If there is one thing people can't handle, it's the uninvited input of a nosy Yank. Whether the discussion is about race relations, politics, culture or any spectrum among spectra from which the conversation derives, Americans are typified, if not stereotyped, by their propensity for liberal interjection of their opinions. So, in the grand tradition of my forebears, allow me to do the same.
I'm not particularly one for grandiose introductions, but I will afford some personal information to use at whatever expense you deem necessary. My name is Tyler. I'm a biomedical student in the southern United States. And, I have a (mostly) healthy obsession with sub-Saharan Africa, particularly South Africa.
I won't waste precious moments of your attention by explaining every detail of my reasoning. This article would be endless. Paraphrased, it's simply because I identify with the country in a personal way. After two years of studying the various histories of the region, the vast array of cultures and cuisines, and the sheer enormity of issues within the political systems, I've resolved that I am like South Africa in, at least, one modest way: I am still trying to find myself. And, should I find myself so endowed with good fortune, I hope to call it home, someday.
(Editorial note: as surely as my tendrils breathe life into this text, I know that the first comments will likely be charged with vitriol for my perceived insinuation that South Africa doesn't have problems. Of course it does. And, that's why I'm writing this article, so don't stop reading because I said something which contravenes what you, the reader, may consider to be conventional wisdom.)
Where should I begin? What can be said that hasn't been said already? To these questions, the answers are pretty simple. And, while I affirm the notion that outsider input is as lemon juice dripped across a papercut, perhaps fresh eyes on certain subjects might inject new life into the substance of the conversations that seem to be presently frozen. That's what I hope to accomplish, anyway.
Let's start with Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment, the "Affirmative Action" equivalent in South Africa. This is a tense, touchy subject for a lot of people. If words aren't carefully chosen by one party or another, it devolves into an ad hominem fallacy and nothing constructive is accomplished. But, I'm not one to mince words. I like it. That is, I like the idea of it. But, "black economic empowerment" is not the reality of the programme of that name, though, is it? Some cursory Google searches will evidence a sound "no." What we have is a system which gratuitously belies the nature of South African policies in two areas:  there is a preponderance of mistrust among South Africans; and,  the country is too Eurocentric for its own good.
Have I stricken a chord, yet? If I have, great. If not, keep reading. My goal is not to piss off a country, but to advocate for the continuation of a necessary, uncomfortable dialogue. So, what about this mistrust is new? It's not simply a mistrust of white people. That's probably a significant contributing factor, but it's also a mistrust of the system perceived to be unable to defend the citizens against the problems of the previous era. In a country whose government is dominated by the previously-disadvantaged, this mistrust is illogical. Hate speech is already a crime.
Discrimination on the basis of any category is already a crime. Hate crimes are crimes. So, from whence does this mistrust originate? Sensational, political, popular rhetoric. Only when this bridge is crossed and burned behind you will the perceived need for B.E.E. in its current incarnation disappear. Besides, racial quotas does not equality make. What is the point for a system which seeks to take a heavy-handed approach towards integrating the workforce if standard qualifications must still be met? Why not allow a person's merits to be the sole determining factor for his or her hire? Better the devil you know, I suppose, but one day a leap of faith must be taken. Otherwise, the country will never heal.
Now, about the "Eurocentrism" thing, I suspect this is a curious way to look at B.E.E. We don't consider what "Black Economic Empowerment" is telling us. Yes, "equality is quintessential" and the like, but it is also saying that a young person of previously-disadvantaged background must be a part of a white company or economic structure in order to succeed. I defy that logic, vehemently. Something I've been searching for is luxury Xhosa, Venda, Sotho, or Zulu brands of clothing or merchandise that I can take back to the States and say "no, I got this from South Africa. If you want it, you'll have to go visit and buy one for yourself." I don't know if you've noticed, but there isn't exactly a surplus of options from which to choose.
Actually, where are these cultures represented in the merchandise of any company?
They're not. At least, not prevalently. So, I have some advice:
Buy and invest black. Yes, I said it. Dammit, I'm a petty American consumer and I need some thought-provoking, awe-inspiring, culture-specific merchandise. But, I don't need to buy it as much as you, my African brothers and sisters, need to be inspired to create it.
From here, I suppose I can venture into education, and good God, look at the education. There are a few different things here that deserve to be addressed. I've found myself wondering why more schools aren't being built. No, rather, I wonder why textbooks aren't even arriving at schools which already exist. Is it because of a lack of funding? A R250Mn fortress indicates a negative response to that question.
The truth is that there is absolutely no shortage of money being collected by the government. I was horrified to discover that the upper threshhold for income taxation was - at the present exchange rate of R9.32 per USD - approximately $66,202. Anything above that is deducted at 40%. With the government taxing the citizenry out of its aft-end [in 2009, to the tune of about R154Bn], why is there no money for education? It's not only personal income. There are value-added taxes, corporate taxes, royalties, inheritance taxes, fuel levies, and even tolls for road usage.
You're absolutely taxed to death! So, where is the money? The truth is, nobody knows. There's no transparency in government and the blind faith that people have that the government is "doing what's best for us" will perpetuate this system. Also, the tax systems in place in South Africa were inherited by the previous government. If you don't believe me, feel free to use Google ad nauseam to prove me wrong. I would consider that to be the ugliest remnant of apartheid, personally.
Another truth is that in the early 2000's, a move to help facilitate a "warm, fuzzy, feel-good" sense of unity was enacted in the form of merging institutions of higher education. Well, what really happened was the consolidation of tertiary education structures. The results, arguably, have been largely counterproductive. The institutions which absorbed Rand Afrikaans University, the University of Natal, Potchefstroom University, and the University of Port Elizabeth have declined in academic stature and rigor when measured in terms of international standing.
Why were the University of Johannesburg, North West University, and Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University not given deserving, new, modern campuses to actually expand higher education by creating them alongside existing university structures? Further, why is there no University of Durban? I do not mean the University of Durban-Westville. There is a University of Cape Town, Pretoria, Stellenbosch, and Johannesburg. Does not eThekwini deserve to be represented? There is another particular curiosity regarding, this time regarding the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
I like the name and the concept, but there is a problem. The university which once represented the separate bantustan of KwaZulu - the University of Zululand - wasn't incorporated into it. So, why does the University of Zululand exist beyond the University of KwaZulu-Natal? I won't speculate because it is a genuine curiosity. I will, however, state that the mergers as a whole need to be re-evaluated.
Something which I admire about Uni van Stellenbosch, Pretoria, die Vrystaat, and NWU-Potchefstroom is that they are dual- or parallel-medium. Some of you disagree with this and believe that if languages of other cultures are not represented in tertiary education, neither should Afrikaans be. Well, why aren't they? Why is Walter Sisulu not a dual-medium English-Xhosa institution? How about the University of Limpopo, Venda, Ft. Hare, or Zululand? We want to teach pride in our cultures to our progeny. In that regard, a lesson can be taken from the metaphorical pages of the Afrikaner book and implement cultural representation through linguistic integration into the highest realm of academia.
I suppose I can leave it at that. I wanted to address the 33.3% standard, but we all know why it's so low and what needs to happen to it. We are only as good as the standards to which we hold ourselves, after all.
The future is the direct result of our present actions. In spite of everything I've mentioned, and the things which still deserve mentioning, South Africa has an arguably beautiful future for as long as people refuse to give up on it. Even if I am wrong about everything I've said [though I am a Leo, so good luck convincing me], I believe the future of the Republic of South Africa is much brighter than most of us can admit. Why can I say that? Well, it's simple. South Africa is on the brink, not of something terrible, but a beautiful rennaissance. If unemployment figures are to be believed, then one in four South African adults seeking work is unemployed. Does that sound familiar, historically? It sounds like the United States during the Great Depression, actually, when the majority of Americans were illiterate, poor, and desperate for change. Does it sound familiar, now?
"Out of the night which covers meBlack as the Pit from pole to poleI thank whatever gods may beFor my unconquerable soul
In the fell clutch of circumstanceI have not winced nor cried aloudUnder the bludgeonings of chanceMy head is bloody... but unbowed
Beyond this place of wrath and tearsLooms but the horror of the shadeAnd yet, the menace of the yearsFinds, and shall find, me... unafraid.
It matters not how straight the gaitHow charged with punishments the scrollI am the master of my fateI am the captain of my soul."
- Invictus, William Ernest Henley
Bloody American, over and out.
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