Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Freedom Economics 101

No matter the argument, once the race card has been played, the game is destined to turn ugly. It’s inevitable, and it isn’t more evident than in the news24 column, provocatively titled ‘Whites are more equal than others’, written by Khaya Dlanga.
Before we go into this blog post, I implore you to read the column at http://n24.cm/uEyIpV and have look at the comments. For the most part, I share Khaya’s sentiment, but at the same time, I completely understand why his article has caused such an uproar among his mostly white readers.
His article spoke of the deeply racial polarisation of South African society, and how economic freedom is a long-overdue discussion that could correct this. I say it again: please go read the column first, and have a look at the comments the column received before you continue with this.
Khaya says, ‘the polarisation in South Africa mostly has to do with a lack of willingness for some people to understand the grievances each side faces.’ He later says that some white people want to pretend that things are just fine the way they are, and even deny that they ever benefitted from apartheid. Obviously this statement would raise blond and brunette eyebrows right across the country. What is undeniable though, is that this statement is absolutely true. In this country, just because you are white, even if you were born after the fall of apartheid, you will have benefitted from apartheid, no matter what economic situation you may find yourself in now. But I know you never asked to be born white and privileged, and you don’t want to be judged by the colour of your skin. For this reason, I would like to say that the effects of apartheid are not your fault. It is unfair for a boy to be sent to jail for a crime committed by his grandfather, just like it is unfair to point fingers at the white minority because of a policy put in place by people who have long since died. Yes, the polarisation of society is a result of apartheid, but the economic conditions that most people find themselves in, aren’t. Yes, white people live more privileged lives because of apartheid, but the white people that live in South Africa today are can no longer be blamed for apartheid.
The term ‘economic freedom’ has come to popularity because of its use by the ever controversial Juju. He has made everyone scared by his talk of nationalisation of industries and expropriation of land without compensation. Just last week, he led a march through Gauteng in the name of economic freedom. He has pushed economic reform to the top of the agenda. He really has got the country talking, and I’m glad he has, because getting the country talking is exactly what is needed. Even without whatever internal economic issues South Africa may have, the world at large is a very bad place for economy. Crises in the US, Japan and Europe have severely affected South African exports and unemployment in South Africa is spiralling out of control, across the racial board. Foreign investment confidence is way down and more jobs are being lost than created. The policies put in place by government are hindering job creation. Something drastic must be done to correct the situation before it becomes unsalvageable. Economic reform must be discussed and solutions must be found. However, nationalisation and expropriation are merely propositions, poor ones at that, and not fail-proof solutions. Nationalisation of mines isn’t going to create more minerals and thus a demand for more labourers. Hard labourers also have very slim chances for promotion because of their lack of skills.
I am very lucky to have attended former Model-C schools right through my school career. I had great teachers who knew what they were talking about and knew how to explain it to me so I could understand. Every exam season, I knew that all the work that I would be tested on, had definitely been covered in class. However in this prime learning environment, there were students who made little effort towards their education and failed. The shameful truth is that the majority of the disgruntled youth have taken their education for granted. Yes, the education that many get is way below par, with inadequate teachers who are often MIA, and students choosing not to attend class. Fact is, a poor education is better than no education at all. Around exam time every year, you hear of star students from poorly performing schools getting distinction upon distinction. This shows that the men can be separated from the boys. Some scholars are not willing to fall into the trap provided by the school they are enrolled in. On the flip-side, the education system isn’t geared towards building creativity and innovation. It’s said that art teachers prepare their students for jobs that don’t even exist yet. I can’t remember if it was a comment on Khaya’s column or a tweet someone retweeted, but someone out there said that the South African education system builds good employees, and not good employers. To be an entrepreneur, you need to have a vision, and that vision will require creativity.
Teenage pregnancy is a big issue in this country, especially in disadvantaged areas. Yes, the rape rate is embarrassingly high, but most pregnant teens do the deed just for the kicks. Quite bluntly, kids should not be controlled by the penises or vaginas, because their attention spans are short and they can’t consider the future. It’s a shame that teenage mothers drop out of school to try and find work to support their child. The helper in our home doesn’t have her matric, but has a four-year-old son. It’s an even bigger shame how often teenage fathers refuse to take responsibility for their 30-minutes of fun. 
My mother was born and raised on a farm in the former Bantustan of the Transkei. Her education was heavily influenced and manipulated by the apartheid government. She is an alumnus of the Bantu Education system. I am typing this blog from my personal laptop in the comfort of my room in the leafy Northern Suburbs of Cape Town. Cape Town is a long way from the Transkei. The distance between Khayelitsha and Durbanville is roughly the same. My mother emancipated from the shackles of apartheid simply because she didn’t wait for someone to release her. She worked her way out. More than 15 million South Africans survive on social grants. You have to ask yourself, what are all these people doing? The vast majority of them are perfectly healthy and grew up in the same conditions my mother found herself in. the difference is my mother isn’t complacent. Never in her life has she sat and demanded. She has worked for everything in her possession. The black middle- and upper-class did not get to the suburbs by sitting and demanding that they be there. They took opportunities as they came. They fought for their liberation and success. They didn’t accept their circumstances. They wanted more, and so they did more and thus earned more.
As daunting as it may seem, the future is coming. It waits for nobody. And with each day the future comes nearer, past moves further away. I know I sound all kinds of cliché, but it’s the truth. The nice thing about the future is it isn’t set in stone. It can be changed before it happens. The exact opposite is true about the past. The decision that you make now have grave consequences on your future, whether good or bad. So please, before you do something drastic, think. How will this affect me in a week, a year, a decade from now? One day I will have things others do not have because I do things other people are not willing to do. I know that I want to live better than my mother did, and I want my children to live better than I did. I am still young, I’m turning twenty, and I still have time to make mistakes, but I know that the time will come when my mistakes will be unforgiveable, and may affect people other than just myself.
Andrei Damane