“Education remains the tried and tested route out of poverty” – Dr Mamphele Ramphele did not mince her words or pull her punches in addressing the UCT Alumni Leadership Forum. Explaining her topic: Beyond Philanthropy: towards investing in the future, Dr Ramphele is adamant – our destiny as South Africans is greatness. But our intensely unequal society is undermining our potential for greatness.
Referring to the recent presentation of Discovery’s Adrian Gore, she agrees with him on the statistics that demonstrate our greatness, and then offers her theory for the prevailing negativity in the face of these statistics: despite the statistics, we know in our hearts that there is something seriously wrong with our society; we know that there is something seriously wrong with the “lived reality” of the youth in our country.
We need to look no further for evidence that we live in a “dangerous and sick society” that nurses would attempt to stop operations, or teachers attack fellow teachers. Why are they so angry? Dr Ramphele suggests it could be because they work in a world where the Minister in charge of the Public Service apparently regards a top of the range Mercedes Benz as the “tools of the trade” of a Minister.
Dr Ramphele addressed the following points: that we still have the largest gap between the “haves” and the “have nots”; corporate social responsibility, and the implications of the growing inequalities.
A culture of giving – we don’t have a culture of giving; rather we don’t have a culture or giving in an organised way, in predictable amounts at regular times. And we don’t have “joined-up” giving. She makes an unfavourable comparison with the United States, where “classes” of tertiary institutions undertake to raise funds for specific large-scale projects.
We have developed a tolerance for the poor in our society – this not a “black/white” issue, empathy in our nation is in short supply – we are a country of “me, myself, and I” concerned only that our family and immediate community are fine. But we pay a price for our lack of empathy for the poor – and she suggests that “chickens will come home to roost”.
Knowing that education is the route out of poverty, why are we tolerating a school system that is now destroying the third generation of children, Dr Ramphele asks. We’ve have 6 weeks of the World Cup – why is soccer more important than schooling? And now we’ve had 3 weeks of strikes. Why is there no outrage at this situation?
Our dysfunctional education system is perpetuating race and class distinctions. We need to link hands and do something about this – this is not about being black or white – there are many who don’t want to lose these labels – they have a “currency”; we need serious, open and honest conversations.
We have 3 million young people who are not in school, and not working; they’re smart despite the dysfunctional education and they’re angry at their circumstances, so when they take your cell phone, they’ll stab you too – Dr Ramphele explains and she challenges the Vice-Chancellor to partner with the Western Cape government to address the underperforming schools. UCT’s race-based admission systems are a “band-aid” for the real underlying problem. It is not a inherent ability of Japanese or Korean children for maths, it is the attitude to education, the reverence for education, the numbers of hours devoted to education, we need to adopt this approach, we need to start – and we need to persevere.
In addition, we need to learn from examples like Obama’s partnering the state and federal government contributions to education with funding from wealthy Americans.
Dr Ramphele then moves to corporate social investment – because of the legislative requirement of Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment for companies to invest a percentage of profits, there are small “flags” she says, all over the Eastern Cape.
Mining companies have taken the young people to work on the mines, but when they are injured or pensioned off for crippling illness, they are returned home. So young people grow up without a father figure and then when the father returns, they face the pain of seeing their parent tragedy. The Eastern Cape she says is covered in little corporate flags, but there’s a classroom here, or a project there – as she said at the beginning, there is no joined up, coherent strategy to deal with the poverty, just corporate compliance “box-ticking”.
Our situation has actually become worse, so it is not surprising that we have the instability and anger we see demonstrated, for example in the current strikes. And it is a rising anger. Quoting Amata Senn on “freedom’s possibilities” – “a good development approach allows participation in freedom’s possibilities” – but our delivery mechanism and the Tenderpreneurs don’t include this – further dis-empowering the poor.
And this happened “on our watch”. Look at the level of payment of a Minister – who may not even have a tertiary qualification, and she has been informed a R10,000 car allowance – and compare this to the teacher, with the qualification and experience earning less than quarter of this. No wonder they find living in their shacks unacceptable when they see Ministers living it up in the Mt Nelson.
“This is just unacceptable”, Dr Ramphele emphasises. We are the shareholders of this country, and this is not acceptable – “enough is enough”. We need to reallocate our resources and live in line with our priorities.
Finally, socio-economic redress was left off the Truth and Reconciliation Commission agenda – there was to be a development process thereafter. But the “how” was missing.
“We have a responsibility to lead: to those to which much is given, much is expected.”
Education is our number one challenge; we need greater co-ordinated citizen action. We need to lead by example, in our homes, and in our workplaces. Greatness remains our destiny, but are we ready to meet the challenge?
Prepared by sylvia hammond
For the Skills Portal
30 August 2010