Loss of skilled people

2008-08-11 00:00

Columnist William M. Gumede recently identified some of the reasons for the drain of skilled people away from this country. With Kevin Pietersen now captaining England, cricket fans are particularly sensitive to this phenomenon, and sensitive to the irony that the current Test series is named in honour of Basil d’Oliviera, another South African cricketer who, in different but not dissimilar circumstances, was obliged by race-based political interference to ply his trade overseas. The damage to the welfare of the nation goes far beyond the loss of professional sportsmen and women, however. Disillusioned by limited work opportunities at home or lured by more appreciative employers abroad, skilled people from every field are leaving. Public health services are in crisis while doctors and nurses move away. The defence capacity of the country is compromised by the loss of trained military personnel. South African Airways is losing pilots to foreign competitors and the list goes on.

Like every thinking South African, Gumede acknowledges that there had to be a re-engineering of society after the advent of democracy in 1994. The manner of its implementation, however, has been such that many able and well-qualified people — people equipped to make an invaluable contribution to the development and prosperity of the new South Africa — were made redundant or otherwise made to feel that neither they nor their abilities were required. The problem has been compounded by their replacement by many inexperienced appointees chosen for their struggle credentials or political and personal allegiances rather than their competence. Gumede further suggests that this applies also with the appointment to the upper echelons of the government of people unfit to lead, with the deliberate exclusion, again for political reasons, of individuals who would be able to provide competent and dynamic leadership. The crowning example, in this analysis, is the choice of Jacob Zuma to lead the African National Congress (ANC) and, unless a criminal conviction intervenes, the nation.

Approaching the presidency issue from a different angle, Colin Gardner — former Speaker of the capital’s ANC-led municipal council — observed last week that mistrust of the country’s leadership is frightening international investment away. To fulfil the promise of 1994, this nation needs foreign investment and it needs the people with the skills and abilities to turn this investment into constructive productivity. With its narrow, self-serving politics the ruling alliance in the government is driving both away.

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