Tag Archives: affirmative action

When the watchdog lost its bark

The DA must never forget that regardless of its ambitions to govern South Africa, it is an opposition party, with a mandate from its voters to hold the government and the ruling party vigilantly to account. Its clearly defined vision of an Open Opportunity Society for All, and the values which flow from this, should guide its response to every piece of legislation that appears in parliament.

Even after Helen Zille’s very public about-turn on the party’s astonishing support in the National Assembly for the Employment Equity Amendment Bill, it is still pertinent to question what on earth were its MPs thinking. How could such an important and dangerous law, one which runs so contrary to the party’s values, be given the thumbs up? Where was the scrutiny – the vigorous interrogation of the Bill’s ramifications, and of its (in)compatibility with the party’s values?  Despite the significance of the Bill, and the significance of the party’s support for it, a press statement explaining its support was not provided (until much later). Why the subterfuge? Was the party hoping the public wouldn’t notice its “yes” vote?

And, if they’ve screwed up on this bill, what else are DA MPs supporting that runs counter to the their party’s vision and ideals? Is it too much to expect the DA’s parliamentarians to have a thorough understanding of what the party stands for? That while it strongly values redress, it believes this should not be achieved on the basis of race – that the key criteria for redress should be disadvantage, and not a racial proxy?

The confusion around this legislation is deeply concerning. Several DA MPs have — somewhat incomprehensibly — spoken on record in favour of it. And yet, it should be manifestly clear to the party’s MPs that it is contrary to its values. If they can’t grasp that, how can voters be expected to figure out what on earth the party stands for? If DA public representatives support racialism, they can always join the party defined by it – I’m sure the ANC would be happy to have them.

The DA’s parliamentary caucus should stop taking those who voted them into power for granted. They entered the National Assembly to serve. To scrutinise. To uphold the values which the DA espouses. They are not there to sleepwalk their way to entrenched racialism.

I hope the DA soon realises that while broadening its support is important, basing this growth on a foundation of principle is essential. It’s unfortunate if some of its members believe that the only way to increase black support is to support racial engineering. Indeed, it’s an insult to the very people they are trying to attract.

The DA has long talked about offering voters an alternative. In parliament three weeks ago, it came perilously close to abandoning this ambition entirely. In a bid for power, pragmatism should never erode principle. If it wants to achieve its vision of a South Africa in which reconciliation and redress are achieved, delivery is successful, and diversity is valued, then it is time for the party to not just talk about these values, but for its parliamentary caucus to start living them.

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UCT’s affirmative action excluding SA’s poor?

Well, that’s what Jonathan Jansen, the vice chancellor of the University of the Free State, seems to think. Click here to read his arguments on the matter, which appeared in the Business Day as part of the Centre for Development and Enterprise’s fabulous series on “transformation”.

Jansen’s contribution to this vexed issue is a breath of fresh air, and he brings much needed intelligence and rationality to the debate.

My own thoughts on University of Cape Town’s racially-based admissions policy can be found here. They were written in my last year of school (and no I wasn’t an embittered applicant — I didn’t even apply to the esteemed institution), appearing as letters to the Business Day and the Cape Times. Although that was all the way back in late 2006, the issues remain all too relevant.

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Fatcat health MEC’s R1 million boardroom

Gauteng’s provincial health minister, Brian Hlongwa, has splashed out on renovating his boardroom with R1 million from the public purse according to this article in last week’s Financial Mail.

This outrageous extravagance comes at at time when Gauteng’s hospitals are under more strain than ever, with vastly inadequate and ill-maintained infrastructure (such as broken lifts), as well as chronic personnel and resource shortages.

Not that Hlongwa seems to care. As the FM says:

At Chris Hani Baragwanath hospital … it’s not unusual for patients (including the critically ill and pregnant women), doctors and nurses to climb flights of stairs because of broken lifts.

This doesn’t spur Hlongwa into action. “It’s a public works issue,” he tells the FM casually…

Indeed, Hlongwa seems more intent on creating a cushy environment at the provincial health head office, with an alleged R26 million being spent on alterations. And, in less than five years, personnel at the head office has surged to more than double in less than five years.

With the DA accusing Hlongwa spending to much money on consultant, Hlongwa responds with:

“It’s easy for the DA to criticise. We’re using the consultants from the private sector. That’s where the skills reside but they don’t come cheap.”

Of course if there hadn’t been a purge of skills and experience from government they wouldn’t be faced with the need of hiring so many consultants (many of which are actually former employees). And it would help if there were significant improvements to salaries and working conditions — with posts to be filled by the most-skilled applicant and not one chosen purely on a racial beancounting basis — to boost expertise in the public service.

Hlongwa and his ilk epitomise the callous indifference the ruling elite have for society’s most vulnerable. Those dependent on state healthcare have a raw deal thanks to a fatcat cabal far too preoccupied with self-enrichment to give a damn about service delivery.

Dismantling apartheid’s vicious and continuing legacy is simply not the urgent priority it should be.

Swanky renovations, a legion of consultants and gravy train buffets would be somewhat more tolerable if healthcare services (or any constitutionally-mandated government obligation for that matter) were of the highest standard. But they’re not: they’re abysmal.

And, sadly, until the people are put first, it will stay that way.

Read the FM article here.

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Malaysia’s lessons for South Africa

Malaysia’s governing coalition which has been in power since independence in 1957 has suffered a blow to its hegemony in the latest elections. In the federal legislature, opposition parties more than quadrupled in representation – from 20 in 2004 to 82. Opposition parties now govern 5 states, up from 1 in 2004.

The key cause of this seismic shift is an increasing disillusionment with the National Front coalition’s race-based policies. An article in The Economist explains:

Many Chinese Malaysians have tolerated the New Economic Policy (NEP), introduced in 1971 to redistribute wealth to the poorer Malay majority, as a guarantor of communal harmony at a time when all ethnic groups were getting richer. Now even some Malay voters appear to have turned against it, seeing it as an excuse for cronyism and corruption. Some voted for the opposition, a loose alliance of three parties, which called the NEP obsolete and, on taking power in Penang, has started to dismantle it, saying its provisions will not apply to state-government contracts.

The situation faced in Malaysia has parallels with South Africa’s own politics and race-based policies. While economic empowerment of the previously oppressed is vital, the way in which it has been implemented has to a large degree been a failure.

Afrodissident wrote last year:

Half our black population lives on $1 a day or under. In 13 years of freedom, unemployment has swollen by an official 25%. The number of South Africans living in relative poverty (calculated on income) increased from 40.5 (in 1996) to the whopping 47% currently.

We continued with:

BEE is an insult to the millions of poor South Africans and their ancestors who were oppressed under apartheid and colonial rule. It is an insult because it has resulted in little more than the creation of tiny black elite and an economic system based on patronage and cronyism rather than merit and innovation.

Moeletsi Mbeki, the president’s brother, says: “BEE looks deceptively like a form of reparation. The reality, however, is very different. BEE is a formula for co-opting – and perhaps even corrupting – ANC leaders by enriching them as private individuals.”

From Malaysia’s history it is clear that SA is not the only country where ethnically-based policies inevitably lead to self-enrichment and patronage. What I sincerely hope for is that this will lead to disillusionment with the party who perpetuates these divisive and ineffectual policies – just as it has done so in Malaysia.

True empowerment is not one black woman being on the boards of 71 companies (Danisa Baloyi – before Fidentia hit the fan). It it is not ANC funding fronts being awarded massive deals from state parastatals.

For the impoverished to receive true socioeconomic emancipation we need to create an equal and open opportunity society where an education system can provide much needed skills and catalyse innovation.

We need loads of scholarships (especially for teachers and other sectors facing personnel shortages). We need academies for promising pupils (perhaps modelled on Oprah’s school). We need small business resource and skills development hubs in the townships and rural areas.

As long as the ANC remains in power in its current form, BEE and other racially-based policies will continue. They will persist because they are a useful mechanism to plunder resources for the personal gain of a politically-favoured few. One day other parties will eventually pose a significant challenge to that at the ballot box. But who knows when that will be. Let’s hope it doesn’t take 50 years – like it did in Malaysia. South Africa – and especially its poor – deserves much better than that.

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