Herman Mashaba: The solutions to fixing South Africa lie with redressing our past

Members of the Unemployed People’s Movement protest outside the High Court in Makhanda. (Lucas Nowicki, GroundUp, file)
Members of the Unemployed People’s Movement protest outside the High Court in Makhanda. (Lucas Nowicki, GroundUp, file)

But, 26 years on, the ANC can’t blame the Apartheid government for the poor quality of our education system, rampant corruption, state capture, collapse of our SOEs and destruction of our economy, writes Herman Mashaba.

In 1994 we had that magical moment where we achieved a peaceful transition to democracy.

I was sceptical that this could happen.

On the 27th of April 1994, when I stood in a queue to vote for the first time in my life, I was happy to be proven wrong.

But this magical moment was underwritten by a condition, that the success of the South Africa project depended on our ability to see the painful legacy of our past to be redressed.

Without this, that magical moment would remain exactly that, just a moment.

The ANC has proven to be a greater perpetrator of poverty, unemployment and inequality than the Apartheid government. It is a disgrace. The ANC could blame the state of our country in 1994 on the Apartheid government.

But, 26 years on, the ANC can’t blame the Apartheid government for the poor quality of our education system, rampant corruption, state capture, collapse of our SOEs and destruction of our economy.

The democratic project is in dire health because the ANC has deepened the inequalities they found when they first started to govern.

This is why the antics of those who seek to deny the role of race in South Africa, or be blind to the continued correlation between race, poverty and inequality, is not only insensitive, but patently irresponsible.

The one universal truth, is that people who think this way have never felt the sting of poverty and unemployment arising from historical injustice.

I am someone who wants to achieve a non-racial future for South Africa. I believe deeply in this ideal both personally and for South Africa.

However, two preconditions to achieving this ideal exist.

Firstly, we have to acknowledge the reality of historical injustice and its direct relationship with our race.

To deny this, and to tolerate denial of this, is folly.

The majority of our population have endured more than three centuries of systematic oppression and exclusion, solely on the basis of race.

The basis for inclusion, opportunity, education, association and residence were all determined on the grounds of prejudicing black people.

I was born into a country, which by law, classified me as a communist on the basis of my race.

Secondly, in recognising we need to move forward, we need a programme to redress the legacy of our past that makes a non-racial future a reality with a timeline.

This requires that we do not approach redress in academic terms, but with full acknowledgement of the lived experiences of those who continue to live without access to opportunity, the vast majority of whom are black.

This is not to say that those living in poverty are exclusively black, or that affluent communities are exclusively white.

I equally reject this reductionist thinking.

Instead it is to say that we cannot afford to negate the role that race played in the past, the role it continues to play today in access to opportunity, and tackle this reality head on.

So, the question becomes how?

This is precisely the question that I will be posing next week in The People's Dialogue, so that the political alternative we are working to set up, can be guided by the voices of the South African people.

From my perspective, we need to appreciate that BBBEE has failed fundamentally, producing a handful of very wealthy beneficiaries, while it does nothing for the majority of black businesses.

BBBEE has done nothing to assist black-owned small businesses to improve their chances of success. It remains a program to benefit the connected few.

Instead, we need an alternative that lifts more people into opportunity, allowing them to compete on an even footing. We need an opportunity revolution which focuses on driving massive levels of investment into increasing access to opportunity for black people in South Africa.

This means we need to invest in education, and vastly improve the calibre of those emerging from our schooling system.

This means revamping our school curriculum, improving the skills of our teachers and reward for our teachers, dealing with under-performing teachers and principals and the lack of educational facilities.

If this means going to war with SADTU, it is a small price to pay.

I would like to see black learners leaving schools and having the opportunity to attend a greater number of universities.

I believe tertiary education needs to be funded for those who cannot afford it, but must be paid back (interest free) when they graduate and gain employment.

I want to see young people have the opportunity to attend a burgeoning number of artisanal, entrepreneurial and TVET schools.

Most importantly, the legacy of our past will never be redressed until we have a growing economy providing opportunities to better skilled young people from the measures above.

Tough decisions need to be made that require real leadership and not the current level of policy ambiguity, pandering to socialist and labour interests and indecisiveness.

The steps required to turn our economy around, so that it creates opportunity, are known and our country has many great minds that can guide this process.

It needs the political will and an unwavering focus on implementing the tough measures required.

What we need is a period of revolutionary public and private investment into communities where people still live under the oppressive weight of Apartheid, and continue to struggle.

We must not allow any confusion or political expediency to confuse that this is, un-apologetically, investment into black communities.

Embracing this principle, and by driving massive investment into creating opportunities, will ensure that we can achieve this second phase of project South Africa that never followed our political freedom in 1994.

What is critical is that these efforts and focused, heavily funded, produce access to opportunity and time-bound so that we can move towards a non-racial future for South Africa.

It is proven throughout the world, and nowhere more so than in South Africa, that people are better at improving their own circumstances far more than government has ever proven capable of achieving.

It requires a government that understands its role is to provide access to opportunity through massive investment in generating those opportunities and un-apologetically targeting those black South Africans who still suffer from the oppression of their parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and so on.

I am committed to working together with all South Africans of all backgrounds, so that we can craft real solutions to the legacies of our past.

By doing so, we can deliver on a vision for a prosperous, non-racial South Africa that can truly achieve the reconciliation and nation building envisioned in 1994.

- Mashaba is founder of The People's Dialogue, an entrepreneur and the former executive mayor of the City of Johannesburg.

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