Incompetence Voluntary and Involuntary - Understanding the Mindset

2014-10-15 07:42

Our national performance over the past twenty years suggests to me that we suffer incompetence at two distinct levels. These are voluntary and involuntary incompetence – with the ruling establishment the fountainhead for both. Despite their common origin, it is important to discern the differences between them because the long term remedies for each are different. In theory at least, the populace has control over voluntary incompetence whilst involuntary incompetence will take much longer to resolve.

Voluntary Incompetence is born of adherence to irrational belief systems that can be ideological, dogmatic, or populist in nature. It is also prone to manipulation and propaganda.

There many such examples in South African society. They originate from a number of government or alliance sponsored sources – the more notable being:

> a mindset preoccupied with the quest for equality of outcomes without matching ability, intelligence or a capacity to contribute; this fosters inefficiency, stagnation and a destructive sense of entitlement;

> the mindset of an obdurate trade union movement that protects those fortunate enough to be employed at disproportionate advantage; this fosters a faltering economy and unemployment of epidemic proportions;

> the undermining and sabotage of public education through political activism - which has created a lost generation and represents the loss of human capital on grand scale

> an economy distorted by ideologies that deny basic principles of freedom and promote unemployment and human misery

The way to resolve such incompetence is simple. It would be to put capable people in charge who understand democracy, economics and have a bias to action and getting things done. The fact that the electorate has ignored repeated opportunities to bring this about through political change is an indictment of South Africa’s poor intellect and democratic incompetence.

Involuntary Incompetence, on the other hand is born of a cognitive deficit or inability to comprehend.  Its only antidote is a culture of learning, inquiry and self improvement.

Shortcomings in government, the state and local affairs are often subject to an extreme form of this phenomenon, defined by some in social research as “the Dunning Kruger Effect”. This syndrome – particularly common in South Africa - portrays how incumbents are incapable of grasping even the extent of their own shortcomings and deficiencies.

These are in large measure the results of “cadre deployment”, BEE and affirmative action, where appointments are made with little regard to the relationship between the personal ability of the incumbent and requirements for the job at hand. The notion of “the best person for the job” is alien, exacting both hidden financial and social costs.

The solution to involuntary incompetence is of course as simple as it is demanding.

It takes patience, hard work and solid dedication to education, the pursuit of knowledge and the development of human intellectual capital – especially of the youth. None of these are values associated with South Africa’s ruling ethic.

As a result, the confluence of complex issues associated with the modern nation state has the effect of exposing the cerebral shortcomings behind what appointees in many government departments do – or fail to do. Likewise with branches of the civil service and even sectors of private enterprise under duress from government.

Random high profile cases in point include the water shortages in Gauteng and the mismanagement of our national fishing resource. The teaching profession and postal services are just as obvious but are - ominously by now - institutionalized at low performance levels. The jury is out on whether the Post Office will even survive.

At a glaring senior level, the inability – and obvious unwillingness – of the nation’s president to do the basic sums relating to improvements to his home at Nkandla serve as an extreme example of this phenomenon and highlights a belief system (on his part) that puts him above the law.

And so - we may well ask - is everything lost? Is the embrace and promotion of incompetent values and fostering those with decrepit levels of cognitive ability to be our inevitable undoing as a nation, economy and society?

It would seem so, but for the occasional glimmer.

Surprisingly, there were almost unwitting signs of recognition of such limitations from “the inside” at a recent Black Management Forum conference (the quote that caught my eye was - “Black entrepreneurs are fed up with the "failed" state-sponsored affirmative action policy and want to go it alone” - Times Live 01 10 2014).

Jimmy Manyi - that dubious paragon of personal liberty, government stooge and diplomatic bungler of note (for saying that coloured people should leave the Cape in order to promote racial proportionality throughout the nation) – called for “The Act” to be scrapped or reviewed!

On the surface that looks encouraging – but it may equally be a deception.

I am suspicious of his reasons for suggesting this, because he went on to argue that there is too great an emphasis “on price” for black businesses to survive – signalling the likelihood that price subsidies or outright purchase quotas might be proffered to displace staff preferencing as an option. If that is so, he will have missed the point altogether.

Only time will tell.

Nevertheless we can now for the first time see a small crack in this dogmatic edifice and a willingness to call the harmful liturgy of racial preferencing into question from those who thought they had everything to gain from it.

That cannot be a bad thing - so perhaps we should wait a while before pronouncing final judgment?

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