/ 1 June 2012

Bureaucracy bogs down progress

Pupils like these in the Eastern Cape
Pupils like these in the Eastern Cape

I think the state of our state, our country and the world should alert us to the difficulties and problems of change. If the Arab Spring and the war in Syria have taught us one thing, it is that change is immensely complex: we have to go beyond desires, statements and resolutions, or we will soon find Al-Qaeda or the Muslim Brotherhood ruling us.

I hope I will not be seen as an ANC “hack”, but merely bleating about capital or somehow hating the black middle class more than the white middle class, as often seems to exist in popular slippage today — let alone ignoring the real history of monopoly capital in South Africa — does not make us anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist or anti-globalist.

I am calling for us to avoid arrogance. I am calling for a measure of humility, for putting aside arrogance and acknowledging the places we come from and the realities of the societies and era in which we live.

That said, let me explore the ANC’s proposals on basic education. I think they are seriously flawed, mainly because they are seriously limiting.

I have learned, however, that no matter how sophisticated your words, people hear what they choose. Sadly, many of my own 
critiques of the appalling outcomes of our education system have become ammunition for the white right wing seeking to prove blacks cannot govern or apartheid education was better, or, often, business seeking to prove it cannot find skills and therefore has no need to take any responsibility for a lack of training or jobs.

The ANC proposals, in the first place, do acknowledge the tremendous progress we have made.

But slow progress is not good enough in a rocky and globalised world in which India and China are not really waiting for us to play catch-up. More than lacking basic foundations in maths and science, more than the sad consequences of insufficient high-level skills (let alone vocational), what is appalling is that these gaps take a racial dimension. White kids stand a 98% chance of getting through matric and a 60% chance of going to university — and not the University of Venda, either. Black kids are lucky if 50% of them even get to matric, then 12% to 15% may go on to tertiary education. Do not talk about jobs and unemployment. 

How can we reproduce racial divisions in a new democracy? No wonder there is extensive, deep-seated racial anger and all sorts of morbid symptoms. The constant call to “move on” or engage in “rational debate” only discredits the callers and contributes to the ongoing trashing of intellectuals and debate.

The ANC proposals say little about this. What is the purpose of education? What is our national vision beyond a call that confirms education as political priority number one? These are serious gaps. Maybe the point is that the middle classes cannot structure a working-class future and education remains merely one of the ongoing roadblocks that reinforce social inequality. This does not set aside the need to challenge the rhetoric on its own terms and build counter hegemony through struggle while challenging the dominant ruling-class hegemony.

So I think the ANC has done much. Proper school nutrition, nonracial exams, vast education spend and so on are not to be scoffed at. I think the plans, as evinced in Vision 2025 and Action Plan 2014, are good. The NPC shows the ANC is not shy to admit the many failings. It is a good start.

Nonetheless, my main critique is that the documents are absolutely bureaucratic. A good guess is that they were written by the department  — everything is under control, relax, let us “roll out” the plans. Poverty and its consequences, whether poor eyesight or a lack of sanitary towels and water, are hardly indexed, let alone analysed.

You must be kidding. Heard of the fate of the S100 interventions in the Eastern Cape and Limpopo, the lack of textbook delivery, the mud schools cases and how they have been ignored? Not a peep about these.

Not enough politics
I think the documents lack politics, especially for documents of a political movement. I am only going to give few examples.

Mud schools and textbooks are on the agenda because people took the government to court. The lack of signed norms and standards for infrastructure are on the agenda because Equal Education mobilised it. Education is on the agenda because (confused) communities are gatvol and because of ploughback movements, corporates and ordinary citizens.

Civil society is key, whether diverted or intimidated, but certainly poorly led and dispersed. How will we get to the plans? What about the unions? Who will take them on? Even the NPC has no strategy.

The documents say nothing about the young. We are nearly at June 16, yet the Congress of South African Students is in terminal decline. I wish the ANC would encourage and listen to young people outside of disciplinary hearings. I have little time for the ANC Youth League at present, but if this is how they behave, surely adults are to blame? It was Eric Molobi and the National Education Crisis Committee who got children back to school after endless boycotts, the ANC and OR Tambo who challenged necklacing and the mass democratic movement that coined the phrase “People’s education for people’s power”. Remember?

My quick summary is we have a long road to travel. For the sake of this country, our common future, our struggles against inequality and jobs, we have to do better.

This is an edited version of a talk delivered this week at a colloquium co-hosted by the M&G and the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research that examined the ANC’s “Second Transition” policy documents. Bloch is a visiting adjunct professor at the graduate school of public and development management at Wits University and senior researcher at the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection