Saturday, 26 April 2008

Affirmative Action or Know-how

Affirmative Action or Know-how

Things aren’t as they used to be, or have I only lately become aware of the inherent problems in the South African society that has always been there?

In any case, a week ago or so there was a debate in Parliament about the power crisis. Load shedding (which is a nicer expression for lengthy power cuts that cause enormous damage to the economy of the country) would close down a whole sector of a town for hours. Traffic lights, hospitals, mines, other industry, homes, all would be affected. Some plants couldn’t restart as a result of the power cut.

In the ensuing debate in Parliament the present minister of energy, a woman who has a degree in health from the University of Fort Hare, gave a few tips that would get us all out of the energy crisis. She proudly showed a list of ten points that would be of great help. One of her points was that we all should get to bed earlier. The only problem was that she could not after all follow that rule herself as she indeed was a hardworking woman.

One can hardly believe one’s ears or eyes. Is the whole parliamentary debate a joke? Apparently not; the list of ten points was seriously meant. The thing is rather that we are running into a most unpleasant phenomenon that has to do with the total mix up of two things, affirmative action and know-how. Affirmative action is a policy that promotes black persons (and ‘real’ blacks are favoured at the expense of Coloureds and Indians) in order to rectify the gross imbalance that still exists between the different population groups in working life. There is nothing much to say about that. It must be. Some mechanisms have to be put in place in order to change this imbalance. So the problem is not that there exists a policy of affirmative action, which many whites seem to believe. The problem is rather how this rule is implemented. For example, there should be a time limit for such action, otherwise you run the risk of åderlåta virtually all skilled and well educated white young people, and to be sure, there is for the last few years an exodus of such people from South Africa.

At the same time a lot of people have been promoted to qualified jobs without being qualified. They even have a name, given by those near by, colleagues or better qualified subservients, they are called ‘affirmatives’. You apparently find such ‘affirmatives’ also in government. There are a few who are very well qualified to sit in government, but not the minister of energy in any case. She would do far better in a primary school or in middle management in the health sector.

The disaster is that know-how is knocked out by the day because of careless application of affirmative action. South Africa will soon be down on its knees unless a quick change comes about. If at least policy makers could learn from other countries, like Sweden, where there has been a policy for quite some time that has made sense. If a man and a woman apply for the same post and they are equally qualified the woman should get the job. It is simply a redress but where know-how is still honoured. I don’t say that this principle is without problems, but at least it makes more sense than how things are done in South Africa at the moment. The sensitivity of a society built on modern technology is there for all to see. If that sensitivity is not catered for on a daily basis you are doomed. And attention to detail is one of the core functions of any modern society today. Our possible need for a simpler and more basic society must be taken seriously but has to be achieved in an orderly way and cannot be dealt with in this letter.

The most disastrous thing to me is not the fact that already South Africa has been down on its knees lately, but how this gradual disintegration of societal structures are affecting those who were supposed to profit from the new policy. At least the following three things will emerge to haunt the nation for a long time to come. First, the blacks (especially main stream African blacks) of this country will have to take the blame for what is happening, from government down to locals. Secondly perceptions of Africa, now solidly including South Africa, as the ‘Eländskontinent’ will be reinforced. Thirdly, the self-confidence of blacks, all categories, will take another hard knock.

This is so sad. South Africa deserves better, yes, we all deserve better. One hopeful thing is that a number of other black Africans are now saying the same thing as I am saying, just that their critique is sharper and even more ruthless than mine. This gives me hope. South Africa and the rest of Africa deserve better.


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