africa. Currently not active. 2013, Barry de Harde, Charl Heydenrych, Trevor Watkins, Enyinnah Nkem-Abonta
South African Libertarians Google+ community, 153 members, repository for libertarian articles 2015, Trevor Watkins

Jhb Libertarian minded meetup A meetup group for libertarians in Johannesburg who attend the monthly libdin 2015, Charl Heydenrych

See also


  1. "Home". Rational Standard. Retrieved 2018-08-09.
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