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Is AgangSA Serious?

12 July 2013, 20:37

I bring this up because it is a question that has been on my mind since I read the last point of their education policy. It says, "We will provide additional social grant money to families for [of?] students who achieve a 70% pass rate in any year and for matriculation."

Genius, I thought, talk about killing two birds with one stone; you can say good-bye to hunger and the uneducated.

At this point I should mention I'd had just one half glass of red wine too many with supper and my brain was not as sharp as usual when I read what I thought was the way to end poverty, both in the medium and long term. But as my heart-rate returned to normal and I reread the statement it became clear it wasn't what I'd hoped; that it was, in fact, a cruel idea. A portrait of a smiling Ayn Rand became visible in my mind's eye.

Now, I've had more opportunity than I've earned in my life. Being born white and middle-class in South Africa was a happy accident. I also realize not everyone is as fortunate as me. I know there are folks out there, within trekking distance of me, who are hungry right now.    

I've never had an interest in politics or government. I certainly haven't studied either. However I do have an idea of the broad purpose of government. I believe government is in place to take care of its citizens. Adam Smith chatted about the necessity of a government that protects property rights. In this day, age and country government's role is a lot bigger.

Citizens face real dangers, dangers other than Malema 'forcing' them to 'share' their property. Citizens face poverty and inequality. All citizens should be protected, not just the families of those who achieve a 'B'.

With this in mind, I can no longer look at AgangSA's policy of helping the academically gifted in a positive light.

I want to translate, for the purpose of this argument, grant money into tangible goods. Let's say, for just the sake of argument, that grant money is spent on food, shelter and clothing (I don't pretend to know what the lives of the poorest in this country are like but by naming grant money, my opinion becomes easier to explain).

In effect, AgangSA is advocating the idea that only the, to use a pejorative, nerds get the food and the shelter and the clothing.

It is cruel to give sufficient food and shelter only to those who show academic ability. In fact I find it discriminatory. I have argued many times that most children are not special or gifted but, in spite of that, each child deserves a chance, a chance to find his talent if he has one. And a chance to be productive if he is merely average, like me. Why should AgangSA say that only the academically gifted kids get that chance?

I know AgangSA is led by an academic but she must realize that there are talents outside the world of academia. And, if developed, those talents may become productive for the country. A less academically-gifted kid might have greater footballing potential than David Beckham, for example. 

I led with that argument because it is more substantive than the following.

What AgangSA might not realize, possibly because they haven't felt hunger for many years, is that this policy is somewhat paradoxical.

Have you ever written an exam on an empty tummy? Have you ever written an exam after a sleepless night? Have you ever walked, I dunno, five kilometres to write an exam on an empty tummy with no sleep? These are the realities for some of the poorest kids in South Africa. And the idea that they, under those circumstances, have to do well on tests to escape those circumstances is more than a little ridiculous.

Ok, kids, I know you are hungry, tired and your feet hurt but if you just get a good mark for this exam I will give you the food to take away your hunger, the shelter to take away your exhaustion and the shoes to take away that pain; if you do well, I will give you what you need to do well.

The last argument to be made against this cruel policy is- God help me- self-esteem. I'm not a fan of the self-esteem movement and think each child's should take a knock but this places too much pressure on youngsters. How are they to study, perhaps by candlelight, with the sickening worry that if they fail their whole family will be disadvantaged? Would I be nice to my brother if him getting 67% meant I would only eat meat once a month instead of once a week? I don't think so. If my child achieving a respectable mark of 55% meant I had to continue defecating in the bush I would not praise his pass; I would resent it.

I want AgangSA to remove this piece of their policy. I hope they will. However I feel that this is merely the tip of an iceberg.

This piece of their education policy is a synecdoche of their entire policy.

I enjoyed browsing the AgangSA policy but, after my thoughts on the education policy, a pattern emerged. It seems to me that the policy was written by folks, with none of the necessary experience, sitting around talking about governing an ideal country.

I don't know how they have gotten away with this. I think it is the idea, perhaps true, perhaps propagated by the press, that the ANC government has intentionally kept us a thirld-world country.

I've played this game with my friends a few times. I call it the "If I Were President" game. It's fun to have a few drinks and talk about what you would do if you were the president. I open slowly, say I will drop a bomb or two on Mugabe's residence; I also request a meeting with Joe Biden (because he just seems like a cool dude). But to get the points, to have the group agree you should be president, you need something more substantial.

I won a round by saying I'd employ a million policemen who all look like Jean-Claude Van Damme. We must have had more than a few too many that night. But other nights the game was won by solid arguments promoting foreign investment or advocating public debt reduction.

When I read the AgangSA policy I picture a group of people, more educated than my friends and I, sitting around discussing what they would do after an awesome swearing-in.

It is now that I finally get to highlight a strength of AgangSA. They are prolific, brilliant at identifying South Africa's problems. Their policies begin with a concise description of what is wrong in each of the key areas they have identified.

The second part of their policies is strong too; they name solutions to each of the identified problems.

But there is no third part. The part where they explain how they are going to implement the second part is missing.

Let us look at their safety and security policy. AgangSA will hire 60 000 more police officers. They will introduce minimum acceptable standards for officers (I assume this refers, in part, to the fitness of the police; a lot of them are not in shape). Boy, that sounds great, and it really could solve the problems identified in the excellent first part of the police point but what they don't say is how they will do this.  

Sixty thousand new police officers will need salaries. Salaries cost money. Taxes are high as it is and we have a deficit, plus our credit is going bad. From where is this money going to come?

Introducing minimum standards will lead to a lot of officers leaving the force (or, if AgangSA has its way, 'service') because they won't make the grade. They'd rather work security for their sister's dress shop, any other store or, simply, beat their kids into getting 70% every year. As officers leave (or are fired) more officers will be required.

Private security in South Africa pays well and the police will have to pay more if they want the best of the lot to work for them. Is this feasible? Is this even possible. I don't know; AgangSA didn't tell me.

I could rehash this question with each of AgangSA's five key policies but what's the point? If you care enough, you can hop onto their website and do it yourself. After reading any key point, I think you too will be wondering about the third part of the plan.

I wouldn't feel comfortable voting for the DA because of, among other things, the youth wage subsidy and I couldn't vote for AgangSA until, at the very least, they do away with that ridiculous part of their education policy. I won't vote for the ANC simply because I've heard the word 'cronyism' too many times in the respected press. I'd rather eat a bullet than vote for Malema.

What am I to do?

Start my own party? No, I have no political or governmental experience. Although, I might win with my experience of painting a utopia in the "If I Were President" game.

Get actively involved in this election? Perhaps, but I have a job and hobbies and really, how much experience is licking envelopes for a party pushing policy with which I don't agree going to give me?

Stay at home on election day? Well, that's mighty unpatriotic (and disrespectful to the struggle heroes) but I don't see what choice I have.

Maybe I'll be a good citizen, drag my lazy, apathetic ass out of bed on election day, walk to the polling place and spoil my ballot.

AgangSA is right about one thing- a region should directly elect its representitive(s) in the assembly. That would go a long way to killing the apathy- it would make politicians, the folks who hold the country's future in their hands, accessible and accountable to Average Joe.
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