The Deputy Auditor General of South Africa recently announced that Government departments and entities racked up a total of R21.1 billion in irregular spending last year alone. Government has blamed overspending; a dire skills shortage and an inability to keep track of expenses as amongst the chief causes of this problem. Sadly, the figure is real.
There is one and only one undeniable reason why such skills shortages have occurred in virtually every government department. It is the result of the Government’s deliberate choice to forego internationally accepted requirements of excellence and merit as prerequisites for staff procurement. Instead, the Government, in its infinite wisdom, sought to introduce a race based policy of staff procurement.
If ever one needed to prove that race based staff procurement policies will ultimately do more harm than good, then surely the wastage of R21.1 billion rands of hard earned taxpayer’s money PER YEAR is final irrefutable proof.
The time has come to admit that affirmative action has failed and that there is an urgent need to replace it with an approach based on excellence and merit. South Africa simply cannot afford the costs of not having the best person in every available position, irrespective of race, colour, gender or creed.
In expressing these views, I do not mean to deny the inequity and injustice wrought by the policies of apartheid in general, and Bantu education in particular.
The problem is the assumption that race based inequity can be undone by the introduction of “corrective” race based discrimination. It is an accepted wisdom that two wrongs do not make a right. Using race based policies to address the inequitable results of previous racist policies is not only inefficient, but it also comes at a high price which all too often has to be paid by the previously disadvantaged, the very persons who the government was attempting to uplift.
The difficulty with the “previously disadvantaged” concept is the automatic assumption that, but for apartheid (and other race based discrimination which preceded it), the general population of South Africa would all be better off today.
In law, however, where there is a civil wrong, one measures the damages suffered by the victim by comparing the position the victim finds himself in after the delict, with the theoretical position the victim would have been in had the delict not occurred. There can be no doubt that apartheid, and the discriminatory policies which preceded it, caused significant harm which resulted in inequity and that it can be regarded as a form of delict.
The problem, however, is that a very important question has not been asked. What if the ANC had come to power in 1945, or in 1910? Would the majority of South Africans be better off or worse off than they are today? Only if one can say that the population as a whole would certainly be better off today if the ANC had come to power can one truly speak of damages suffered by the previously disadvantaged.
In order to determine how the ANC might have done had they come to power in 1910 or in 1945 one would need to have regard to empirical evidence. This would involve comparisons with countries which are not unlike South Africa, but where apartheid etc. did not apply. Any study of the record of liberation movements in other countries to the South of sub-Saharan Africa makes for abysmal reading. Certainly, in most cases a few people became very rich. But on balance, the majority were simply left behind.
Those wishing to blame colonialism for this state of affairs will probably attribute the ANC’s recent 21.1 Billion rand irregular spending to colonialism too.
Of course, the ANC will argue that their record would not have been the same as that of other African liberation movements. Instead, had the ANC come to power in 1910 or 1945, they would have clearly have brought good governance to South Africa and the majority would clearly be better off than they are today.
One way to test this is to examine the ANC record since 1994. Most South Africans accept, without question, that affirmative action has only succeeded in benefitting a minority of previously disadvantaged South Africans, but that the majority of people continue to suffer in abject poverty. Hence the strikes, service delivery riots, high crime etc. which dominates our society today. If one looks at the government wastage and the systemic collapse of our policing, hospitals, schools etc., the ANC cannot use their record to show that the population as a whole would today have been better off if the ANC had come to power in 1910 or 1945.
If anything, the ANC has done little else than prove that, as was the case elsewhere in Africa, its expertise lies in promoting or condoning unprecedented & runaway corruption and gross incompetence and wastage in its administration. Clearly, and not unlike the rest of Africa, a small elite is most certainly better off thanks to the ANC, but it cannot established that the majority are necessarily better off. Given increasing corruption and incompetence in Government year on year, if anything, we can extrapolate that had the ANC indeed come to power in 1910 or in 1945, the majority of South Africans would be worse off than they are today and the ANC elite and friends would be even richer than they are today. They can argue with me but I am using government figures to demonstrate my arguments.
At the very least, it is arguable that no scientific method to convincingly prove that the majority are indeed “previously disadvantaged” by white minority rule to any extent which could justifies the use of racial discrimination, and the jettisoning of excellence, in order to attempt to compensate such majority.
Indeed, and if regard is had to the rest of Africa and the record of liberation movements there, there is reason to conclude that today many South Africans are the beneficiaries of infrastructure which is in place today but which might not have been there if the ANC had been in power, and had it been permitted to waste billions and billions of rands every year (as it is now does) since 1910 or 1945. No country can survive such incompetence and wastage no matter how many natural resources it may have.
A simple comparison of infrastructure in South Africa today as compared with the remainder of Sub-Saharan Africa must lead one to wonder whether minority rule did not also bring about certain compensating advantages from which all South Africans benefit today, but which may not have existed if corrupt and incompetent liberation movements had been left to squander billions and billions since 1910 or 1945.
At this juncture, let me say that I do not seek to justify the evils of apartheid or the discrimination which preceded it. I also do not wish to be seen to gloss over the inhumanity and hurt which these policies caused. All I am saying is that if one wishes away eighty years of white minority rule, it is not a given that the majority of South Africans would today necessarily be better off.
In fact, we could all just as easily be in a situation similar to that which exists in Zimbabwe. Of course, but for white minority rule, more of the rich elite would have been non-white and fewer white persons would have found themselves in the richer brackets as they do now. The majority, however, could be unaffected or possibly even worse off.
Even if one conceded that most South Africans would have been better off today, but for white minority rule, the next question is whether affirmative action is an effective or blunt tool to address this inequity. I suggest it is ineffective for the following reasons:
- There is a price to be paid for not having the best person in every job, regardless of race, colour, creed and gender: It amounts to at least 21 Billion rands this year alone on the government’s own figures.
- Not having the best person in every job results in sub-standard or incompetent service to everyone across the country. Those worst effected are the previously disadvantaged who do not have the means to travel, to seek or to pay for an alternate and better service. E.g: Eastern Cape Education. Pensioners standing in long queues, etc etc.….there are hundreds more such examples. The true cost of incompetent or sub-standard appointments is incalculable and the poor always pay the highest price.
- The money wasted as a result of affirmative action appointments (21 Billion rands in one year) could have been used to pay for education, housing, water, toilets, electricity etc. for the majority of South Africans. This is a better way of addressing inequity than the window dressing benefits of affirmative action which benefit a minority (the fat cat elite). Money saved and pumped into education in order to address inequity will eventually result in properly educated and qualified ‘disadvantaged’ South Africans who can be appointed on the grounds or merit, rather than on race. An education based approach should not be dismissed simply because it is harder and takes longer. It can be done.
- Affirmative action gives rise to a cancer where people of all races often assume an appointment is necessarily race based. This undermines those who are genuinely excellent and have earned the right to hold their positions, irrespective of their race.
- You don’t do someone who is not competent to do a job any favours by exposing him or her to a job for which they are not qualified. Self-doubt can cause disillusionment, despondency, and low productivity. Sounds familiar?
- I have wondered whether people appointed to positions due to their race rather than their abilities perhaps develop a sense of entitlement which is less likely to occur where the position was hard-earned on merit. Those with a sense of entitlement and/or a victim mentality could conceivably find it easier to justify corruption or to take the risk of getting caught. The government admits to its appointment of thousands of under qualified people and it links this to irregular spending amounting to R21.1 Billion. Some portion of that amount is due to negligence. Some must be the result of corruption. Ignoring a possible link seems foolhardy.
- Affirmative action is a blunt instrument. Why should a poor Afrikaner be prejudiced at the expense of the rich son of a fat-cat cabinet minister?
- Affirmative action causes resentment amongst a new class of victims it creates. One cannot have racial harmony in a society where discrimination on the grounds of race exists. It was wrong before and it remains wrong now.
It is time to abandon all race based discrimination. The savings will amount to billions of rands each year. This can be used to address all inequality, irrespective of its origin.
Africa is arguably the poorest continent on earth. The only way to change this is to ensure that the best people are in every position across the continent irrespective of race, gender etc. Failing to embrace merit and excellence will serve only to ensure that Africa falls further and further behind instead of exploring its true potential.
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