Inequality is not the enemy, opportunity theft is

Inequality is a natural phenomenon. Take two brothers born into a loving and supportive home. For whatever reason, one brother chooses to work hard, make his own luck and build something of value and becomes wealthy. The other brother prefers living a stress-free life, travelling and working as little as he can. Many of us know these two brothers. Neither brother is better – but their difference will manifest in terms of economic inequality. The first brother will be wealthy and the second comparatively poor: the gap between their wealth, their inequality.

Nobody should penalise the first brother for that inequality existing. Nobody would be justified in taking from the first brother and giving to the second in order to level the playing field.BUT, the scenario painted above is perfect. Our society does not mirror the loving and supportive household. In South Africa, inequality is as much a product of Apartheid and opportunity theft as it is of the differences in where people invest their time and energy.

BUT, the scenario painted above is perfect. Our society does not mirror the loving and supportive household. In South Africa, inequality is as much a product of Apartheid and opportunity theft as it is of the differences in where people invest their time and energy.A child born into a poor family in South Africa today is going to be on the wrong side of inequality through no fault of her own and is going to find it harder than is fair to get to the other side. This is NOT fair, and in this case, something must be said for the role of the state in working to mitigate the injustices of the past that hold people back today.

A child born into a poor family in South Africa today is going to be on the wrong side of inequality through no fault of her own and is going to find it harder than is fair to get to the other side. This is NOT fair, and in this case, something must be said for the role of the state in working to mitigate the injustices of the past that hold people back today.Education, Healthcare, Transport, Internet Access, Small Business Support are all examples are areas where the state can use taxes to improve access to opportunity for all South Africans.

Education, Healthcare, Transport, Internet Access, Small Business Support are all examples are areas where the state can use taxes to improve access to opportunity for all South Africans.

Government should never take money from one person who is productive, simply to give it to another who chooses not to be productive. We must never incentivise people to down tools and live on welfare: our European friends have tested this for us, and it does not work.

The above, however, does not extend to the very basic grants that the state pays to the poorest members of our society. The child support grant and the old age pension are the two best examples: these ‘transfers of wealth’ are to ensure that nobody in South Africa lives in such extreme poverty that they cannot feed, clothe and house themselves (and many would contest the adequacy of these meagre amounts to assure that).

In short, inequality is not the problem – the obsession with inequality is diversionary – the real problem is the number of people who find it so very hard to break out of their particular circumstances. Luck can favour some, but it cannot favour all – for that we need the help of the more mortal, ever more fallible: good government.

My message to whites who think Maimane has sold the DA out

Let’s start by accepting that voters are emotional beings*.

Our votes are cast almost exclusively on the basis of emotional drivers: anxiety, fear for some; suspicion and anger, perhaps, for others.

There is no such thing as a rational voter who makes their choice upon the dispassionate assessment of the relative pros and cons of each party.

Second, there is no such thing as a ‘race band-wagon’. Race is a real and pervasive issue in this country. You might feel peeved about it to the point where you buy into the idea that the DA has jumped onto the ‘band-wagon’ but you are in the wrong position to be saying so.

Us whites too easily forget that the momentum of opportunity theft that Apartheid instituted against blacks is still crippling. To make it worse, despite BEE and similar policies, the momentum of white and minority advantage is still very strong. That’s not an opinion it’s a fact: look at income growth by race group since 1994.

earnings_growth
Source: The Economist

The unfortunate reality 20+ years on, is that the structural legacy the evil system bequeathed us is still alive and well.  Black South Africans are largely still poor and short on opportunity, and thus understandably frustrated and angry.

Against this backdrop, incidents of white on black racism are incendiary. I’d go as far as to say that there isn’t such a thing as reverse racism, and that black on white ‘racism’ is more like hatred than racism – because racism as we know it has that special aspect of racial superiority weaved into it. When Sparrow made her comments, she wasn’t just saying ‘I hate you’, she was saying loudly, ‘You are less human than me.’ That’ll make a person furious.

In a country with as much frustration as we have, people need somewhere to direct their outrage – Sparrow et al were good for frustrated blacks, and President Zuma is the old favorite of frustrated whites.

So, Mmusi Maimane is not jumping on any band-wagon. We have a problem in this country that is not being made any better by the gross mis-management of the ANC-led government.

Unfortunately that same problem creates circumstances ripe for blaming all via race on whites (and minorities), and stoking racial tensions for political ends.  Until we face this issue head on, South Africa will not be able to turn the corner and start moving forward again.

Mmusi Maimane is doing what few South African political leaders ever do – he is leading.  He is leading his party, and he is trying to lead South Africans.

We have some way to travel as a nation to get past the drag anchor of race and the impact that it has on the vitality of our democracy.  I have a renewed sense of optimism about our future knowing Maimane is leading us on that journey.

So, you really have two choices as a white voter:

  1. If you are an unrepentant racist, then find a conservative, backwater party like the FF- who will accommodate your views.  They will never get big enough to make a difference, and you will end up on the wrong side of history.
  2. Accept that the only way is forward, confront your feelings and beliefs about race, consider them in the context of you and your children – try to empathise: how would I feel if me or my children were spoken to like that, or how would I feel if I had to live in those conditions every day of my life? Then, cast your vote for a party who you believe will most effectively tackle the challenges that confront our nation.

* This is not opinion either, but solid neuroscience.  The best resource for understanding this better is “The Political Brain” by Drew Westen.

The Slow Creep of Good Government

In the two and a half years since I moved to Cape Town, I feel a great deal safer in the suburbs that I have lived in (Goodwood, Milnerton, Harfield Village, Marina da Gama) than I felt in Durban. The feeling is important – because it is our gut, not the figures in reports, that guide our decisions about this sort of thing.

Of late, we’ve seen a great deal of pessimism about the outlook for the quality of education and services in South Africa – especially with a view to the future one’s own children will live in. The counter-narrative relies on the positive (and hopefully accelerating) change in our political landscape. We’ve seen in the Western Cape, both at a local and a Provincial government level what a positive impact better government can have on quality of life and economic prospects.

Consider for a moment these two articles:

What explains the shift in Venture Capital? Does it have to do with the influx of tech-peoples to the fair cape? Does it have to do with the attraction of living in a well run city (perception or otherwise)? Does it have to do with the Provincial Government’s investment in the tech sector, and infrastructure, and cutting red tape?

An excerpt from the second article:

“It already appears that the Western Cape economy is on a different trajectory to the rest of the country. The region is attracting a great deal of internal migration, which is a clear indication of people seeing economic opportunity.”

Naturally, my own conviction – and the reason that I do what I do – is that government has the greatest influence over the fundamentals underlying society and the economy. Poor government manifests visibly as a shitty public realm, and erodes business confidence and social wellbeing.

I believe that most South Africans have no idea what a good government is. They had a racist, corrupt government in the past. The have a corrupt, inept government now. The scope for the positive impact of even moderately ‘not-bad’ government is massive.

The difference between kak government and good government is getting the basics right. The difference between good government and excellent government – well that’s another story altogether.

To that end, the 2016 Local Government Elections present an interesting set of possibilities:

  • an outright DA win in NMB/PE, or a DA-lead coalition
  • an DA challenge for power in Tshwane, with the ANC almost certain to drop below 50%. It is possible here that the ANC end up in the forties, the DA in the forties and the EFF in the 5-10 range. What an interesting set of coalition possibilities that holds! The first DA-ANC coalition government?
  • a strong DA challenge for power in Johannesburg
  • a possibility of the first DA win in KwaZulu-Natal (Umngeni)
  • the DA winning the rest of municipalities in the Western Cape
  • a test of whether the changes the DA has experienced over the past year will be reflected in a change of perception among black voters

So, much as we are surrounded by the lunacy of our state and its actors on a daily basis – and despair at the society and economy that has resulted – I believe that South Africa’s much vaunted potential is a spring wound tight waiting for sane government to unleash it. If that’s too much for you, then I say it sure as nuts is the case that crappy government is holding the spring down.

That may take some time – but in the meantime, we can hope that the next ANC president will be a force for positive change because surely that organisation knows that it either shapes up or accelerates the date upon which it is shipped out.

60th Anniversary of the Bantu Education Act – South Africa desperately needs quality education

This month, 60 years ago, the Bantu Education Act (full text) was promulgated. This evil piece of legislation has damaged the people and potential of South Africa inestimably. The Act was the brainchild of the Apartheid Minister of Native Affairs, Hendrik Verwoerd. Author Alex Parker wrote the following on Verwoerd and the Bantu Education Act:

“In a crime of lasting and monumental proportions, [Verwoerd] penned and promulgated the 1953 Bantu Education Act. There is no better person than Verwoerd himself to articulate how he felt about the education of black people:

“There is no place for [blacks] in the European community above the level of certain forms of labour,” he declared. “What is the use of teaching the Bantu child mathematics when it cannot use it in practice? That is quite absurd. Education must train people in accordance with their opportunities in life, according to the sphere in which they live.”

Blacks were, as [Verwoerd] put it, destined to be “hewers of wood, and drawers of water”. In a stroke, Verwoerd has stolen the opportunity of a better life from them… [T]he education system he decreed on generations of South African blacks remains, even today, one of the most damaging aspects of his legacy.”

It is against the sort of sentiment expressed above that we should judge the quality of education in South Africa today. If there ever was an opportunity to over-compensate in the measure of corrective action, it would be education in democratic South Africa. Had our governments since 1994 made quality education their number one priority, South Africa would be a fundamentally better country today.

Verwoerd was an evil thief. The man and everyone who supported him, stole the opportunity for a more prosperous life from millions of South Africans.

Imagine, instead, that in 1953 the state had decided to prioritise the education of all South Africans regardless of race. Imagine that the government understood that quality education was the most significant contributor to providing productive human resources to power our economy. Imagine a South Africa today where our education system had been providing quality education for 60 years to all races. Imagine how different our country would be, how much better all of our lives would be.

Every day we waste tolerating an education system crippled by corruption and the stranglehold of unions, we prolong the crime against our people that was committed in 1953.