There is no doubt that modern day South Africa has inherited a hugely flawed economic system (#Proudly Brought to you by the Apartheid Government), but it would be hard to argue that we have made significant strides in changing this system since the adoption of democracy nearly twenty years ago. The simple fact of the matter is that we have missed the boat on the one opportunity to truly change our economic system (# Proudly Borught to you by the ANC) and if one considers the meteoric rise of organisations like the Economic Freedom Fighters, the only logical conclusion is that a peaceful and systematic transformation of the economic system, will be beyond our reach in the very near future.
If, however, we want any hope of changing this system, we must first understand its origins and the fact that our economy looks the way that it still does today is no accident. The systemic problem in our economy that everyone keeps referring to is the fact that it operates and relies on a system of a small number of economic elite making large profits off the work done by an unskilled or semi-skilled majority of working poor. Consider the vast difference in the income of a few mine bosses and their companies in relation to the workers who actually go down into the mine and haul the ore to the surface and while this is not necessarily a bad thing, what we have to realise is that the level on which this occurs in our economy is simply not sustainable. The real unpalatable truth, however, is that the origins of this system can be traced back to a single moment in time.
"There is no place for [the Bantu] in the European community above the level of certain forms of labour ... What is the use of teaching the Bantu child mathematics when it cannot use it in practice?"
That, ladies and gentlemen, is the exact moment in history that our economic system and its associated modern problems were born, with the promulgation of the Bantu Education Act way back in 1953. Now logic would certainly suggest that the easy solution to the problem would be to simply address the educational disparity between black and white children, but the sad truth of the matter is that we have failed miserably and that only a fool would suggest that there is even a hint of parity between the no-fee public schools and former Model-C or private schools. There simply isn’t and, heartbreaking a commentary as it is, we have no option but to come to the very inconvenient conclusion that “Bantu Education” is actually alive and well, but the colour that matters now is the colour of your money and not your skin. The logical deduction from this statement is that the system will remain as it currently is. The obvious question arising from this conclusion is why this has not been the singular focus of the majority Government since taking power in 1994.
Call me what you will for this, but this is no accident either.
The major problem with politics is a lot like the agency problem faced by large businesses where the people who manage the company are not necessarily the people who own it and this often creates a difference of opinion on where the company should be heading because the two groups have different interests. When you apply the same principle to politics, the people who set the economic and social framework are not necessarily the people who have to rely on them; I cannot imagine, for example, that any Government Minister or even a Member of Parliament is reliant on things like RDP housing or the public healthcare system and this is exactly why education was not priority number one from day number one. A politician will do and promise the people nearly anything in order to cease political power, but once they attain that power, all they are interested in is staying there and the sad truth of the matter is that a singular focus on education does nothing to improve the lives of the voting public, because frankly, school children do not vote. Knowing this all too well, the Government decided to embark on a populist path where they side with the people (the working poor) against the capital (the economic elite) and that is why we are seeing policies like Affirmative Action, Employment Equity, Black Economic Empowerment, the Reconstruction and Development Program and the list goes on.
These “redress” or “transformation” measures as we’ve come to know them are not a bad thing. They are very good, in fact, and are even supported by my neo-liberal economic theory, but what we have not come to terms with is that none of these programs have the power to eliminate our poverty and income (education) disparity problems. They only have the power to temporarily relieve them, but given the vast percentage of the public purse and the effect on inflation they entail, they tend to be economic monsters that grow as time passes by until they reach a point where they can no longer be sustained by the economy and the whole house of cards comes down. If we now consider the increasingly strict nature of something like the new BBBEE codes, the declared opposition to fronting, the ever growing inflexibility of the labour market and the staggering rise in the amount of people dependent on social security, we have no choice but to acknowledge the fact that we are fast approaching this point and that the opportunity to truly change our fortunes through the equal education of all our children will be lost forever once we go past it.
The worst part about it is that we, the people who have access to all the information and can sit down to read or write pieces like this one, allowed it to happen.
We allowed all of this to happen because we allowed ourselves to get caught up in the populist and often racist politics that goes on around us, because we are blinded by our own short-sighted, narrow and frankly selfish interests. We get into petty squabbles surrounding things like white privilege, black victimhood, the DA being a white only party that wants to bring back apartheid and most importantly, who gets to represent the poor on these forums or we write opinion pieces on corruption, the educational achievements of Jacob Zuma or, my personal pet peeve, what society should do to address the rape situation in the country and then we have the proverbial balls to get up in arms about organizations like Red October that actually got off their asses and did something. This is precisely the reason why we are seeing such an increase in amount of public money that is lost to corruption each year; it is because we can vilify the DA for doing everything in its power to obtain the Nkandla report, while it should be us who are beating down the doors of Government and demanding answers or demanding that heads roll. We have allowed ourselves to be duped into giving up our interest in our own country and its future in order for an unscrupulous politician to obtain a vote he/she thinks they are entitled to because they “fought in the Struggle,” want an equal country for all or some other form of worthless political ideology…
I’ve spent enough time on my soap box for one day, but I know that when I put my six month old son to bed tonight, I will once again start to wonder. I will wonder if the architects of Apartheid would have gone through with it if they had known that their grandchildren would have to go through a situation like this. I would wonder whether those who had died in the ensuing Struggle would experience a sense of shame at our inability to see this through and I would feel my own sense of shame because the way things are going now, there is simply no way in which I will be able to spare him having to go through this as well, even if his father had always been destined for it.