Cape Town - Many White South Africans feared success by black matriculants, said an independent education expert after President Jacob Zuma accused DA leader Helen Zille of having “that old mentality that black people are not intelligent”.
But both Zuma and Zille were slammed by education analyst Graeme Bloch for “playing politics with matriculants’ real progress”.
Bloch has urged white South Africans not to question legitimate progress in the matric pass rates – if they are doing so just because most students are black. This comes on the back of a row over matric results – with Zille calling massive increases in the pass rates in certain provinces questionable.
Zille said the surge in the number of successful candidates in Mpumalanga and North West was unrealistic, and called for an independent audit of the results.
But Zuma, speaking on Wednesday in Kanyamazane in Mpumalanga, while on walkabout on the ANC’s 102nd birthday, lashed out in a barely disguised reference to Zille: “I heard this white person saying let there be an investigation, they can’t pass like this, and I said to myself, this person still has that old mentality that black people are not intelligent, if they succeed it must be probed.”
The original Zulu quote was translated by eNCA. Bloch told the Cape Argus: “I’m not surprised that Zille called for an audit, because that’s her job – to attack the government as opposition leader.”
“I wouldn’t lump all whites with Zille’s politics – many whites, including myself and Gauteng Education MEC Barbara Creecy, are glad about the real progress.
“But the president has won a lot of support for his remarks, because the fact is many, especially whites, struggle to get their heads around the progress that has been made.”
Some white people actively “don’t like the increase in results”, he continued: “They don’t like to see the progress, because they don’t like the government succeeding.”
Bloch said he had serious concerns about many aspects of the country’s education system. He agreed with Zille, for example, that the drop-out rate was still too high – not only in the provinces whose results Zille questioned, but also in the Western Cape.
“Clearly, there are still more pupils dropping out of school in Khayelitsha than in Rondebosch,” he argued. “And there could well be some flaws in the published matric pass rates.”
But, that said, he was convinced that “both black and white kids have indeed made real progress this year”.
“We’ve worked hard, as a country, to make education more of a priority, and the result is there to see with the improved pass rates.”
The head of the political studies department at the University of the Western Cape, Dr Cherrel Africa, said of the spat: “It is an election year, and the politicians will throw down the gauntlet. It’s not that unexpected.
“Even though it’s 20 years into democracy, race is the faultline that divides us. At some point all politicians need to try to transcend these roles. Every election we fall into the same pattern again and again.
“The election seems to give people carte blanche to say whatever they want… And yet it’s the ordinary citizens who end up being more divided, specifically along race lines, and specifically due to the politicians’ hostilities, and their reliance on race.”
Africa said crude, race-based name-calling detracted from “the substantive issues – many complex issues that need to be dealt with”.
Africa said that while politicians used race-baiting to try to win support, many voters found it “distasteful”.
“They simply get turned off from politics in general,” she said.