The affordable education loan option
We have a democracy, but the party and government have merged into a monolith that acts with impunity, writes Mamphela Ramphele.
It is with sadness that I have to say today, nearly 20 years after our liberation, that although our achievements have been considerable, we are not living up to the ideals of Oliver Tambo. Many South Africans feel the leaders of my generation have failed to deliver on the promise of freedom so many of their forebears fought and died for.
Last week, the latest edition of the Ibrahim Index of African Governance – the leading survey of the quality of governance in 52 countries across Africa – was published.
At one level, South Africa performs well. Compared to many African countries, we are still a land of potential, blessed with natural, mineral and human resources. We have one of the world’s most admired constitutions, which on paper protects fundamental human rights, enshrines respect for the rule of law and affirms the values of dignity, equality and freedom.
Our democratic government in 1994 inherited a relatively developed economy, with some of the best-developed infrastructure on the continent. What is distressing is to see the areas in which the quality of governance is slipping.
In two of the four main categories used by the Ibrahim Index as benchmarks – participation and human rights and safety and the rule of law – our score has declined against the figures for 2000, the first year for which data was gathered. The Ibrahim Foundation judges the decline in participation and human rights to be “notable”.
We’ve improved in the category of human development but we still fell behind countries like Tunisia and Botswana.
In education, we fall behind Ghana and in health care, we were lower than Libya, Algeria and Egypt. We have improved in the category of sustainable economic opportunity, but our annual growth rates are well below the average for Africa, and the overall statistics conceal huge disparities between rich and poor.
Researchers will no doubt be digging deeper into the data, but in broad terms its indicators confirm what we see happening.
Speaking in Cape Town earlier this month, the former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan said members of parliaments, as the politicians in closest contact with citizens, have an important role to play in holding leaders accountable. That role is undermined by our electoral system of proportional representation.
You don’t get to Parliament because the people of your constituency vote you there: you are appointed from a list drawn up by your political party.
The system was adopted in 1993 to ensure minorities were not excluded from Parliament, which might have happened in a constituency-based system, but the effect at a national level has been that legislators are beholden to party bosses not voters.
Annan added: “It is transparent and accountable institutions, not ‘strong men’ or strong leaders that safeguard democracy and create the conditions for peace and prosperity.”
The institutions underpinning our democracy are either underperforming or under fire from within the governing party.
Until quite recently, we had a great deal of confidence in our Independent Electoral Commission, but in the past year that has been eroded by maladministration at the highest levels of the commission and by the action of an official who disqualified candidates from a local election to protect the interests of the governing party.
Our national ombudsman, the public protector, is doing extraordinarily valuable work in exposing corruption and poor administration, but members of the governing party in Parliament, who should be defending her, give every impression of trying to undermine her.
Our president has manipulated the justice system to avoid charges of corruption, and he is fighting to avoid surrendering for public scrutiny the documents upon which prosecutors based their decision to withdraw charges against him.
The appointment of a new national director of public prosecutions has been mired in controversy, with the president’s first choice dismissed by the courts.
Prosecutors acting under the leadership of a temporary director have dropped corruption charges against a number of prominent figures in other politically-sensitive cases. We are reaching the stage that if you are a high profile leader involved in corruption, a decision on whether you are prosecuted depends on how closely connected you are to the dominant faction of the governing party.
While our courts are still independent, government representatives in the commission that recommends the appointment of judges show signs of preferring executive-minded candidates to the kind of human rights lawyers who were such a distinctive feature of the Bench when Nelson Mandela was president.
And right now, the Constitutional Court, is embroiled in scandal as a result of a private appeal made to two of its members by a judge president from an inferior court to rule in favour of the president in one of his corruption cases. Our civil and political freedoms are at risk.
We have come a long way from the altruism of Oliver Tambo.
Twenty-five years ago, a decision to join a banned liberation movements was a decision to risk imprisonment, even death.
Today a decision to join what is now the governing party is often motivated by a desire to access jobs and resources. The average member of the ANC is in the party for the opposite reasons his or her forebears were. Self-interest has become the driving motive of many of those in positions of authority who should be focused on serving the public.
At every level, public officials, or their families, do business on the side with the very government that pays them.
In the Eastern Cape, where health and education systems are collapsing, the government’s own statistics show 8 000 public servants are being paid by the state and earning money from private business deals with the health department.
And the party, the government, the president and the state have merged into a monolith that acts with impunity. In the most blatant example of a conflation of conflicting interests, the ANC has an investment arm, called Chancellor House, which raises money for the party by entering as a black economic empowerment partner in commercial deals such as big infrastructure projects involving state-owned enterprises.
The auditor-general tells us that last year alone, more than R24.6 billion in public money was wasted through corruption, negligence and incompetence – robbing citizens of vital services and denying our economy the investments it needs for us to thrive.
The consequences of these failures in governance are nowhere more apparent than in the education system. Of 1.1 million pupils who started school in 2001, 66 percent or 745 000 of them had either dropped out or failed their matric exam by last year.
Only 10 percent of those 1.1 million children were eligible to go to university. In the same year, 12-year-olds attained an average 43 percent in literacy tests and 27 percent in numeracy tests.
I have said our government is delivering an education worse than that provided by the apartheid government, whose system of Bantu education deliberately educated us for an inferior status in society.
Many young people today can’t find jobs because they can’t read, they can’t write and they haven’t been taught to think logically. And the failures of our education system result in an underperforming economy.
We don’t have adequate skills to run a modern economy. We have about 800 000 vacancies for skilled jobs and about 600 000 graduates who can’t find work because their qualifications don’t match the skills required.
Back in 1987, Oliver Tambo issued this appeal to the community in Georgetown (US): “We would also like to convey to you something of the resolve of the despised millions of our country to be victims no longer, to emancipate themselves and to free their oppressors from the burdens that all who practise injustice impose upon themselves. It is our hope that in the difficult days ahead, you will stand with us, lending your intellectual excellence to the accomplishment of these objectives, and that using the power you derive from the discovery of the truth about racism in South Africa, you will help us to remake our part of the world into a corner of the globe of which all humanity can be proud.”
Some of those objectives are being attained. But many of those millions of whom Oliver Tambo speaks have been left behind in the past 20 years. They do not feel as if they are citizens in charge of their own destinies.
They still need to liberate themselves psychologically, socially and economically. Despairing of being able to change their lot, many are disillusioned with democracy, and some are attracted by dangerous rhetoric from political demagogues.
* Dr Ramphele is Leader of AgangSA. This is an edited extract from her Oliver Tambo Lecture, “Honouring Oliver Tambo – Restoring the Promise of Freedom” at Georgetown University, Washington, DC.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.