#MaritzburgCollege: How Behind the Education Curve Are We?

As problematic as Maritzburg College’s initial response to the students with the placards may have been, we must protect College’s right to its rules — before we tear into the rules it upholds through this right.

Former cricketer and Maritzburg College student, Kevin Pietersen, thrust the establishment and the students supporting the EFF (in school uniform, on school premises) into the public spotlight with a tweet that read, “WHAT THE HELL IS THIS?  Total disrespect for a once GREAT school!  Are you joking?!?!”

Advocate Martin Williams responded that the Constitution frees the students to express their political opinions; the school’s code of conduct cannot limit this right.  No less an editor than Peter Bruce also replied, “Well, Kevin, if we as young men stood up to injustice like these guys we would not have become the country you had to leave.”  The freedoms of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion are hard to separate from the freedom of expression.

But once the Constitution trumps the rules of voluntary private clubs like schools, then the “equality clause” should force churches (also private voluntary clubs) to give same-sex couples the same rites they offer opposite-sex couples.  In 2015, Eusebius McKaiser argued that he would rather live in a world where Mmusi Maimane was allowed to think homosexuality is sinful than one where he was not.  I agreed, though I wondered whether children should be kept out of churches in which the preaching and practice deviate from what the Constitution says.

De-toothing schools’ code of conduct on constitutional grounds (even if the Schools Act of 1996 supports those private club rules) could have unexpected ramifications also for businesses that don’t comply with the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Act.  Should private companies’ decisions on this be overridden by the Constitution’s recognition and redress of past injustices through positive discrimination?  Why have an opt-out option?

Even if we preach Constitutional supremacy, there is a danger that when we use it to take away others’ private club freedoms, we jeopardise our own.

Now, let’s criticize Maritzburg College’s initial stance on the placarded students (even if the charges against them were eventually dropped).

Many of our schools were formed under colonialism or apartheid; Maritzburg College has been “directing potential since 1863”.  Back then, a governmental power would have a system in place to educate white students for senior administrative and managerial jobs in the public sector, or for professions in the private sector that had a symbiotic relationship with said government.  Those who received what would later be called Bantu Education were limited to skills just a little more empowering than hewing wood and drawing water.  This system extracted labour from them through the administration of those from “nice” schools — thereby capitalising itself, paying salaries and assuring life-long jobs in the system.

The training and education of that day spoke to securing employment in that context, and rules against challenging educational establishments were how the system legitimized itself in the minds of its obedient children.

Today’s educational needs and economic background are different: the rules must be too.  In the absence of colonial powers extracting and exploiting black labour, entrepreneurialism and autonomous thought are as close to life-long job security with cushy salaries as many students will get.  This requires the antithesis of silence and compliance because the promises tied to “behaving” can no longer be kept any more than America and Maritzburg College can be made “great” again.

Today, managing one’s social media presence is part of self-marketing.  It must be, for the students’ only survival options will be radical entrepreneurship on their own or radical economic transformation engineered by the state.  When we condemn them for being self-expressive and bold, we’re condemning the characteristics that will be required by the liberalism which, if allowed to flourish, would make the EFF unnecessary as a “last hope”.

To avoid being accused of pandering to opinion just because it’s opinion, a school in College’s position could redeem its reputation as a place of relevant learning by challenging opinionated students to defend their views in the public square under the disclaimer that those opinions are not necessarily theirs.  What on earth could our schools possibly teach, today, other than how to think and substantiate thought?

Steven Sidley wrote an article saying our political parties aren’t prepared for the rise of technology and its ramifications.  Jobs will go to robots; financial institutions will be challenged by cryptocurrencies.  Presidents could start World War Three with a single tweet.  In this world, the airing and defending of a students’ views should not be so under-resourced and unexpected that visually, it’s aided only by hand-painted signs and socially, it is responded to with shock.

We cannot just wait until the end of the year to look for students’ names in newspapers, then lament at how the education system underprepares them for the world we condemn them for engaging.

Our youth deserves the benefit of the doubt — and educational challenges that match the world they’re growing in.  Leveraged well, the ability to defend one’s opinions on social media is the currency of tomorrow and one of the few tools we’ll have to shape humanity’s collective destiny.

Failing this, we’re preparing students for a past world, which the party these boys support claims to be dismantling precisely because many of us refuse to let it go.

Thank you

Please comment, retweet and follow: @SKhumalo1987

Book coming courtesy of Kwela, one of NB Publisher’s seven imprints.

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Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma Has Upped the Stakes

If the ANC presidential hopeful’s words didn’t startle you like a sharp gunshot above the noise from the Eastern Cape conference, where were you?

We shouldn’t be apologetic.  And I take exception to what Johan Rupert said, that radical economic transformation means — is a code for theft.  I think we should condemn that in the strongest of terms.  Coming from people who took our land?  Coming from people who are monopolising the economy today?  And of course they’d say that because they want to resist.  So they want us to be scared that if we do it we’ll be seen as thieves.  We’re not thieves.  We are not thieves.  Where there are thieves they must be caught and arrested, but we are not thieves, as black people.

This was at the Interfaith Prayer in Phoenix, north of Durban.

As Dlamini-Zuma can be on the few topics she has some conviction on, she was actually presidential: the recklessness of her words legitimised and reined in by a gravitas that surpasses her physique, she commanded a transfixed silence from the audience.  People only interjected to offer fleeting but passionate shouts of approval where approval couldn’t be contained.

We are not thieves, as black people is a lot like black people can’t be racist — grading on the curve, where one merely must appear more innocent than one’s accuser.  This populism strengthens the probability, hitherto diminished among possible future scenarios, that she and the ANC will win this December and 2019 respectively.

To stop that, the opposition would have to talk-up an amended version of BEE.  Once the cat of “radical economic transformation” was out its bag, nothing could put it back: not even Bell Pottinger’s fall.

It doesn’t matter, for example, that the money looted by this administration could have accomplished or could still accomplish that: the perception (exacerbated by incidences that increasingly show “reconciliation” to have been a trick of the light, like a rainbow) is that South Africa remains divided and unequal because the ANC-led government skipped reparations.  Dlamini Zuma has demonstrated the ease with which she can promise to fix that and justify looting.

This is where an amended version of BEE could be used by other parties as drawcards.  The DA once suggested lowering the “new entrant” threshold for the ownership element of BEE from R15 million to R10 million; the DTI instead increased it to R50 million.  This threshold is the total asset net worth at which a black business-owner is considered “new” to the economy — R50 million.  For empowering a black person up until he exceeds that net worth in his or her personal capacity, the current BEE code rewards businesses with empowerment points.

Having R50 million in cash or assets when one’s debts are paid (that’s what total asset net worth in personal capacity means) should make BEE unnecessary unless one is giving kick-backs to politicians.  At R50 million, it should be possible to amass further wealth without the aid of a law created to effect redress.  If the new entrant threshold is lowered, the same wealth black billionaires make will, going forward, be less concentrated as a result of BEE; BEE will be accessible to a greater number of black people.

In theory, then, they would be absorbed into the mainstream economy, giving more of them and theirs a vested interest in voting with the economy in mind.  There would be more voters’ eyes keeping a direct line of sight on indicators like the exchange rate, our credit rating status and the like because their lives would be implicated even if it’s indirectly — through relatives and friends who’d have begun climbing the economic ladder.  Standing more firmly behind a thusly-amended BEE would also get the DA out of the land ownership debate because the agricultural BEE sector codes speak to that.

The other thing the official opposition would have to do to stop Dlamini-Zuma and the ANC is repeat its Bell Pottinger victory with other multi-national businesses.  I tweeted my social media friends to direct-message me the names of global companies they see as benefiting from black poverty (thanks, everyone!).

If the Democratic Alliance could drag Bell Pottinger before the UK’s Public Relations and Communications Association for taking advantage of South Africa’s situation, then we’re ready to hear wonderful news on all the other exploitative and unethical international companies they’re working to discredit before their respective governing bodies for howsoever those businesses benefitted from the effects of apartheid the way Bell Pottinger did.

This register (titled “Arya Stark’s Kill List”, open for edits and comments) has been compiled from the social media responses.  Won’t it be wonderful to begin compiling evidence that the DA isn’t all the horrible things it’s often accused of being?

A lot of rich and powerful people will assume that our courts’ yet-strong stance against corruption will translate into legal victories for the likes of Johann Rupert against the likes of Dlamini-Zuma.  But our courts have an equally strong hatred of the exploitation or understating of apartheid’s effects.  Our courts are not alone: no statutory or regulatory body anywhere would, upon having the spotlight turned on it, tolerate the abuse of economic power by a firm under its jurisdiction.

The question is whether our official opposition believes enough in the rule of law to do unto other businesses what it did to Bell Pottinger.

Thank you

Please comment, retweet and follow: @SKhumalo1987

Book coming courtesy of Kwela, one of NB Publisher’s seven imprints.