Some features of the infamous apartheid era have survived its demise. Among the legacies of the old-style government is a dysfunctional education system which continues to diminish the life chances of the already disempowered.
Another relic of the bygone age is a weakness for political hissy fits.
At regular intervals government representatives attempt to imitate the rhetorical style of the last but one apartheid prime minister PW Botha. Well-known for frothing at the mouth while angrily wagging his index finger, Botha repeatedly sent the currency into a tail spin.
Botha was driven by what he saw as the “total onslaught” on South Africa. Ruling parties often conflate their own self interests with that of the country. Which is why the ANC Youth League has described FNB’s controversial ad campaign as treasonous.
Large corporates, particularly banks, are seen as fat cats, which makes them the ideal targets for politicians.
FNB has drawn more than its fair share of flak. In 2007 former president Thabo Mbeki launched a PW-type tirade against the bank’s anti-crime drive.
More notoriously, when FNB was still trading as Barclays Bank in 1987, Botha accused the then managing director Chris Ball of financing newspaper ads calling for the legalisation of the banned ANC.
Botha appointed a commission to investigate. AP reported at the time that the commission found Ball had lied when he denied knowing that a loan he approved would pay for the advertisements.
When the findings were announced, SABC television – a great PW toady at the time – showed the highly emotional prime minister licking his lips and literally rubbing his hands in glee.
Barclays bailed out of the country in 1987, at which point its former subsidiary became FNB.
But the bank’s PR problems continued when the Botha government alleged its new thorn-tree logo disguised an ANC rabbit. There’s no end to the idiocy of paranoid politicians. That the former liberation movement should display the same symptoms of paranoia is disconcerting.
But the failure of education is a more fundamental problem – one which lies at the heart of the country’s low growth prospects.
While the unemployment rate hovers around 25 percent, vital jobs go unfilled for lack of skilled personnel. Without a steady supply of skilled people, a modern economy cannot achieve high levels of growth. And South Africa is a case in point, with growth capped at around 3 percent at best.
Last year, 18 years after the political transition, the matric results underscored this point.
At a presentation in Johannesburg last week, Econometrix chief economist Azar Jammine noted that only 10.8 percent of the 1 130 659 children who started school 12 years earlier got more than 30 percent for maths. Only 9.7 percent achieved more than 30 percent for science, 7.8 percent for accounting, 8.7 percent for economics and 7.32 percent for history.
And fewer pupils are trying to achieve. Jammine’s figures show the numbers registering for matric had fallen from 317 270 in 2008 to 230 194 in the case of mathematics; 187 994 to 137 527 in accountancy; and 229 934 to 182 083 in physical science.
If some of the energy that goes into temper tantrums were diverted to transforming education, the situation might change.
Meanwhile, an improvement in percentage passes will depend on fewer school leavers making the attempt.