Kate Wilkinson COMMENT: Where’s the evidence for the Free Market Foundation’s ‘facts’?

The Free Market Foundation said that “all available facts” on race and earnings in South Africa showed a “spectacular” transformation of the living standard of black people. We asked for the evidence, but seven weeks later we're still waiting.

At Africa Check, one of our guiding principles is to ensure that both sides of a debate are fact-checked.

In mid-August, former Economic Freedom Fighters member of parliament, Andile Mngxitama, wrote an article on behalf of the Black First Land First movement, claiming that  “twenty years after democracy, black people are still at the bottom of society”. We researched his factual claims and published the findings – earning us a rebuke from Mngxitama that Africa Check is a “pseudo research outfit for colonialism”.

Two weeks later the head of South Africa’s Free Market Foundation wrote an article on what he called “transformation denialism”. Leon Louw claimed that “despite the fact that there has been a spectacular amount of transformation, the established consensus is that little has changed and that whites still own everything”.

Mngxitama had argued that “black people are last in all areas of life”. Louw reasoned that “there has not been a ‘slow pace of transformation’ [in South Africa]; it has been astounding”.

We had fact-checked Mngxitama. Now it was time to look at Louw’s claims.

‘We are certainly not ignoring your request’

bdlive_leonlouwLouw spoke Africa Check’s language when he wrote: “Platitudes float around as if someone somewhere checked the facts. Myths about facts cause bad policies.”

To counter the “established consensus”, he said that his office had collected “all the available facts”. Louw then listed 15 statements as evidence of how the living standard of black people in South Africa has improved. These included figures for black families in “formerly white suburbs”, the percentage of judges who are black, “black phone ownership” and “black literacy”.

We contacted the Free Market Foundation on 31 August 2015 to request their sources. Media liaison Jayne Boccaleone replied saying she would check with Louw and get back to us.

We then followed up on a weekly basis, but were told that Louw was sick, that he was travelling and that he was busy with more urgent deadlines.

During one email exchange Boccaleone wrote: “We are certainly not ignoring your request and we understand the importance of the work you do for Africa Check.”

And still we waited.

No primary sources provided

Slide_FMFOn 5 October, a researcher at the organisation, Kate Louw, finally sent us a list of documents, reports and presentations. But some of the documents simply repeated the same claims that Leon Louw had made.

For example, to support his claim that “private schools are 72% black”, Africa Check was directed to a report containing the claim but no source. This isn’t supporting evidence. It is a statement.

In other cases the documents provided contained contradictory claims. For example, The Presidency’s Twenty Year Review supposedly supported the claim that the number of “blacks living on less than $2 a day fell from 16% to 2.5% since 1996”.

Researcher Kate Louw directed Africa Check specifically to page 175 of the document. But that page notes that the share of all people living on less than $2.50 a day fell from 42.4% in 2000 to 29.2% in 2011.

To back up Leon Louw’s claim that “between 1996 and 2011 total black disposable income grew 370% from R161 million to R756 million, and personal income grew 300%” Kate Louw sent us part one and part two of a Helen Suzman Foundation report titled Distribution of Income and the Distribution of Wealth in South Africa. Yet the closest the documents came was listing a table of each population group’s estimate share of national income in 2011.

Leon Louw said that his claim that “there are more middle-class blacks in formerly white suburbs than the entire white population” was “extrapolated” from a presentation he provided. But the presentation slide did not contain the claim or explain how the conclusion was reached. Rather it contained vague figures regarding the “new black middle class, last five years” for Polokwane, Midrand, Kempton Park, Centurion and Durban Berea.

Horse-before-the-cart research

Although Leon Louw wrote that his “office gathered all available facts” to support his claims, the sources for four are still outstanding.

Kate Louw said that these claims were “generally from mainstream media or trite knowledge”:

  • The number of black people earning more than R400,000 a year grew 1,000% from 120,000 to 1.2 million between 2000 and last year; 90% are in the private sector,
  • Blacks in top management, and blacks with cars, doubled,
  • Black literacy is up 50% since 1994, and
  • Social grants are the main source of income for 40% of black households.

“I have been requested to follow up on looking for the stats that are missing from the list Leon has compiled,” Kate Louw told Africa Check. This is the equivalent of putting the cart before the horse when it comes to research: make a claim, find the evidence later.

After all, as Leon Louw wrote, “platitudes float around as if someone somewhere checked the facts.” It is a pity that until the foundation provides evidence, the same can be said about his claims too.

Note: On 12 October Africa Check again asked the foundation to send us primary sources for all the claims, but have not received a response to date. Nevertheless, we have started to fact-check the claims. Here is part one: Claims of South Africa’s ‘spectacular transformation’ fact-checked.

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Comment on this report

Comments 9
  1. By George

    This is not the first time this year that Leon Louw and his Free Market Foundation (actually no more than a neo-liberal lobby group for big business, including tobacco companies) have tried to evade pertinent questions about the claims they have made.

    In the article – http://reprobate.co.za/leon-louw-and-his-free-market-foundation-are-cynical-lobbyists-for-corporate-south-africas-brave-neo-liberal-world/ – Louw and his foundation are accused that they have repeatedly made prominent claims that Louw was nominated 3 times for the Nobel Peace prize in the ’90s, when the Nobel Peace Prize Committee makes it very clear that: “The names of the nominees and other information about the nominations cannot be revealed until 50 years later.”

    Apparently the writers of the article have also struggled for more than a year to get a straight answer out of Louw or the FMF.

    The intrinsic problem is that a lobby group for vested minority interests is masquerading as a non-profit in the interest of all South Africans. It is very easy for the directors of such a foundation to draw massive salaries so that it appears as a non-profit on paper. South Africa desperately needs legislation to enforce better transparency about the finances, especially the funding, of any organisation that claims to be a non-profit.

    Lastly, just for your information, the researcher who contacted you, Kate Louw, is Leon Louw’s daughter. Worth noting in the light of Louw’s repeated rants against nepotism in government ranks.

    Reply Report comment
  2. By Leon Louw

    I was willing to supply sources, supplied most, and agreed to supply the rest.

    Needless to say, given this scurrilous attack, I will not be doing so. All sources will be in the substantive text I’m producing (as opposed to a non-scholarly PowerPoint presentation and a short popular column).

    A few parting shots:

    1. The Free Market Foundation said/published nothing, I did.
    2. Regarding George’s nonsense, (a) I was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize (according to Committee’s rigorous requirements), (b) at the time the Committee encouraged nominees to publicise the fact, (c) I did not do so, others did, (d) unlike nicotine Nazis and anti-pleasure Puritans, I make no health claims regarding tobacco, (e) I am a pro-liberty lifelong non-smoker, and (f) I don’t expect authoritarians to understand liberty.

    Reply Report comment
    • By George

      Saying that something is nonsense doesn’t prove that it is. Calling someone an authoritarian doesn’t not make them one, but then you have made quite a career out of nebulous and regurgitative statements haven’t you?

      You were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by a tiny anti-immigration right wing party, the Norwegian Progress Party. The statutes of the Nobel Foundation allow any members of national assemblies, even if there is just one member of a party in the assembly, to nominate a candidate. In theory that means that any obscure institute or political party can nominate a candidate; it doesn’t mean that the nomination will be taken seriously. Which is one of the reasons why the Nobel Foundation stipulated that information about the nominations cannot be revealed until 50 years later. Here is the link to the Nobel Foundation statutes: http://www.nobelprize.org/nomination/peace/#nominators

      1. You have provided no proof that the statutes were changed AND when they were changed.

      2. If they were changed, why did you not instruct your own foundation to remove the claim from its website?

      3. You say others publicised the fact of your Nobel Peace Prize nominations. With others do you mean your own foundation? Because that is where it was publicised until earlier this year when it was removed after you were taken to task about it. You do display some bizarre logic.


      You have links with the American Cato Institute that was founded, funded and controlled by the right wing Koch brothers, industrialists with an extensive track record of climate change denial and environmental destruction. The Cato Institute has also received extensive funding from the U.S. tobacco industry and is considered a de facto tobacco lobby group.

      Just one publication, Bloomberg, printed the following about your friends:
      “Koch Industries units have also rigged prices with competitors, lied to regulators and repeatedly run afoul of environmental regulations, resulting in five criminal convictions since 1999 in the U.S. and Canada. From 1999 through 2003, Koch Industries was assessed more than $400 million in fines, penalties and judgments.”

      It seems that in your self-entitled world everyone has to corroborate what they say except you, and when you are taken to task you start throwing wild ideological accusations around.

      So for the record, have you or your foundation ever received any funding from a tobacco company, the Cato Institute, any other organisation funded by the Koch brothers and/or their companies, or any other individual with extensive tobacco interests?

      Regarding the nonsense in your comment:
      (d) so you deny that smoking causes lung cancer and other diseases? Or is this the old big tobacco line of – “we’re not sure, the evidence is contradictory”?
      Do you also deny that the big 5 tobacco companies covered up research dating from the 1950s that implicated smoking as a cause of cancer?
      You could just as well make no claims regarding statements that the earth is flat.
      (e) pro vested interests does not make you pro liberty
      (f) frankly I won’t be holding my breath for an answer since I don’t expect hypocrites to act with integrity.

      There is an old adage that it is wise to be wary of people who use dogmatic ideologies and obfuscation to shut down debate. It is a sign of one dimensional thought processes and hidden agendas. Frankly that makes you no different from a demagogue like Julius Malema.

      Reply Report comment
  3. By Duncan

    “Needless to say, given this scurrilous attack, I will not be doing so.” I think that’s game, set, and match for AfricaCheck then.

    Whereas the simple response would be to provide the underlying sources that back up the claims made, Mr Louw’s deliberately evades the enquiry and suggests that no such sources do -in fact – exist.

    Reply Report comment
  4. By Peter Berkley

    What has NOT been disproven is that in virtually every aspect of life, South African blacks have experienced a massive improvement in living standards since 1994.
    Surely that is all this is about ?
    Why the vicious ad hominem attacks on Mr Louw and the Free Market Foundation? Whoever or why ever he was long ago nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize is neither here nor there – not in the least bit relevant.
    What is perhaps relevant is that apart from the Free Market Foundation, the highly regarded and long-established Institute of Race Relations no longer wishes to cooperate with you either. Perhaps it’s your own background and objectives that require a little more investigation …?

    Reply Report comment
    • By Africa Check

      Our role as a fact-checking organisation is to verify factual claims – not statements of opinion, an argument or debate. That’s a fundamental misconception that the SAIRR labours under.

      Please read our follow-up report on Leon Louw’s claims, where we did just that: https://africacheck.org/reports/claims-of-south-africas-spectacular-transformation-fact-checked/

      Further information on our methodology can be found here: https://africacheck.org/about-us/our-principles/

      Reply Report comment
    • By George

      So, questioning the validity and integrity of a public figure or organisation’s utterances and conduct has now single handedly been redefined by you as ‘vicious ad hominem attacks’.

      Only a person with an astonishing lack of insight would fail to recognize the importance of prior conduct and context in judging current behaviour.

      “What has NOT been disproven is that in virtually every aspect of life, South African blacks have experienced a massive improvement in living standards since 1994. Surely that is all this is about ?” – No, it is NOT. Africa Check took Louw to task for making unsubstantiated shotgun statements and then obfuscating about it. Something you seem to be pretty good at as well.

      The previously well-regarded SAIRR has unfortunately been co-opted by ultra-dogmatic free market fundamentalists who represent the narrow agenda of minority vested interests.

      Reply Report comment
    • By Africa Check

      Comments go into a moderation queue as you would have seen when you submitted yours. A human has to approve it to prevent our pages from being flooded by HIV ‘cure’ spam. And it usually doesn’t happen immediately, apologies for that.

      Reply Report comment

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