ABEL DLAMINI: EXECUTIVE CHAIRMAN AT SEKELAXABISO ON THE 2017 SONA ADDRESS
As we await the state of the nation address by President Jacob Zuma, the spectre of 2016 continues to haunt the soul of our nation.
Last year was ushered in rather ominously by a deranged white woman who called black people “monkeys” in the land of their ancestors.
Not long after that, our country’s universities were turned into mini-war zones by a spirit of “fallism” that still threatens to become the defining character of our society. Nobody knows what it will take for our institutions to become peaceful centres of learning again.
At some point last year, it felt like we were a nation abandoned by its trusted leaders in the middle of a dessert. It was as if the centre of our political gravity had lost its balance.
The results of the municipal elections felt like a rude wakeup call, shaking a tree that had for some time appeared ready to withstand even the most tempestuous of political storms.
As the year drew to a close, Statistics South Africa made an announcement that rubbed salt in our national wound. We were told that unemployment has gone up to 27%.
All this happened in a social climate where the feeling had been spreading that the gap between citizens and leaders was widening. Indeed, political scandals and allegations of corruption have been ubiquitous.
The bigger picture is one of a post-1994 society haunted by its past, and tantalised by unfulfilled promises.
The sunset clause that sought to demarcate the boundaries of our past has yet to be followed by the sunrise of a better future.
Study after study confirms the same sad reality that the gap between the rich minority and the poor majority keeps on yawning.
The policies meant to redress past injustices are met with the resistance of a rich minority bent on protecting its privileges. BEE policies have not empowered the majority, and their implementation continues to be manipulated by established businesses.
Many of the flourishing big businesses owned by white people today were supported by previous minority governments. Sadly, nascent black businesses in the new dispensation are made to feel grateful for crumbs, while established white businesses continue to get big contracts from the state. Yet it is known that the private sector is the exclusive domain of white business
Black businesses are condemned to a survival mode. Under these circumstances, prospects for black-owned companies to grow and match the giants owned by white entrepreneurs are bleak. At the social level, the emergence of a proportionally tiny black middle class belies the reality of worsening socio-economic conditions for black people.
While the introduction of easy subjects like mathematics literacy and life orientation in our schooling system may have improved matric results for black students, the rising national pass rate has not closed our country’s skills gap. Nor has it altered the essential character of black people as the most unskilled segment of our country’s population.
Underperformance in real maths and science is the chief characteristic of South Africa’s education system. There are even suggestions that some aspects of Bantu education were better than what we have today. Misguided as such sentiments may be, the past cannot be wholly bad, and the present cannot be entirely good.
The honest among us will not hide the fact that public education for black people is far from ideal. Even teachers who teach in rural and township schools take their own children to their nearest private school, a sign that they don’t trust what they themselves deliver in the class room.
Worst of all is that despite the lack of skills, TVET colleges have been neglected to a state of worthlessness. The poorly equipped artisans they produce continue to swell the ranks of the unemployed. No amount of political campaigning will eclipse this reality.
As if subjected to a double jeopardy, black people lack both skills and property. Recent studies have revealed that two richest white South Africans are worth more than the collective assets of the bottom fifty percent of our population, which is black.
Land has neither been redistributed nor used properly to facilitate the economic development of the majority of our population. Cases are known of redistributed commercial farms that now lie fallow due to lack of agricultural knowhow on the part of beneficiaries of ill-conceived land redistribution schemes.
For the past two decades of democracy, South Africa has neither developed nor implanted a comprehensive anti-poverty strategy. While social grants have served as a shock absorber, only a naïve person would believe that they will end poverty in our country.
A poor population in dysfunctional public health care system such as ours is a cocktail of disaster. Despite the efforts of a well-meaning health minister, the quality of our public hospitals still leaves much to be desired.
South Africa’s social problems are worsened by the porousness of our borders. Our country now carries the unbearable burdens of neighbouring states. Foreign nationals are no longer confined to decaying parts of our cities. Our townships are not full of Nigerians, Somalis, Zimbabweans and others. This can be denied only by politicians who live in suburbs.
On the foreign policy front, the moral high ground of Nelson Mandela and the shrewd punching-above-weight of the Mbeki years have disappeared, leaving us to be counted among the squandered opportunities of post-colonial African states.
While it is true that a tint is determined by he who holds the paint brush, the overly bright picture painted by optimists cannot conceal the ugliness of the current state of our nation.
It is a smelly cocktail of economic decline, dysfunctional education, drugs and alcohol abuse, poverty and unemployment in a political atmosphere characterised by a calamitous loss of strategic direction.
Let us wait and see. Maybe President Zuma will tell us how to get out of this seemingly hopeless situation.
Abel Dlamini is Executive Chairman at SekelaXabiso, a South African professional services and Business Advisory firm based in Johannesburg