18 March 1948 |
Krugersdorp, Transvaal Province, Union of South Africa
|Profession||Attorney, Activist, Executive Director|
Leon Louw is a South African intellectual, author, speaker and policy advisor. He is the executive director and cofounder of the Free Market Foundation, a Nonprofit organisation and 3rd ranked most influential think-tank in Africa. He is a regularly featured speaker and writer in South African and international media. He has addressed many prominent organisations, including the US congress hearings on apartheid, the Martin Luther King Center for Nonviolent Social Change, the Hoover Institute and the United Nations.
Leon Louw was born in the town of Krugersdorp on 18 March 1948. After his mother died in his infancy, he was raised by relatives in Potchefstroom, where he attended preschool and started primary school. When his father remarried, he was moved to the new family home in Johannesburg where he completed primary school and attended secondary school. After matriculating, he studied law at the University of the Witwatersrand (1965–1968), after which he completed his BJuris degree through UNISA whilst serving legal articles at a law firm (1969–1970). At university, he became a Marxist and anti-apartheid activist. He studied the major works of Marx and other communist writers. As an activist participating in anti-apartheid demonstrations and underground meetings he often found himself at odds with the law and the police . He went on to work with Winnie Mandela and other anti-apartheid leaders, and did courier work for the ANC .
Louw experienced a “philosophical shift” during his early twenties when he was an article clerk at one of South Africa’s leading law firms. His activist life took a new turn due to an event that changed his life and lead ultimately to the work he does now:
- “Every day I saw and occasionally patronised an old black lady who would sell fruit on the sidewalk outside our law offices. One day I saw the police kick her basket of fruit into the street, and chase her down around the corner where they caught and arrested her, They threw her violently into their police van, and drove off. I dropped what I was doing and followed. They took her to central Johannesburg police station where I spent the rest of the day trying to get her released.”
Louw asked his employer to investigate the plight of informal black traders and to provide them with legal defence. After telling him that it was “none of their business”, his employer reluctantly allowed Louw to work pro bono for illegal street vendors, taxi operators and cottage industries. It was at this point that Louw first found himself questioning Marxism, especially its anti-business and anti-individual liberty dogma, which he would later abandon, by virtue of what he observed “in the real world”, as he puts it, and under the influence of a colleague who introduced him to Ayn Rand’s Objectivist philosophy.
In defence of informal traders, Louw began to work with a trade unionist from the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), Laurence Mavundla, who, like Louw, had been enraged by the notorious “Granny Moyo” incident – she died due to head injuries suffered when tossed into a police van – and other atrocities perpetrated against what Louw saw as aspirant black capitalists. He teamed up with Mavundla’s African Chamber of Hawkers and Informal Businesses (ACHIB), and worked with others in the black community for the liberation of black taxi operators, peasant farmers and informal contractors. His work entailed representing street vendors in court cases, reclaiming their confiscated merchandise, seeking injunctions against illegal raids, arrests and brutality, confronting and obstructing police who were harassing small enterprise owners, and organising or joining protest action.
A widely used online biography describes Louw's past and present activism as follows:
- "Small and micro business, and black economic empowerment, have been Leon Louw’s principle interest throughout his public life. He has been intimately involved with and a prominent activist for organised and informal SMMEs, starting with the fledgling National African Federation of Chambers of Commerce (NAFCOC) and Johannesburg Street Vendors in the late 1960s. Much of his life presently is spent with grassroots black communities in tribal areas and inner cities, fighting for their right to trade freely and own the land they occupy."
Despite Louw’s activism he never joined any political organisation. His low-level courier work for the ANC, and general political networking, involved communicating between exiled structures of the organisation and the underground movement in South Africa. He met regularly with people in other political formations including AZAPO, the Pan Africanist Congress and the Inkatha Freedom Party. He was chairman of one of South Africa’s illegal non-racial schools, the Woodmead Montessori Primary School, which was attended inter alia by his children and by Nelson and Winnie Mandela’s grand-daughter Zoleka, who became a close school friend of his daughter, Camilla. Through the school, his activism and one of his books endorsed by Ms Mandela, he and his wife, Frances Kendall, befriended the Mandela family. They helped Winnie Mandela in her work to support families of detainees, and Ms Mandela arranged daily transport from the distant Soweto to their school for her granddaughter and a dozen or so other Soweto children.
Louw met and got to know many South African and foreign political, business and intellectual luminaries, including Thabo Mbeki, his father Govan Mbeki, Jacob Zuma, FW De Klerk, Dr Anton Rupert, Harry Oppenheimer, Clem Sunter, Marinus Wiechers, Dr Sam Motsuenyane (now President of his Free Market Foundation), Helen Suzman, Alan Paton, Nthato Motlana, Albertina and Walter Sisulu, Chief Buthelezi, Dirk Hertzog, Jan S Marais, Andreas Wassenaar, Frederik van Zyl Slabbert, Hendrik Verwoed Jr, Martin Luther King’s widow Coretta Scott King, Thomas Sowell, Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, James M. Buchanan, Israel Kirzner, Margaret Thatcher and Walter E. Williams amongst many others.
Louw co-authored with his wife Frances Kendall two best-selling books: South Africa, the Solution (Amagi, 1986) and Let the People Govern (Amagi, 1989). He ghost-wrote a novel set in India, The Deal Maker (2010, Rupa, Delhi), and co-authored Towards Freehold - Options for Land and Development (JUTA, 1988), and McGregor’s Economic Alternatives (JUTA, 1990). He has contributions in many publications, and wrote Habits of Highly Effective Countries (LRP, 2000), which is a statistical and empirical analysis of the characteristics associated with countries considered “winners” and “losers”.
Free Market Foundation
Louw was one of the co-founders of the Free Market Foundation of Southern Africa (FMF) in 1975, and is currently the Executive Director of the organisation. He often represents the Foundation the print and broadcast media, and at FMF events.
Louw and the Free Market Foundation were major contributors to the CODESA process in which the current democratic constitution of South Africa was negotiated. He was also the convenor of what became known as the “business caucus”, through which business leaders negotiated successfully for the inclusion of property rights in the Bill of Rights. He gave evidence on many occasions to various CODESA and, subsequently, Parliamentary constitutional committees. He was told years later by one of the secretaries that these submissions generated a great deal of interest and made a significant contribution to the inclusion of various provisions. The FMF’s submissions contributed, for instance, to the devolution of exclusive powers to local and regional tiers of government, the inclusion in the limitation clause of the requirement that limitations of rights must be “justifiable in an open and democratic”, and the inclusion of the administrative justice clause (32), the freedom of trade clause (22), and the rule of law as a justiciable foundational provision in the first section of the constitution .
When asked which prominent thinkers influenced his beliefs and principles the most, Louw lists (chronologically) Ayn Rand, Ludwig Von Mises, Murray Rothbard, Friedrich Hayek, Thomas Sowell, Donald Symons, and Matt Ridley.
Louw is married to Frances Kendall (1978) and has three daughters, Justine, Camilla and Katherine. His current interests, recreations and hobbies include philosophy, classical music, travel, the outdoors, chess, jogging, cycling and gym.