In a democratic election, everyone gets what they vote for. It’s such a beautiful concept, one which as South Africans, we should embrace; going back to the struggles that took place while some of us almost-born-frees, and the born-frees, never experienced.
Our 5th national democratic elections have surely been interesting for me, not because it’s my second national vote, but in that I am wiser than I was 5 years ago, that although I am not a politician, I am at least more clued up on some of what is happening in my country.
There are a number of things that I noticed in the run-up to, and the elections themselves. This is my account of them. I do disclaim that as this are my opinions, there will obviously be an element of anecdote, interpretations of circumstances at their face-value when that might not be the case, and opinions that may or may not be backed up by facts. If I do not explicitly state something; please do not deduce anything or label me as some category of a person, especially in a defamatory manner. We live in a democracy, we have rights as per the Bill of Rights on our beautiful Constitution, and I am responsibly using my rights to freedom of expression.
Now that the mandatory stuff is out of the way, on to the good stuff.
There is no green-grass in a drought
Not a history I like revisiting at will, but as many South African children from ‘previously disadvantaged backgrounds’, I didn’t grow up without my fair share of suffering. It’s however not about competing on who’s seen more suffering, because it’s not a vanity contest.
For a major part of my childhood I lived without my mother due to her health conditions at the time. If I recall properly, I was around 12 when I first stayed with my neighbour at home, he was 14 at the time. His sister and himself were staying alone, because their mother was working ‘the kitchens’, elder siblings were also working. Fortunately his sister was much older and more responsible than the both of us. There were tough times when we didn’t have anything to eat for the day, how we survived is only by God’s grace [that is my belief, so if you are not of the same belief, you can substitute this with something else like a big-bang or an equivalent bang].
The following year I moved to go stay with my grandmother’s sister (great aunt?). It was tough, in their elderly pension-years, they were supporting 8 dependent mouths that needed feeding, from me to the youngest child, there were 6 of us, sleeping in the same room. Yet, with such love was their support administered, that the tough times that we often faced faded away easily. In my tough puberty years, I am glad that I had someone to teach me impartiality by treating everyone as if they are their children.
To go into the specifics, in a typical previous-gen African family; there are often many children, with a vast age difference. The older children would often have a ‘piece-job nyana’ or more formal employment at the mines etc. So we young ones relied on our grandparents, and grants from the working-class to help here and there.
Central to that support structure was our grandparents’ pensions, i.e. my great aunt’s husband (wait for it … great uncle), as he had worked his entire life until he took pension. His pension wasn’t much, but bearing purchasing power at the time, and other circumstances, we got by. Another grant system was our government’s social grant system. My great aunt was already receiving it, so it patched most of the holes.
When all I have is R500 a month to feed the whole family, the last thing I want to be uncertain is whether I’ll continue receiving that R500.
[As a sidenote, that's how much the grant was back in my day, in 2014 I believe it's about R1270]. My great uncle later went on the social grant when his annuity came to its lengthy end. Thank you ANC-led government for the support. Though the grass wasn’t green, we survived the drought.
Baby Boom, for a water buffalo
Now that I mentioned the social grant, there was an element of the grant that was intended for good, but resulted in an indirect social ill. The government introduced the child support social grant. It was much needed, we had a lot of children who needed some support, so the R100 (amount at the time, might be out by a few Ront) was a great addition to the R500 that pensioners received.
Statisticians can try prove/disprove this one, but on the ground, I remember the motivation for a lot of teenage pregnancies being to receive some money. Call it the ‘hustle of the day’. Our despondent sisters who weren’t finding employment were being tempted into reproduction having an element of security in receiving a grant of sorts.
To be clear, I’m not directly inferring that people started having kids to get the grant. I held that opinion, but I later grew out of it as it was too riddled with anecdote, due to isolated cases of people who proclaimed such intention. What I won’t disagree with was that the grant had the side-effect of not convincing people that child maintenance was no childs’ play.
An incident which most of us should be familiar with is when MEC Faith Mazibuko was quoted telling an unemployed mother to ‘close up’ her legs and stop having babies in 2009 or so [Evidence: http://www.citypress.co.za/news/mec-must-pay-telling-mother-close/]. By the way, probably slipped through election-fever, but the taxpayers have settled with the woman for an amount of R350’000 (the news article is from last week, at the time of writing).
In closing of this section, remember that in the coming 4 to 10 years, most of these children who were born in that era will be coming through our education system.
It’s Based on Outcomes
Educate a man
Nna ga ke je tlhapi, tlhapi ke noga, noga ya metsi, e ya lelesela, setlhare sa baloi. [Translated to an extent as: "I don't eat fish, it's a water snake, witches' medicine/muti"]. It comes from an old Tswana song, I just remembered it when I was about to type “Educate a man, feed him for life”, with the obvious reference to fish.
I have written about our education system about 3 years back, and my views are still similar, so here is what I wrote: my opinion on our education system.
Despite the matric pass-rate, I am convinced that our education system is failing us as a country. To add some weight to my claim, I have seen it first-hand at the times when I tutored my class at high school, and when I tutored in varsity. I attribute two problems to this:
- Weakening standards. We all saw OBE and its earlier implementation as disastrous
- The disincentive to think. We generally are a young generation that doesn’t “think” in the sense that we don’t seem to be applying our minds at school.
Cue the pitchforks, Maths Literacy, you are killing us.
Education costs sweat and blood
Our parents didn’t have the opportunities that we have in getting educated, my mother had to leave school after Std 8, so she could go work and help the family out. I think similar with her two sisters. She wished for education so badly that there’s a time when she went back to school, but it was just at the period when she fell ill, so she never completed her night school.
One of the many things I praise her for is that she saw the value of education, and she demonstrated it by giving me the best she could in that department, while she could. There are 2 schools of thought;
- those that believe that ‘geniuses’ are born, and;
- those that believe that ‘geniuses’ are made.
I currently fall in the latter. I learnt to read fluently in 2 languages before I could figure the writing thing properly. In my last 2 years of pre-school, I had an after-creche teacher who used to smack the lights into me, along with her nephew. She was a middle-school teacher, entrusted with the great task of being a ring-bearer, carrying the ring of illiteracy to Mount Doom [yes, I just Lord of the RInged this one]. By the time I went to sub A (the current Grade 1), I was breezing through material like a prodigy.
Though I went to public schools all my life (except for a dodge 2 year stint at some ‘private school’), I wouldn’t really have known better on what the difference with a private school was. At least until i got to middle school and high school.
Through mother’s sweat and blood, and the stripes that I bore for having laziness beaten out of me, I loved education throughout school, and survived in tough places where the system wasn’t strong.
Kudos to the teachers that believed in me. In my one-year stint in Rustenburg, as my punishment, I think I cleaned our classroom more than anyone else that year. I did it with a smile as I knew that my class teacher was punishing me out of love.
Also, thank you to the ANC-led government for pushing the policy of free education. In grade 12, at the height of financial suffering, my school fees were only R150 that year.
It’s stealing if we don’t contribute back
Personal and family struggles will always exist, and that’s not a good excuse to not contribute back to society. As appreciation for what my government has done, I hope to contribute more back to our system from this year onwards. Watch this space?
This is a tough one, so remember that I’m writing as a young-blood who didn’t live through the Apartheid era.
Grayscale TV Tendencies
Remember the days when we had grayscale TVs? At that time, a ‘black’ person was black, and a ‘white’ person was white. No yellow bones, just grey bones.
We haven’t forgotten those days I believe. In the last weekend of the election campaigning, Blade Nzimande was at Soccer City in front of the masses, accusing the opposition party of being a ‘white party’ blah blah (me paraphrasing). At the same time, the attribution of the ruling party to the concept that it’s a ‘black’ party in 2014 is also sad.
I’m not disregarding the demographics of our country, but I’m saying that by saying such things during electioneering, we run the risk of keeping the grayscale mentality alive.
This is a topic which I will acknowledge the lack of qualification to dwell on, so i’ll briefly move on.
The EFF is fighting for economic freedom in this lifetime. I think we were headed in that direction with policy, but its implementation is where it failed. I’m referring to Affirmative Action, BEE and the tender systems. Much has been said, but I’ll focus on some observations of mine.
We have passed through the phase when there was extreme window-dressing in the hope of meeting certain quotas and credentials. That phase obviously did a lot of harm.
We are currently going through its aftermath, which is the period where business doubts black people’s ability to deliver. This is isolated, and my view here is based on fireside chats with friends, I don’t believe to have experienced what I am about to talk about, so no witch-hunts please.
‘Young black professionals’ are in the phase where they get into the workplace, and there are some minorities of people who still have grayscale tendencies of presuming that just because you are ‘black’, you had inferior education, and you might not deliver as your other counterparts. It’s a strong and bold accusation to make, so I’ll make sure I don’t drop the baby here.
This is what is called a rebuttable presumption, which is the assumption that something is true until its proven otherwise. (I won’t forget my Honours Accounting lecturer putting me on the spot asking me such deep English, he was out to get me lol).
Such presumptions might be racially motivated now, but the danger that we face is that they continue to exist because of the current throughput of our education system.
I tutored 1st years in varsity, and I could clearly see the difference in the quality of thinking from that era. That era, and the subsequent years, is the one that is joining the workplace now. It’s not isolated to a specific race, but we as people who have been in the system for a few years, are seeing the clear drop in quality of thinking in the current crop of graduates.
Obviously to get where you have was because you proved yourself competent by passing exams,,but it is; the problem-solving ability, the inarguable demonstration of clear well-thought reasoning, that we assess you on. For me, such element is missing. If things continue ceteris paribus, as a country, we’re in trouble.
There is grave danger in that as the OBE generation (gross generalisation on my part), you will fail to rebut the presumption as we have managed to.
Our government is making strides where it can, there are some blunders like the Limpopo textbook isolated cases, but we as people educated by our system, it is our responsibility to help our government out. It is for the good of our future labour force. Else we will be supporting youth unemployment subsidies with our salaries to come nice!
Kudos to all those who are dedicating their time to contributing back to the system. I can’t let the left hand know what the right hand is doing, so I won’t compete with mentioning what ad where I contribute.
Stupid Voters and Clever People
This is a very sensitive issue, I won’t talk much about it, except that:
No South African has the right to call another South African ‘stupid’ or the equivalent for voting for the ANC. There is a clear history, there is a lot of uncertainty on what would happen if opposing parties win the elections. There are people who have the valid fear that they will lose their grants if the ANC is voted out, etc.
As a taxpayer who’s been paying probably north of R5’000 a month in taxes, it is frustrating for me to hear of all the waste of my money taking place. There is a lot of good that my money goes to, and there is a growing element of an unhealthy lack of accountability eating into our state coffers.
I believe my vote reflects my action based on how I feel about my money. Someone else’s vote might be an extension of the joy they feel for our liberation, others for the grant they receive, you get the story. That however, doesn’t give me the right to call someone names because they don’t see what I see. I too don’t see what they see.
As taxpayers funding our free education, our social grants system, subsidising business learnerships, let’s not forget that at the end of the stick is someone living the story that I told. They are not ‘stupid’ for voting for what they don’t want. For me the biggest confusion has been people saying they are unhappy with the leadership, but they will still vote for their respective party. It’s something I resigned to acknowledging to be human nature. A mother sticks to her child even in wrongdoing.
Our responsibility as South Africans is to keep fighting for those who do wrong to be brought to justice. The ruling party should acknowledge in the coming inaugurations, that it should clean up its act. ‘Clever people’ are likely to be more disgruntled, the effects of certain short-term decisions will catch up to us. Though some of us oppose e-tolls on our highways, we pay for them from our pockets, and in the increased cost of goods that are transported through those roads.
“In South Africa we are in an unique position in that we pay twice for the same thing” – Moeletsi Mbeki, public speech at Wits (circa 2011)
When we are careless of our table manners, the dogs on the ground get the pieces of food that we keep dropping. This is just an analogy, I’m not calling anyone a dog.
Kudos again to the EFF, we look forward to the ‘Commander in Chief’ of the EFF joining Parliament. Well done DA, we will forever wonder whether your strategy of attacking ‘Zuma’ worked, but you too have done well. To those parties that lost out, losing is tough, take heart and show character.
As South Africans who always say that the opposition has nothing to show, remember that the perceived entertainment taking place in Parliament is the execution of accountability, which is enacted by our laws, and enforced by the opposition. In simple English:
The opposition’s role is not to govern, but to make sure that the government does its job transparently.
So let’s please think about this and stop saying that our opposition is useless. The media succeeds often out of the questions that the opposition raise.
I have seen many instances of shoddy journalism and direct misinterpretation. Please continue raising the standard of excellence whilst State Information is not yet protected.
5 more years, likely of many more to come. Honourable members of government, please start on a clean slate and write a good story for the country, one which will make us your employers deem you worthy of Parliamentary busts next to that of tata Madiba in the coming decades.
The Public Protector, and other Chapter 9 Institutions
Ausi Thuli, may I please kindly have your autograph before your 7-year non-renewable term is over.
I have heard great stories of the Auditor-General, and to the IEC, please do consider electronic voting, I really hope that you will be able to resolve grievances and allegations of dumped votes and so on.
Let us stop with unfounded conspiracies, thinking that politics are a gameshow or Mickey Mouse cartoons. It is our lives that are affected. Let us take interest in our country, and as hard and blind-sighted as my words are, dwelling on the past is nonconstructive. Let us assess our current-day leaders on their current-day achievements and shortcomings.
In a democracy, people get what they voted for. I just hope that what we voted for as a collective is 5 years of a good story to tell our children and the world. Since we’ve casted our votes, let us not stop there, but continue taking an interest in the well-being of our nation. Let us please lose the grayscale mentality.
Thanks for reading, I’d appreciate healthy comments, corrections and other views.