Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Deny And Discredit: A Slippery Slope For The ANC

My opinion piece published on News24
April16, 2014

In the time it takes most political parties to entrench their policies and programs into a nations operating system, the ANC has managed to go from being the 'Default Browser' to a virus-infected users cesspool.
Not so long ago, we were dancing in the streets and celebrating a party that belonged to all; a party we were proud to call our own; a party who's leaders led by example and inspired young and old to work together toward the brighter future we were promised. I remember where I was the day I stood in line to cast my first vote in our new democracy. Filled with hope and brimming with pride, the energy of the thousands of voters waiting in line was electric. Victory for the ANC at the ballot was palpable. The only question was how great the winning margin would be.

Fast-forward 20 years and suddenly the very party we once embraced as our own, has degenerated into a pariah we now distance ourselves from.

In truth the rot may have first been exposed during the Mbeki era with the AIDS debacle and the arms deal saga. The warning lights were slowly lighting up, and the nation was starting to sit up and take notice.
Cue the Zuma administration and suddenly it seemed like corruption, nepotism and every other ugly known to politics was in free-fall. Nobody within the Zuma administration was willing to stand up strongly or loudly enough to stop the rot, and when we looked toward the leader himself we found a President so wrapped in securing his party foothold that he forgot the people he served. It suddenly seemed as though the needs of the people became secondary and the desire to cement ranks within the ANC became of utmost importance. Claims of tribalism and factionalism had overpowered discussion on service delivery and job creation. The only jobs being created were for the politically connected few within the walls of parliament. The only services being delivered were the tenders to friends and cronies. Rome for all intents and purposes was burning while inside it's political chambers, orgies of debauchery and opulence were the order of the day.
While the citizens searched for leadership and guidance, the leaders were getting drunk on the public's taxes and patting themselves on the back. When the voices of dissent from the public grew too loud, the leaders would come out and scold the people as though they were little children not worthy of sitting at the adults table.

Leaders like Gwede Mantashe, Cyril Ramaphosa, Fikile Mbalula and Jackson Mthembu have recently come out in scathing attack at anyone who disagrees with the ANC.
No longer are we allowed to simply voice opinion and have it digested for morsels of truth. The danger of having dissent or dialogue by a countries citizens being shut down by a ruling party is that without even noticing, the line between democracy and dictatorship is very quickly crossed. In a true democracy, government would and should engage the people to resolve disputes and conflict. Government must never forget that it is ultimately the people who have voted them in power. It is when government assumes they hold the whip to flog the nation, instead of being the servants of the people, that the foundations of democracy begin to unravel. As citizens we have every right to show dissatisfaction in our government. For the ruling party or any of it's supporters to suggest otherwise is to denounce the very thing ANC stalwarts like Oliver Thambo, Govan Mbeki, Nelson Mandela and others fought for.

It is the duty of every citizen to defend the constitution and denounce wholesale corruption instituted by the state. For the ANC to attempt to discredit independent bodies like the Public Protectors office and oversight committees who are critical of their actions and policies, one has to wonder what their definition of a Public Protector or oversight committee really is. Would they prefer a Public Protector who does everything but protect the interest of the public? Would the ANC prefer oversight committees whose sole purpose is to overlook any ANC wrongdoing? Would Gwede Mantashe, Jackson Mthembu, Fikile Mbalula, Blade Nzimande and others prefer a robust media that reports on any and all shortcomings and misdemeanors of all political parties, except the ANC?
How arrogant must the leadership be if they expect the public to simply swallow without question the fodder they're being fed?

For Blade Nzimande to say Jacob Zuma built Nkandla with his own money is an insult to our intelligence.  Really Blade? Just 4 years ago our president was singing poverty. Are we expected to believe that President Jacob Zuma's salary of R2.7million per annum was so well invested as to reap a 5000% return in 4 short years? Really Blade? Zuma's investors could teach the worlds most successful investor, Warren Buffet, a thing or two! I wonder why they never applied the same investment principles to Aurora mines, Eskom, SABC and a whole string of other failures the state had it's finger in?
Are we supposed to believe Gwede Mantashe when he says that economic growth has declined in the Western Cape, against all credible reports and statistics? I've never been a supporter of the DA but even one as critical of the party as I knows that the Western Cape is the best run province in the country. Even one as critical as I cannot accept Gwede's views on the Western Cape.
Are we supposed to accept Fikile Mbalula's views that the public are not allowed to show dissent at their president by booing him? Really Fikile? History has shown that booing is probably the mildest form of showing dissatisfaction against leadership. We come from a political history of brick-throwing, necklacing and molotov-cocktails. I would think booing is probably the most respectful show of dissatisfaction, considering our past.

While all political parties may be guilty to some degree of denialism and discrediting those who highlight shortcomings within parties, it is precisely because the ANC is currently the ruling party that the spotlight will be placed squarely on them.
If the leadership within the ruling party cannot understand and accept that it is the sign of a healthy democracy for citizens to criticize their leaders, than I am afraid the political school they have graduated from is in worse condition than our current education system.

Department Of Education: Policies Or Fallacies?

My opinion piece published on News24
April 07, 2014

"Our vision is of a South Africa in which all our people have access to lifelong learning, as well as education and training, which will, in turn, contribute towards improving the quality of life and building a peaceful, prosperous and democratic South Africa.
Our mission is to provide leadership with respect to provinces, districts and schools in the establishment of a South African education system for the 21st century."
The Vision and Mission statement of the Department Of Basic Education, South Africa.
By any standards, these are high goals to achieve for a third-world education system wanting to attain first-world success.
The Department Of Basic Education is more well known for it's recent failures than it is for it's many accomplishments. The textbook saga will unfortunately always follow Minister Angie Motshekga irrespective of the sterling work her department has achieved in other spheres of education. Speak of a failure on the part of our education leadership and the topic becomes synonymous with Minister Angie Motshekga. Speak about ASIDI, Dinaledi or NSNP (National School Nutrition Programme) and very few have heard about them or know what they are all about.
The same can be said for Minister Of Higher Education And Training, Blade Nzimande. While many will remember his department for their policy of a 30% matric pass requirement, the commendable work his department has done with SETA's (Sector Education And Training Authority) and VCET (Vocational And Continuing Education And Training) largely goes unnoticed.

With all these great policies in place for learners, beginning at the basic education level and working their way through the system until they emerge post-matric hopefully armed with their glossy and full-of-promise certificates, one has to wonder whether governments objectives have been achieved.
From the very outset, the private schooling system and the public schooling system have set very different values with vastly different playing-fields which never level themselves out, no matter how much we'd like to believe otherwise. The public or government schooling system starts at age 6 in Grade 0 as compulsory, and age 4-5 in Grade R as optional. For all intents and purposes, this is when a learner entering a government school will have his or her first interaction with a teacher. Compare that to your average private schooling learner, who's first interaction with a teacher is usually around the age of 3. That's a three year headstart on learning, albeit at it's most basic level.

Once in the learning stream, the real process of moulding these young minds to become leaders and champions of society really begins. It is in these formative years that the building blocks are set in place for future success. For too long the definition of success held by government was simply that a learner attains a matric certificate. The bar was lowered and standards were drastically dropped in order for government to achieve this goal. Some believed that this presented a win-win situation for the ANC, as it showed an increase in learners passing matric irrespective of the 30% pass debate, while simultaneously 'dumbing down' the youth to create a nation of sheep instead of young lions. Sheep prefer to be led, and simply follow the herd. Lions are independant and fearless, and their roar is backed by their bite. An entirely different conversation for the conspiracy theorist, but an interesting one nonetheless.

The extent of the problem becomes really evident once learners have completed matric and are now ready to embark on their tertiary education. For those with university entrance passes, the choice is quite simple; a university degree or diploma. For those with anything less than a university pass entrance, there are FET (Further Education And Training) colleges, SETA's  and trade schools. Remember that grades 10-12 are already regarded as non-compulsory in the education departments policy, as these fall under the FET banner.
With many universities and colleges complaining about such basics as literacy levels amongst learners exiting the higher education stream, the bottle-neck seams to favour those learners coming from private schools with higher literacy rates and better grades. The problem is further compounded by hard-working and deserving students from disadvantaged backgrounds who qualify for bursaries, who invariably would have attended public schools, and who want to now enter universities or colleges. This places a huge burden on tertiary institutions who want to produce the best and brightest minds within those short years a degree requires. By adding a bridging year to a 4 year course simply to attend to issues of literacy, learners are burdened with an additional year of education which requires funding. Many are already financially stretched to simply cover their current tuition costs.

The recent SABEC (South African Basic Education Conference) held at the end of March is an indication that government realizes the failures in some of their policies, and hopefully plans to charter a new course through our existing education quagmire. Whether these new policies and the shift in attitude will have a positive effect remains to be seen. It takes an average of 12 years, from the time a learner enters the education stream to the time they leave with a matric certificate, to fully assess the competency of any changes implemented now. If these new policies and changes were undertaken with the mindset of a Fortune 500 CEO, the very first step would be to test the system by increasing the matric pass rate drastically in 12 years, while simultaneously implementing stringent quality control measures at the end of each year starting from the next batch of Grade 0's entering the stream.

While the future may look bleak for those learners currently in the Grade 0-12 stream, governments acknowledgment of the problem and addressing it with a serious view to realistic solutions offers a glimmer of hope to tomorrow's leaders.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Here Comes Jacob Boo Boo

My post which appeared on News24, 01 April 2014
News24: Here Comes Jacob Boo Boo

Remember when President Jacob Zuma was booed at the memorial service of Nelson Mandela at FNB Stadium in December of 2013?

My initial reaction was that this was highly disrespectful to the occasion, being Madiba’s memorial service, and also highly disrespectful to the legacy which Nelson Mandela was leaving behind. While the world watched in awe as we paid tribute to the life and achievements of one of its finest sons and statesmen, it also witnessed the culmination of sheer frustration being expressed by many at the stadium toward President Jacob Zuma and his ruling party, the ANC.

Debates raged on for weeks regarding the booing, and the ANC came out all guns blazing as they criticized the boo-ers.
While many may have agreed with the act of boo-ing, we also felt it was neither the time nor the place to show dissatisfaction at the president.

Fast-forward barely three months later and President Jacob Zuma gets booed once again as he walks onto the pitch at FNB Stadium for the post-match ceremony after Bafana Bafana played Brazil in an international friendly. This time it was Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula who came out in Zuma’s defence, even calling the boo-ers “hooligans and cowards who’s plans are infused in Satanism at best”.

All this boo-ing of our President and subsequent criticism from the ANC of those doing the boo-ing got me thinking about this act of disgruntlement. How frustrated and disappointed must the people be to get to the point of actively boo-ing their President in public? How negative must public perception be that the nation would vent its anger every chance they got at the country’s leader? If people feel that they have the right to vent their frustrations in this manner, what would have set the precedent for this kind of dissent? If the ANC are so critical of this act, surely it’s political origin could not have come from within its ranks? Why would they demonize and criticize an act if the party had previously condoned it on previous occasions? Had they condoned it on previous occasions?

Then I remembered the infamous Women’s Day rally in Utrecht, KwaZulu-Natal,  in August of 2005 where then Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka was publicly boo-ed by none other than Jacob Zuma supporters. This after Jacob Zuma had been relieved of his position as Deputy President to face charges of corruption. I don’t recall the ANC being highly critical of Zuma’s supporters boo-ing Mlambo-Ngcuka, their Deputy President back then. The SABC was even taken to task for not having reported this incident.  The public broadcaster blamed the lack of footage on a freelance cameraman who arrived late. No surprises there.
In May of 2009, ex-President Thabo Mbeki was boo-ed as his arrival was announced at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. Once again, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka was not spared the wrath of sections of the crowd.

This form of venting dissatisfaction and frustration has been around for hundreds of years, and with the rise of social media networks it simply means that the public has quicker access to and immediate commentary on such acts as and when it happens. Twitter exploded instantaneously with news on each occasion of Jacob Zuma’s boo-ings at FNB Stadium .

So I find it rather disingenuous of the ruling party to tell us that showing dissent and exercising our freedom of speech by boo-ing that which we don’t agree with as satanic, cowardly and disrespectful. Where were these chastising voices when the people being boo-ed were out of favor with the leadership? I don’t recall Cyril Ramaphosa or Fikile Mbalula lambasting those members of the ANC boo-ing  Mbeki or Mlambo-Ngcuka and others? I don’t recall the people doing the boo-ing then, being referred to as ‘hooligans’.

If the ANC accepts that this act of boo-ing is par for the course when other political parties are on the receiving end, then they must accept when it happens to members of it’s own party too. If they condone the boo-ing of Helen Zille and Patricia De Lille, then they should accept the same treatment for President Jacob Zuma. I don’t accept the argument that he should be exempt from being boo-ed simply because he is the president. By that logic he is also the person who presides over his members and allows them to boo members of parliament unchecked. For goodness sake the MP’s themselves boo each other in the house. Just ask Terror Lekota, who by now must think his middle name is ‘Boo’!

I’m neither pro-Zuma nor pro-Mbeki, but I do believe that the ANC needs to stop treating the youth, the public at large, and anybody showing dissatisfaction with their leadership, as kids at a kindergarten. You reap what you sow. You cannot change the rules when the game is going against you.
I suspect that in the run-up to the elections, we are going to have a lot more boo-ing by a lot more disgruntled citizens. It’s become a fragment of our political quilt, much like toyi-toying, and parties need to accept that the people will be heard, one way or another.