The Obscenity of "Transformation"

2015-09-17 07:22

South Africa’s Holy Grail of transformation is an ideological script devoid of logic and legitimacy. If one accepts, as one's point of departure, that the well being of most South Africans should be paramount, the merits of transformation - as variously, arbitrarily and inconsistently defined by those promoting it - crumble and expose it as a tool for manipulation and racial coercion.

Our brand of transformation displaces the forces of free choice, open markets for human talent, and the mobility of resources that could benefit all the nation’s citizens according to merit and ability. The term has been promoted to take on righteous and venerable connotations.

But it is a pernicious cancer.

And like any cancer, transformation attacks weak and insecure institutions in fear of being seen as reactionary or out of step with those calling the shots (the governing party). For the transformation cause to be embraced, for example by tertiary learning institutions such as UCT and Stellenbosch Universities, as has recently happened is thus disturbing and ominous. Intelligent people should know better.

Let us take some examples of publicly articulated transformation objectives. The 2015 Rugby World Cup is topical and was the subject of court interdict applications on account of being "unrepresentative" - so why don't we start there?

Unlikely though it seems, let us assume that the Springboks do well – or even win – at the showpiece tournament. The nation will of course rejoice.

But you can bet your last cent on the fact that there will immediately be an outpouring of “transformation” demands - as happened when our national team won in 2007. At the time I found that astonishing since our success invalidated the argument for further diluting merit with race. Had we not, after all, prevailed with a less-than-racially representative team and swept aside pressures to further weaken it before the event?

Today, professional South African rugby players constitute a world diaspora, with hundreds playing for overseas clubs, franchises and even national sides. This is for two main reasons:

• An enfeebled, tanking local currency,and

• a ceiling on selection opportunities

A root cause of both is transformation.One can only marvel at the possibilities that would beckon if our national team was based solely on merit – as are the All Blacks, the Wallabies, the Six Nations teams - and all the rest.

A second example is the “Rhodes Must Fall” campaign on the UCT campus.

But in this instance, not even the notion of merit was at issue. Instead, some got it into their heads that Rhodes was a bad guy and – guess what? He was white, a colonialist over-achiever and there was a handy statue to trash – right there on campus. Why not make some trouble?

And that virus has spread - with ructions at Stellenbosch University, Elsenburg Agricultural College, UKZN and elsewhere. In aid of what?

According to some, the racial representation (of student, lecturers? who knows – it was never quite clear) was wrong in their views and the language of instruction was not to the liking of others. The hardy annuals of tuition fees and the standards of university residences were also in evidence.

In a nutshell, a small group of disaffected people felt it necessary to stir trouble by igniting an ANC coined entitlement mantra – transformation – providing license to sew anarchy in segments of society where order, logic and reason had previously prevailed.

The cause of our brand of politicized transformation is open ended and writes its own agenda and rules, serving as a panacea for radicalism. It is unambiguously an ANC sponsored brand of transformation (and, incidentally a misuse of the word) for who, after all would oppose an evolutionary and profound (read real) transformation of society? That is what societies do; they transform naturally over time.

Apart from its anarchic character, it is useful to bring to mind how transformation has affected South Africans over the past two decades in a deliberate and coercive way. Few words are needed and lengthy prose is unnecessary. Some word icons will do the job:

• Eskom

• SA Airways

• Teaching standards

• Economic growth

• Unemployment

• The GPO

• Telkom

• Currency depreciation

• Maths (il)literacy

and so on….

The elephant in the room of transformation RSA style is the cost to ordinary people.

Because the costs are never quantified, the man in the street remains ignorant of the opportunity costs that he (or she) has forgone. These include both financial and non financial costs as diverse as bad education, a lack of job opportunities, lousy telephone and postal services and many besides.

That the notion of transformation as prescribed is taken seriously in institutional quarters such as parastatals, corporate business and universities, and then leveraged by ruthless and dysfunctional lobbies undermines our very democracy. But how did we get here?

What went unrecognized in 1994 was that the nation had already transformed - and that was as good as it was going to get. Full freedom was available to all – for individuals to do with as they pleased.

But we took the low road.

A toxic assortment of self seeking politicians, trade unionists, purveyors of discredited ideologies, charlatans on the make and common criminals eroded the sovereignty of the individual. On account of the nation’s tripartite alliance, transformation South African style has eroded many of our liberties, undermined the individual and continues to destroy our now seriously flawed democracy.

All responsible citizens should strenuously resist the notion of politically sponsored transformation – not foster or support it.

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