Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Black Economic Empowerment or blue elephants?

I am not heaven sent from Norway! Beaverboosh grounded me (and Norway) nicely yesterday. I do have some issues with the BEE (Black Economic Empowerment) in South Africa though. That does not mean that I don’t understand… coz I do know the history, and this should not label me as a racist either I believe.

First of all, how can you use racial distinction to create a non-racial society? That’s what BEE is all about, isn’t it… racial distinction? It sounds like a huge paradox that the leaders of this country have chosen. The leadership of a country should be smart guys, so you must trust them to make a good choice. They chose evolution over revolution, and it was pretty admirable to avoid a civil war in my view. BEE is a way to level out the differences in the society! The South African rugbyteam (Springboks, who won the world cup short time ago) is bringing in racial quotas now… and people are worried that this will tackle “Bokke”. It’s a parallel approach the way I see it. I understand and agree with the reasons, but wonder if they haven't made a hurried shortcut?

I see members of the BEE club stuffing each others pockets. People in the informal settlements around, Thembisa and Diepsloot, does not benefit much. They have no ways/ability to capture any governmental BEE funding. It’s the same guys all the time… Bring forward the masses rather than the few already stinking rich guys.Companies hiring ask for AA (Affirmative Action) candidates which means pretty much anything but white. Actually darker the better… in recruitment they call it “pigment premium”! No kidding – it is very real! Darker skin gets better pay. No wonder I’m working on my tan… I should actually skip all that sunscreen nonsense! No pain, no gain, right?! My objection is that it is not always the best qualified candidate that gets the job (at least that is my impression)!

I know the previously disadvantaged did not have the same access to education… so that should be a very important approach. Just do it right! Stories about students getting better grades because of skin color flourish. The other day I overheard a teacher/lecturer talking on the phone; “I have some other AA students that I have to re-evaluate. This is an AA student, right? What mark did he get? Ok, send it over and I will look into it!” It was reminding me of a story from a university in Norway:

An overambitious student had taken an extra subject one semester, but realized that he did not have the capacity to study enough. However, he went to do the exams. He didn’t have the foggiest idea about what they asked for… but had to sit for 2 hours before he could leave, as that’s the rules. This time he spent drawing a big blue elephant, then left! The teacher was quite amused, could not pass him but gave him a 4.1 (1 best – 6 poorest and 4.0 is the last passing grade). It was the best mark he could give without passing the student. Due to a low average result on this exam, they moved all the students up to get a “normal curve”. Thus, the student passed with his blue elephant!My point is that by racial distinction and no other qualitative measure; you might end up with many “blue elephants” passing!

On a trip to Mocambique earlier this year we stopped at the Jozini Dam. Some boys where selling amethyst rocks in the middle of school hours. He was embarrassed when I asked if he didn’t go to school. Whether it was his own choice or the parents’ choice, I don’t know, but money was preferred.

I believe that school should be mandatory, like it probably is also, but forced through to a greater extent. The quality of the schools should probably also be emphasized. Provide a social structure that can allow this and make it economically viable for families. It will take time, but at least the results will come with better quality.

Do whatever it takes to force those kids to school. My father told me he “forced” me to start playing organized football. I can’t recall being forced in any negative way, but actually enjoyed playing… and thankful for it today! If the parents can’t see the benefit… then go to Mandela, Zulu King Goodwill Zwelethini or/and get the local Sangomas on board so that they can preach the necessity even in the rural areas! Sangomas have been used to fight AIDS – so why not for the sake of BEE?! It would probably enlighten people enough to end the Sangoma traditions… let’s just hope that the Sangomas are not bright and foresighted enough to understand!

In turn, hopefully (and I truly believe) you would get a system where candidates get chosen based on their merits and nothing else. What if only the best qualified students was funneled up into higher education… and you couldn’t just buy your degree?! Provide some scholarships in this transitional period… but give the best students a chance! Take myself as an example: I was nowhere near good enough to go into Medical School. I studied economy/marketing because that was my interest among the studies that I was qualified for. I sharpened up, matured and came out fine I believe. One year later, and I wouldn’t have qualified for the same school either, so I was lucky! Tough, but that’s life!

Beware of the blue elephants and put more focus on education… I guess that’s all I wanted to say!!

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