Phillip de Wet: Replace Angie with our very own Maggie

Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga. (M&G)

Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga. (M&G)

Sadly, Maggie (as I like to think of her when I dream of what might have been, had I only been 50 years or so older and had our eyes met across a crowded room) is no longer in the business of cracking heads and making grown men cry. Though it may be inadvisable, even now, to be so rude as to mention her age; surely even very near on a hundred years of living could not yet have quenched the demonic fire that burns within her.

But if only we could have her. The Right Honourable Baroness Thatcher (LG, OM, PC, FRS, and, let's face it, total sex bomb) never could stand bullying, except when she was dishing it out, and showed an unalloyed hatred for organised groups that thought they could hold her country to ransom.

If you were to accurately yet tastefully portray in film her handling of the most powerful trade unions in Britain, it would be best to use a series of art-house cut scenes: a pair of daintily gloved hands holding a running chainsaw; a pair of human testicles strapped to a wooden table; light glinting from smiling teeth; darkness, with just the sound of agonised screaming.
It was, in a word: brutal.

Now consider the delicious prospect of unleashing such a hell-fiend on our education system.

EduSolutions, and corrupt or uncaring or utterly incompetent bureaucrats are the villains of the moment, but there are many arses that need kicking in the education space.

The South African Democratic Teachers Union has become a thoughtless machine designed to realise the dream of not a few salaried employees: to do the minimum amount of work for the maximum amount of pay, with no accountability for performance or lack thereof.

Parents, on average, seem disinterested in the schooling of their children, meekly accepting everything that is wrong with the system when they should be brandishing pitchforks.

Kids intent on maintaining their own ignorance inflict the same on their peers, making schools unsafe and unproductive places for those who really do want to learn. Provincial departments are, almost universally, dysfunctional in the extreme.

Oh yes, there are many groups and individuals who need to be grabbed by the scruff of the neck and given a good shaking. But doing so will cause chaos and confusion – initially – and will be wildly unpopular as things get worse before they get better.

What we need is somebody who can stay the course even as denunciation rains down, somebody who can stand being hated by some in perpetuity, in order to save the future. In other words, somebody like dear Maggie, who could sit stone-faced and listen to stories of miners starving, or the matric pass-rate plummeting, in order to fix a broken system.

Ideally we need Maggie, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, as minister of basic education for a term or three, with the political untouchability necessary to take on unions, parents, and entrenched bureaucrats, and provide an object lesson that future generations will still feel in their very bones.

Then, with the dirty work out of the way, we could put a technocrat or a touchy-feely management type in charge again to sooth the hurt and claim the glory.

As it happens, South Africa does harbour just such a person, somebody with enormous authority, the capacity for pitiless action, a proven track record of getting down and dirty, and something of a need to cement an end-of-career legacy. Is it dangerous, unleashing such a combination of sheer power and unpredictability? Absolutely. But we don't have a lot of options left.

It's time to put Winnie Madikizela-Mandela in charge of schools, and pray for the souls of all those who get in her way.

Phillip de Wet

Phillip de Wet

Phillip de Wet writes about politics, society, economics, and the areas where these collide. He has never been anything other than a journalist, though he has been involved in starting new newspapers, magazines and websites, a suspiciously large percentage of which are no longer in business. PGP fingerprint: CF74 7B0F F037 ACB9 779C 902B 793C 8781 4548 D165 Read more from Phillip de Wet

Client Media Releases

MiX Telematics reports strong fiscal 2019 results
Royal Geographical Society honours top UKZN scientist
Student explores rural economics of herbal cosmetics
Teraco's Africa Cloud Exchange offers direct entry