Posts Tagged education
South Africa’s attitude problem
I have always said that South Africa needs effective education in order to escape its poverty trap. There is, however, something else that is perhaps even more important and far harder to obtain, a change in culture or attitude.
If you look at the unrest, the constant strikes (often accompanied with violence), the unceasing corruption, you get the impression that there is a culture of entitlement. “We were harmed by the legacy of Apartheid and therefore we deserve [insert demands here]”. I fear this is only hampering our progress.
If we are to grow, to escape the bonds of apartheid, we need people who not only demand opportunities but create those opportunities. We need people willing to work to create their futures rather than just demanding it from the government or their employer. This is a part of the problem that I have with affirmative action. It enforces the entitlement culture. It says “you deserve the opportunity and we don’t care what you do with it.”
With youth unemployment in South Africa over 50% there is another negative effect on attitudes: despair and hopelessness. The belief that there is no way to improve your circumstances can lead to two things: complete inaction or unbelievable anger. We probably have both in South Africa, but it is the latter that makes news headlines.
Thus we need firstly to give people hope. Hope is the motivation. Then we need to make sure they know that their lives are in their hands – it is their responsibility to improve their lot. But how do we do that? Perhaps the answer still lies in our education system, in perhaps the most influential role models besides parents that children ever encounter, in teachers
Black diamond power
[I must apologise for not blogging in some time. Life caught up with me.]
I read a very interesting statistic this week. The black middle class in SA, known as ‘Black Diamonds’ has outgrown the white middle-class in numbers and spending power.
The 4 million black diamonds in South Africa are still only a small portion of the black population. But their presence represents a huge change. They have the power to change, not instantly, what has always been a white English (and to some extent Afrikaans) dominated culture and economy into one for blacks. However, the culture of the black diamonds has probably become more westernized than anything else. They will change things, but it will suit their culture, a new urban black culture.
I wonder where these black diamonds come from. 20% of them are in civil service, the product of a large government. This is not where we want them to come from. A large number are probably the products of Black Economic Empowerment, a system that I have never been fond of.
However, this must be said. These black diamonds are leaving behind a new generation of educated blacks – their children. They have created a foothold for black people in the South African economy. It’s a foothold only for a small number of people. Their presence has exacerbated rather than lessened income inequality in South Africa. They have entered the domain of white prosperity rather than bringing that prosperity to South Africa. But if they spread their wealth and their influence beyond their immediate families – in the way that Africans are apt to do – they could reach a far greater number of black people. If the presence of these black diamonds could help black children outside their immediate families to obtain better education or training that could make a difference.
Of course in much the same way BEE gave opportunities to blacks instead of “more deserving” whites, these black diamonds could do the same for their friends and family. This would not be so great for the economy and brings a number of other problems. But it does accentuate the trickle-down process I described.
People will help their own. Place black people in a position to be able to substantially help their own and they will. This is perhaps the one success of BEE. But I wonder if it is enough. A small black foothold we have. But no matter what we do in the short term it is going to take a massive country-wide improvement in access to education to bring the prosperity we need.