Is Africa Self-defeating?

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The month of May kick-starts the commemoration of the 50th anniversary celebration of the founding of the OAU, as well as the African Union which was founded little over a decade ago. It is also a good time for the Union to reflect on how far it has come in its mission to “promote an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global arena”.

A McKinsey report reveals that despite the obvious challenges such as conflict, a shift in economic and social policy could see Africa making headway in the long run in terms of development.

The report classifies African states into three categories: Diversified economies; South Africa forms part of this group along with Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia. These countries are said to be the most developed, with the least volatile GDP.

The second categories of states are those in the Transition phase; countries such as Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya are included in this group. These ones are not nearly as developed as the first group, though exhibiting potential for growth. Pre-transition economies such as the DRC, Ethiopia and Mali constitute the third category of countries with the lowest GDP and are still very poor.

This is the state of Africa fifty years on. The truth is that the continent remains generally poor relative to its abundant natural resources. South Africa has played a key role in many developmental endeavours (such as NEPAD, SADC) both in the Southern African region and the continent at large through the contribution of financial and human resources.

Therefore, it is not surprising that recent reports of negative statements by Zambian deputy president, Guy Scott about South Africa (and South Africans in general) put a damper on things for some of us who believe that despite our country’s internal discord- within the international arena-South Africa has proven itself to be a force to be reckoned with. While I believe his statements were lacking tact, the level of truth in them cannot simply be swept under the carpet.

One of the statements made by Scott was one pertaining to the historical (under) development of South Africa in comparison to other African states. While at face value it appears that Scott is ignorant of the structural development in this country; the reality is that the rampant corruption, looting of state resources and abuse of public funds is undermining economic growth. Other areas compromised include education and health care and sanitation, which South Africa should, ideally, have under control.

In the eyes of Guy Scott and others who share his perspective, South Africa is a lot like the self-absorbed and ignorant spoilt brat of the continent who has most things at her disposal. In most instances her people refer to the greater Africa as the ‘other’ and suffer from severe xenophobia. This is despite the fact that her children have one of the lowest ratings of literacy and numeracy skills at basic education level- ultimately resulting in an inadequately skilled workforce.

Having listened to many ‘comic’ yet equally alarming conversations by some ladies on regular commutes to work, passing the snaking queues at the Home Affairs branch in Marabastad; it is clear how ignorant ordinary South Africans are to the harsh realities faced by fellow Africans. This is often revealed in statements that suggest that the demise of Mandela will signal the mass exodus of all immigrants. The snaking queues on the other hand, reveal the stark reality that, for many refugees and asylum seekers, South Africa is a beacon of hope.

Without seeking to justify our obvious short-comings as South Africans, the large influx of our fellow Africans is a burden on the economy of the country, and the scramble for scarce resources a direct consequence of that.How does Mr Scott suggest resolving this?

Truth hurts. Naturally, when confronted with absolute and unadulterated truth the first response is denial. However, the revelation of truth offers one the opportunity to reflect positively on what the implications are and how to best go about managing change (if any). So, the truth really acts as a necessary control measure to ensure that we don’t get caught up in our own illusion.

Of course South Africa has its own demons, but so does the rest of Africa.The latter, whose citizens make up the numbers of refugees and asylum seekers in the country, need to do some introspection of their own. The Guy Scotts of this world also need to be part of the solution and not merely criticize at will.Now is as good a time as any, especially within the context of the 50th anniversary of the OAU.

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When We Can’t Afford Silence

 

Speak No Evil2

Where I come from, an air of mistrust exists towards people deemed to be “too” quiet. These people, otherwise known to you and me as introverts are faced with the perception that they are too deep and secretive. Dropping bombshells when people least expect is their speciality. Perhaps this is what irks people; that they don’t know it all hence the discomfort.

A few frustrated outbursts have come my way once too often particularly from my mother. She, of course knows the introvert in me all too well. ‘Still doesn’t understand her, me…it. As it would occur, introverts not only like their words at a minimum, they like their space too. I have settled for being ‘misunderstood’.

There’s an old song titled “Silence is golden”. While the high pitched melody can be confusing irony, the phrase in itself is true. Silence, in comparison to noise and much ado about nothing, is dignified and  can reveal more about an individual’s sense of integrity than anything else. Let’s rememberwhen he was ‘recalled’ from office, former president Thabo Mbekiremained silent while the rest of us bemoaned the treatment rendered to him by his own comrades. It was silence that also hurt KgalemaMotlanthe’s chances in the presidential race preceding the ANC elective conference in Mangaung.

Who knows how things could have turned out had Motlanthe been vocal enough? Possibilities abound, however, we will never know. Of course some will insist that one fakes in until he makes it. In this case, being strategically silent until the crap that hit the fan dissipates.

 I reckon our dearly beloved President Zuma is one of those who believe in this tenet. How can one assume differently when all but the man spoke out during the many scandals of his career? Corruption trial  –silence. Rape trial –silence. Concubines –silence. Nkandla –silence. Guptagate…

This kind of silence is not of a golden nature, I’m afraid. It is one that is actively pitting one South African against the other. It is of the kind that says, “I’m out of my depth and God, I don’t even know it!” Hence when something is uttered, statements like “The problem with South Africa is that everyone wants to run the country”are first in line. Oh well.

Over the past week social media has been abuzz, as has been traditional media with the Gupta clique landing their jet at a National Key Point (without proper customs procedures being followed and with absolute disregard for the sensitivity of our national sovereignty by those who authorized the landing) and receiving high level escort to the wedding venue.

While the president has not been implicated in this storm-in-a-tea cup, his ties to the Guptas go far beyond acquaintance level. The loyalty exhibited by his loyalists is admirable but I reckon it is time some took off their rose coloured glasses. This current scandal is a clear indication that our country has been sold to the bearer of the deepest pockets. So, which Master do we really serve?

Silence is not golden. It is fatal. A collective silence from the masses to the decline of our country into a state that does not command respect in all the necessary arenas, demanded by those who are against criticism of those at the helm of government, is an active reversal of the strides made by others in the past. Our silence will be the vehicle ensuring that the narrow interests of a few continue to flare corruption and rot in our society. We cannot afford to keep silent.

Through the Lens: On Media Freedom in South Africa

the world through a lens

Due to the festive period last year, I decided to write less about politics and to focus my energy on less mind-boggling, complex matter. So I’ve been on the easy-going route and maybe just a tad too relaxed. Yet again, it was quite easy to hit a slump after observing the outcome of the ANC National Elective Conference in Mangaung (let’s face it, politics are messy. Just ask Julius Malema).

So I’ve been laying around like a python full on its prey; rather dumbfounded and unsure which direction to take: Whether to lament at (or adopt a ‘let’s see approach) the sheer ignorance of fellow South Africans who put loyalty towards certain individuals well above common sense and their responsibility towards ensuring that future generations have solid foundations through ethical, responsible and visionary leadership. I remain undecided.

Quite simply, I was disappointed. I’ve stated before that we have a continuing knack for glorifying mediocrity. When mediocrity rears its ugly head then we take to the streets to burn down facilities that are vital to our livelihoods. Late trains? -Burn. Local businesses? –Burn and loot. Buses? Burn the motherf%ckrs down!

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Now that we’ve got that out of the way; while I was in a colleague’s office earlier this week my eyes were fixated on a rather perverse and sadist piece of text-apparently the Rubicon speech of 1985- constituted by some of the vilest malice I’ve read about black people yet. Thankfully, after some research I found the legitimate speech by then state president P.W Botha. Though far more polished than the version I had read before, it was nonetheless “arrogant”- in the words of O.R Tambo.

It wasn’t so much the references to blacks as a violent, irresponsible group that stood out because within the context of that dispensation, such utterances were to be expected. It was the question that Botha posed to the media of the day:

“… [To the media in South Africa]:  How do they explain the fact that they are always present, with cameras et cetera, at places where violence takes place? Are there people from the revolutionary elements who inform them to be ready? Or are there perhaps representatives of the reactionary groups in the ranks of certain media?” Whose interest do you serve-those of South Africa or those of the Revolutionary elements?”

Fast forward to 2013, almost three decades later into democratic South Africa, governed by the very group that Botha warned would run the country into the ground. Voicing much contempt for the media in a 2010 interview, ANC spokesperson, Jackson Mthembu stated: “ If journalists have to be fired because they don’t contribute to the South Africa we want, let it be”- (G, Daniels, “Fight For Democracy: The ANC and The Media in South Africa”) Dear Mister Mthembu, please do elaborate what kind of South Africa you envision?

Unity in diversity...?

Unity in diversity…?

In his article titled, “Tensions rise between media, ANC-led government” on bizcommunity.com Issa Sikiti da Silva states that the ruling party wants the media “to stop their sensationalist behaviour and be more ‘patriotic’”.

Now rewind back to the Rubicon speech and await that déjà vu feeling. Listen to that all too familiar echoes of attacks on the media from two entirely different realms where those at the helm claim to uphold the ethos of democracy. Has South Africa really changed or is it simply the case of same script-different cast?

Yesterday the media was seen to be in cahoots with the so-called ‘barbaric’ elements of the day. Today, it is perceived to be in bed with liberals who have a sinister agenda against current leadership. It is hard to fathom that the very media that was paramount in highlighting black South Africans’ plight for a just and equal society to the rest of the world is being viewed with suspicion and every effort being made to effect censorship.

This then begs the question as to what the role of the media is. In addition to its informative, educational and entertainment value, media has the responsibility to “assist in the articulation and pursuit of the national interest; to monitor the performance of government with a view to preventing their deviation from clearly stated objectives and to help strengthen the economic, social and political fabric of the nation.” [Africa Leadership Forum: Excerpt from the Farm House Dialogue-1991]

While I concur with these, I am of the opinion that the latter requires collective effort from all corners of society and should, in practice, be a top-down approach. The fact that our elected leadership expects to look at the mirror to find a rosy reflection is astounding and using the media as a scapegoat even worse.

The word ‘patriotism’ now serves the purpose of emotional blackmail aimed at making the citizenry feel guilty about disclosing information that continues to harm and threaten the quality of our democracy. When will the governing clique realise that they are accountable to the people through transparency and disclosure? Perhaps the poignant question to ask would be, Dear ANC, have you taken a look in the mirror lately and really seen what you resemble? -The Rubicon speech maybe?

Celebrating Mediocrity and the Extinction of Innocence…

I have nostalgic memories of my childhood.  From my pre-school graduation ceremony as I faced my first year of school, to when I sang in front of a rainbow of faces at a hall in Lichtenburg when I was ten years old. I see the face of my father seated among the audience. I remember the lashes our teachers gave when we were out of line and the equal pat on the back when we did well. I remember a friend’s mother who whipped us for going around house to house asking for vetkoek money in her name and the embarrassment I carried home with me. I remember the immense support and mentoring I received from my middle school teachers and their sheer appreciation for excellence.

I remember my childhood; my innocence…and it was wholesome! That was MY childhood. As a mother, I’m faced with the constant worry about the current education climate and whether it will be ideal for my offspring-whether it will ever be ideal for any child. I was moulded and groomed in a public schooling system in a dusty township called Itsoseng, a system that I was (and still am) proud of having gone through.

This is because the dedication of the men and women who taught this woman was second to none. I do wonder, however, whether our future generations will be able to experience innocence in its entirety. There seems to be something sinister at play, a systematic dismantling of the essence of childhood-of the things that define a child. The state, school and society (family) constitute the three most important institutions that are supposed to shape children into individuals who are socially and morally responsible.

Yet it appears, in this era, the child is constantly under threat from all three. When Jacob Zuma began his tenure as president of the country in 2008 many took pride in the fact that though he only had formal schooling up to fifth grade (or Standard three) he climbed his ladder up to the highest position in the land. Without focusing on the obvious role of the ruling party and popular support for him, it was befitting to applaud the man since sans education one would have had to have an extra ounce of resilience, courage, wit and diligence to defeat the odds.

My mother, an endearing educator, has often told of stories of her pupils who aspire to be just like the president. Their humble circumstances make them look to Zuma as a beacon of hope (most are children of miners working in platinum mines) but she often warns that education is key. What will happen if they are not lucky enough to move through the ranks of the ruling party? What will happen if they don’t have meaningful mentors in their lives?

…which way…

It has been extremely disappointing to witness the manner in which education, especially in the public sector, has been reduced to a joke. If anything, we should be weeping for our future generations. According to the 2011/2012 World Competitiveness Report* South Africa ranked at 127th in terms of its quality of primary education, 133rd for the quality of its education system, and 138th for the quality of Maths and Science education. In 2011, Basic Education minister Angie Motshekga and the class of 2010 matriculants celebrated 67.8% national pass rate** after reducing the pass percentage mark significantly. As a consequence we witnessed unusually long queues for admission snaking along corridors and gates of institutions of higher learning two years in a row.

Then there is the deepening crisis in the state of education in the Eastern Cape where the laying off of a crucial workforce of teachers and mud schools are only a tip of the iceberg. Recently the textbook saga in Limpopo took centre stage; interestingly the only individual vindicated of incompetence by the president was the minister of Basic Education. Needless to say, rights group Section 27 discovered that the department was in contravention of a court order as many more children are still without essential textbooks.

***In Northern Cape, a reported forty schools were forced shut by civilians (including parents) demanding service delivery.**** In recent months there have been proposed amendments to the Child Act (no. 38 of 2005) to allow children as young as twelve to have termination of pregnancy and access to contraception without parental consent. The amendments will apparently make provision for sexually abused children and those involved in inter-generational relationships, but nonetheless inclusive of those who aren’t.

To aggravate matters there is a push by child rights organisations and government to have spanking (read: corporal punishment) banned from homes. Campaigners supporting this bid “believe this will have major bearing on the rights of children and how they are raised.”***** Respect for education as a vital tool for the emancipation and empowerment of the majority of our people has completely waned. It has been replaced by concealed dissuasion for excellence as a standard, by denialism and indifference. Which tool can be better than education to a tween involved with a sugar daddy?

Which tool can a parent equip a child with in the face of irresponsible leadership and socio-economic challenges? We are failing our country’s children by denying them quality education in a system that is affordable and accommodating. We are failing our future generations by denying them challenges in life, by making them complacent and lazy thinkers (and by implementing fucked up policy, yes I’m angry!). We are failing children by stripping them of their moral core and innocence. Most importantly, we are failing them by not allowing them to just be… children.

 

*http://www.stanlib.com/EconomicFocus/Pages/SouthAfricaranked50thinthe20112012WorldCompetitivenessReport.aspx ** http://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/2010-matric-pass-rate-678-20110106 *** http://mg.co.za/2012-09-06-section-27-take-angie-to-court-again **** (Govender, S. “New bid to have spanking banned”, 12 Jan 2012. Times Live) ***** (Dlodlo, C. “Parents refuse to end protests”, 09 Sept 2012, City Press)