Editorial | A sad tale of two nations

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Four years into democracy and the country had not made the requisite progress towards nation-building, a process that required altering the material conditions that gave rise to inequality. Photo: Christopher Moagi
Four years into democracy and the country had not made the requisite progress towards nation-building, a process that required altering the material conditions that gave rise to inequality. Photo: Christopher Moagi

VOICES


It was former president Thabo Mbeki who once opined that South Africa is a country of two nations. In a seminal speech in Parliament in 1998, the then deputy president appealed to South Africans to confront the reality of racially defined inequality – a legacy of our colonial and apartheid past. Four years into democracy and the country had not made the requisite progress towards nation-building, a process that required altering the material conditions that gave rise to inequality.
One of these nations is white, relatively prosperous, regardless of gender or geographic dispersal. It has ready access to a developed economic, physical, educational, communication and other infrastructure.


This allowed members of this “nation” their right to equal opportunity, he argued.

“The second and larger nation of South Africa is black and poor, with the worst affected being women in the rural areas, the black rural population in general and the disabled.”

The conditions that members of this nation lived under gave them “virtually no possibility to exercise what in reality amounts to a theoretical right to equal opportunity”.

The continued existence of these two nations is always starkly brought home after the annual release of the matric results. They reflect the chasm between private schools (where the population is largely white and wealthy) and their public counterparts (where the pupils are mainly black and poor).

READ: Living below the poverty line: Who should die of poverty?

On the surface, the gap between the Independent Education Board’s 98.42% pass rate and the basic education department’s 80.1% pass may not look that wide. But, consider that almost 90% of private school matriculants got a university entry-level pass, while only 38% of public school-leavers achieved the same.

Add to this scenario the significant decline in the number of matriculants writing commercial subjects in public schools and you’re led to heed warnings that, if this trend persists, we will end up having to import chartered accountants in the near future.

READ: Children in poverty-stricken homes are less happy than peers, study finds

So, while Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga brags about a consistent improvement in the pass rate since 2009, it is clear that we are congratulating a generation that does not have much of a chance in the world. We are entrenching the inequalities that Mbeki warned us about. If we are honest, we should look at and deal with the stark inequalities rather than dance to the largely hollow victories.


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