Different strokes

2010-11-25 00:00

BUSINESS and labour organisations have coolly received Minister of Economic Development Ebrahim Patel’s plans for creating jobs and boosting growth. Their reaction is to be expected. The government seems to be forever coming up with proposals to boost growth or improve the economy, yet for the majority little seems to change.

The target of creating five million jobs over the next 10 years lies beyond the abilities of one minister or ministry. An honest education policy and a change of mind-set by all of us to certain jobs or skills will be essential if we are to get anywhere close to achieving the ambitious goal Patel has set.

One of the areas we need to start with is respecting the role played by artisans in creating jobs for themselves and others.

Our national fixation with Julius Malema and the dangerously misguided assumption that he is an idiot has unfortunately given woodwork a bad name. Even the manicure brigade now believes that it would have done better and achieved better woodwork results than Juju did. Purveyors of this view satisfy themselves that the ANC Youth League leader is therefore not smart on account of how he fared in the subject.

The subtext of all this is that woodwork and other artisan skills are for the unintelligent. Those who believe themselves to be smart think they can go through woodwork with their eyes closed because it is no more than cutting blocks of wood into shapes and gluing them together to create a chair.

With this view and the scorn heaped on Malema so pervasive, should we wonder then why we lack artisans in our country? Who would want to be known to be excellent at something everyone thinks is a no-brainer?

I cannot promise I would have done better than old Juju if I was forced to take woodwork. This is not because I am daft (or so I’d like to think), but rather because I am not that way inclined. My interests and abilities lie elsewhere.

I am no better than Juju because I write a column in a newspaper, just as Patrick Lambie is no better than Hashim Amla because the Protea’s batsman is clumsy with an oval ball. Each of us has a different skill that should not be dismissed as irrelevant just because others have different ones.

Carpenters and those who unblock our drains are as essential to the economy as doctors who (legally) move organs from one body to another. Obviously, the more rare or essential that skill and the more training required to acquire competence in it, the higher the wage the possessor of that skill will and should earn.

The change in mind-set should start at school. For example, I was totally useless at mathematics. I even thought Pythagoras was a scientific name for a python. I was always in awe of those who had managed to memorise the periodic table and as hard as I tried could only remember that water was made up of two hydrogen “somethings” and one oxygen “something”.

I was always intimidated by those in Bantu Education/ Department of Education and Training schools who were in “Standard 8A”. They carried their physical science books outside their bags to show those of us who went to “Standard 8D” that we were not in the same league as them.

Nobody really cared too much about us. We were not expected to amount to much. I am certain that if we had woodwork at our school, I could easily have been in the same situation as Malema.

The fixation with Malema and his matric results represents either a pretence of not knowing or the ignorance that the majority of South African children — most of them black — still go to schools that do not address their talents and interests.

That is why someone who is clearly interested in matters relating to humanities such as Malema, ends up being forced to cut wood into shapes when their interests lie elsewhere. And then we wonder why he is such an angry young man.

If Patel’s dream of creating the number of jobs he mentions is to come true, first we have to have an education system that is better at identifying the true talents and interests of young people and groom them accordingly. To identify usefulness in society by the ability to speak or write big English words has not helped us much.

Secondly, we need to rid ourselves of the mind-set that says that those who excel at woodwork and other artisan skills are losers. We need to perish forever the often repeated line that each time children struggle with academic work they should be enrolled in a school where they will use their hands.

Notwithstanding the hurdles the majority have to go through to achieve the promised better life, it is ultimately about each of us taking personal and individual responsibility, identifying opportunities and taking the plunge that will ensure that tomorrow we become a better country than we were yesterday, so making Patel’s job easier.

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