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Overcoming our past

Opinion
In last week’s column I referred to a letter written to me by one of the Business Report readers who decried South Africa’s literacy problem as well as highlighting some of our societal ills, such as high pregnancy rates, as well as its impact on abject poverty. These are indeed very genuine socio-political challenges that must be confronted if we are to change the lives of our people.

Of course, to a limited degree some of these are self-inflicted and isolated, and of course, individuals need to take responsibility and act in their own best interest. Also that it could be avoided, however to a large degree, that the broader society is struggling to untangle itself from the socio economic architecture of our past. There are huge disparities that continue to engulf the present as well as threatening our futures.

The issues are much deeper than meets the eye, especially when you have never lived in black townships. Growing up in these areas was never a loving experience, but survival of the fittest. It was being confined in an area where even those that confined you in the first place would never even take an overnight nap, let alone schooling their children there.

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Picture: David Ritchie

The foundation of the literacy and under-development problem is rooted in the very psychology and philosophy of apartheid’s deliberate marginalisation of the black mind.

Dr Henrik Verwoerd, the architect of Bantu Education, who was then the Minister of Native Affairs, stated that “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?”

This strategic move had a very devastating effect, and it would later be experienced by the very quality of leadership produced by pre Bantu Education. This was represented by such erudite scholars as Nelson Mandela, Robert Sobukwe, and on the academic side, the likes of SK Matseke and TW Khambule. The latter were some of the best teachers to have graced our schools in the townships.

Post Bantu Education the townships and rural areas experienced a huge decline in the quality of teachers and teaching in general.

I wish to repeat an anecdote I made in earlier articles: “If a well-educated middle-class white male in 1970 got blessed with a son whom he had to raise within the well-established and privileged family environment like most white folks, and at the same time impregnated a black mistress from the township and denied the child’s paternity and distanced himself from this child, effectively that child would have been raised in black townships.

Under-development

"Without support from his father, (this would have been) with all the ills, limitations and disadvantages associated with its under-development, inferior education, etc, unlike the legitimate son who would have been exposed to all the privileges and support, including top schools and universities.

"Fast track to 1994, if this white father felt guilt throughout the years and now his conscience pushes him to seek this black son and got him back to his home and business, whatever he would wish for, the two 25-year-old boys would never be the same without a strong measure of accelerated support and empowerment for the black son.”

Racial segregation wasn’t just confined to education, but it also deprived these “black areas" access to business and entrepreneurial opportunities. Trade was confined to limited retail opportunities, and resulted in the mushrooming of illegal trades such as shebeens. The taxi industry also became a home-grown business that evolved on its own without any support but harsh policing.

Malusi Gigaba, Minister of Finance, speaking at the World Economic Forum on Africa in Durban, made a compelling case for the ANC's radical economic transformation policy position. He concedes that the ANC-led government could have done more to change the lives of the majority of South African citizens.

He is quoted to have said “this could have included developing a productive economy in the townships, changing the regulatory framework, and upskilling the youth to avoid increasing levels of unemployed young people”.

Undesirable levels

Youth unemployment has reached undesirable levels. According to the Vulnerable Groups Series 1 Report: The Social Profile of the Year (2009-2014):

* Youth constitutes around 36 percent of the population, with youth between the ages 15 to 34 making up about 70 percent of the population

* Youth population at 19.5 million, with 83 percent being black nationally, except in the Western Cape 52 percent being coloured.

* Nationally youth headed households increased by 11.2 percent (from 3.6 million to 4 million).

* Youth unemployment rate actually higher than the employed rate.

* At an average of around 52 percent inactivity rate for young people between the ages 15 to 34 years.

* As at 2014 more than 5 million people unemployed, 3.4 million of which are young people.

* Entrepreneurship among the youth needs to be inculcated

* Self-employment if South Africa is to confront and tackle these high levels of unemployment at a national level.

Imperative

Minister Gigaba went on to identify what could have been done better to change the economic landscape of townships and rural areas.

He stated that “my argument would be that we could have better changed the structure of production in the economy to diversify and create a thriving manufacturing sector.

"We have done it to some extent, yes. We could have focused more on beneficiation and developing the skills and capabilities of young people and implemented greater investment into SMMEs."

Goldman Sachs, in its report in 2016, in addressing the question of returning South Africa to a 3.25 percent gross domestic product growth rate, suggests that South Africa should consider fiscal stimulus that would incentivise the creation of at least 300 000 small and medium enterprises each year over a five-year period.

This means we cannot expect different outcomes if we continue to do things the same way, and whilst the Treasury should continue to follow fiscal prudence in its management of the economy and the country’s finances, it should be heavily investing in the developing new enterprises that would become future taxpayers, and drivers of new economic and inclusive growth that would expand the fiscus.

The programmes of the department of small business development would not succeed unless more resources are pumped towards developing strategic industrial sectors, so that we could increase our industrial base and substitute imported industrial products and become a major exporting economy.

Xolani Qubeka is founder of the Small Business Development Institute and non-executive chairperson of Redisa. He writes in his personal capactiy. E-mail: [email protected]

BUSINESS REPORT

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