Ethel Hazelhurst wrote that our dysfunctional education system is one of the legacies of the old-style (apartheid era) government in “The ghost of apartheid still haunts education” (Business Report, January 28). As she rightly observed, the system “continues to diminish the life chances of the already disempowered”. Most of us know this and, sadly, have almost become inured to the economic irrelevance of the unwitting incompetents embarrassingly produced by South African education.

So why is this? Even if the ANC leadership gave little thought to education before assuming power in 1994, there have been nearly 19 years in which education could and should have been turned around and vitalised. It must surely have been apparent to the ANC leadership that to populate every level of the government and business with the previously disadvantaged would demand a drastic and urgent programme of education and training.

Why, despite colossal ongoing education spend, are we still near the bottom of the global log in young people’s capabilities in the subjects that are mandatory for running an economy that aspires to join the world league and even to deserve being a member of the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) nations?

The “old-style” education system was intentionally designed to restrict decent formal education almost entirely to white people so that very few non-whites could become equipped to take constructive roles in the economy. The masses of “non-white” people could be subjugated not only by lack of formal education but also by ensuring their broad-spectrum ignorance and incapacity to organise effectively.

It’s a shocking thing to suggest, but it has dawned on me that the ANC deliberately adopted much the same policy for a very similar end purpose, to maintain a poorly informed, hardly literate and barely numerate voting herd so that criticism and power challenges could be kept to a minimum. This principle would not need to be admitted so long as a suitable stream of loudly publicised but futile interventions in education were maintained.

We are expected to believe that the ANC leadership is serious about education because of the money being thrown at it and the continual changes of “leadership”.

Unfortunately this policy has built up a backlash from which we are all suffering more and more, and which may well lead to our national aspirations being snuffed out. The media have gradually made the voting herd less poorly informed, while delivery crises on the ground have become so serious that even the non-educated recognise the reasons and grow angrier by the day. Calling back the displaced non-blacks who have the expertise to run critical areas has done nothing but make them small fortunes as consultants, but there were not and are not nearly enough of them because over the ANC’s 19 years they have retired, died off, or emigrated.

Meanwhile, fewer and fewer young people want to enter the vital professions because the study courses are tough and long. We are moving uncomfortably close to qualifying as a genuine banana republic.

But it’s never too late to change, and I believe there are still enough realistic and accredited educationalists to get a revolution going in our country’s education.

It needs real, determined and ongoing political will to authorise and drive it, and the courage to detach it from political factors so that appropriate people can be drawn in from all sources and empowered and encouraged to do the job and see it through to completion.

Tim Anderson

NewlandS, Cape Town

Nature teaches us how to fight e-mail scams

I don’t know how many of your readers know about the mating habits of the masked weaver bird. It is a prolific builder of nests: 20 or more a season. However, it only manages to attract five females to take up residence, which means that around three quarters of the nests are empty. When a snake comes along, it has a three in four chance of hitting an empty nest.

In business we can learn from nature.

Thousands of South Africans are getting e-mails advising them that they have a refund due from the SA Revenue Service. Most of us know that these are phishing scams, so we ignore them. But a couple of suckers fall for the trick.

I have been ignoring these messages. But it occurred to me that there might be a better way of dealing with them. So, I fired up my genuine Nedbank website and entered an imaginary profile, pin and password. And, of course, the system responded that the login details were not valid, and invited me to call the bank.

Let’s say, hypothetically, that Mr Phisher gets 10 responses in a day. At six minutes per operation, it takes him one hour to fleece 10 careless suckers, who were doomed from the moment they pressed the send key. But what if we all responded, providing login details that look genuine, but are in fact fake?

Mr Phisher now gets 10 000 responses a day, of which 9 990 are fake, and only 10 are genuine. Like the predator hitting a weaverbird colony, he is going to come up empty-handed most of the time.

And he would have to spend a thousand hours a day behind his computer to get through all the “work”.

I have this delicious vision of him sitting behind his laptop, eagerly entering data that he hopes may make him rich, only to get the same negative response every time he hits the “Enter” key.

There are a lot of Mr Phishers out there. If we all got together and clogged up their inboxes with useless data, we can make it impractical for them to operate.


CAPe town