Tuesday, 13 February 2018

SA is Not a Democracy part 1

Democracy is a loose term. It can mean different things to different people. It is a loaded word and has been used and abused to promote ideologies and organisations of all types. Heck, even North Korea considers itself a democracy!

The word democracy comes from Greek and means 'rule by the people.' See why it is a loose term? 'Rule by the people' can mean a variety of different things. Today when we speak about democracy we are usually referring to representative democracy, where we choose leaders in elections who are supposed to represent our interests. Great! So different groups of people with different interests elect leaders, so that everyone is represented in the government and those leaders sit and have big discussions so that the country is run in the way that is best for everyone.


The first problem is that here in South Africa government doesn't make decisions by discussion and compromise. It makes decisions by voting and the vote is won by a simple majority (excepting of course for amendments to the constitution.) So if a party has 51% of MPs, that party holds all the power. And since the number of MPs is proportional to the number of votes, 51% of the voters can effectively control the lives of the other 49%, given how much power the government has over individuals in our country.

The next problem is that only 16 million of our 55 million population votes, which effectively means that just over 8 million people can control the lives of the other 47 million. I'm sure most of you are starting to see a problem here.

Now the nature of our ruling party makes the above problem much worse. Most of the country votes blindly for the ANC. They are almost guaranteed to win the elections no matter what. The ANC has over 700 000 members, organised into about 5000 branches. There are about 500 other voting delegates at elective conferences, but for simplicity's sake we will assume there are 5000 branch delegates who vote to elect the ANC leadership and thus their MP's. Each delegate needs 51% of his branch vote, and each ANC leader needs 51% of the delegates' votes. This means, that in the extreme situation 26% of ANC members can choose the party's leadership,and thus the path the country will follow. Doing the maths, that's less than 200 000 people determining the destiny of more than 55 million.

These calculations are both rough and simplified, but they illustrate just how few people are making the decisions that we are supposed to be making as a nation. And even then, we are still assuming that these elected leaders act according to the will of the people who elected them.

I know this has been a bombardment of figures and statistics, so let me make a final point for those who don't really care for numbers. Our situation is summed up very well by looking at the times of greatest political change. With Jacob Zuma about to be ousted after years of controversial and morally bereft leadership, it is clear that more change in the country comes out of the ANC elective conference than any other occasion, including the national elections. That is not democracy.

Thus we see that in spite of the endless propaganda bragging about our democratic ideals, South Africa is not really a democracy at all. But then what is a true democracy? The Greeks didn't just give us the word democracy, they gave us the whole concept. In part 2 I will explain, referring to the ancient Greek model, how we can have a real democracy.

Monday, 22 January 2018

Hoërskool Overvaal

Grade 8 is a long time ago for most of us, but just try to think back for a moment to your first year of high school. Now imagine you only had two teachers to teach all your subjects, all 12.One might teach English, Afrikaans, History, Art, LO, and Geography, and the other, Maths, Science, Biology, Accounting, Business studies and Technology. This sounds awful to me. And not only that, it is completely impractical. We all know that a jack of all trades is a master of none. A teacher that has to focus on teaching so many subjects will never be very good with any of them. Yet this is Panyaza Lesufi's solution to accommodating 55 English speaking pupils at Hoërskool Overvaal.

Late last week Lesufi published an article in response to the court ruling that Hoërskool Overvaal cannot accommodate 55 English speaking pupils. You can read that article here, but basically what it says is "race, race, racism, racists, race, racist." But to be serious, the article equates the whole situation to a racial incident, which can only be done by someone who sees the world only through the goggles of race. This tells us a lot about Lesufi's character. It seems he is someone who is stuck in the glory days of the struggle and alongside his other antics shows that he is more concerned with attracting the attention of the media than with doing his job.

But enough about Lesufi. Let us touch briefly on the actual argument before addressing the broader education problem in South Africa. The court judgement stated that the school did not have the capacity for 55 English speaking pupils. Furthermore it is completely impractical to have just 55 pupils in a school like this for reasons we have discussed above. It really is simply a question of practicality.

Now the parents of the 55 pupils have a legitimate concern regarding the fact that there are no English speaking schools in the area. But let us consider who as at fault for this. Not the school and definitely not the North Gauteng High Court. Lesufi with his choir of protesters are turning the high school into a scapegoat for the governments failings. Why was there not an English school built there long ago if there are so many English kids? Lesufi has a lot of criticism to dish out for someone who is not doing his job very well. 

But to be fair to Mr Lesufi, it is a job that is impossible to do well. It is impossible because of the nature of our education system. Firstly, the people at the top are politicians, not educators. This means that they don't really know what they are doing. We need educational experts running our education system, not unqualified bureaucrats. Second, we need a decentralised system. It is impossible to run thousands of schools from a central organisation, especially when that organisation is the government, who's leaders have no real incentive for performance in a country where politicians are held to very low standards. 

The simple solution is this: Government must get out of education. Because of our history and socio-economic circumstances we will need a transition period where the government still funds education, but this must be done through a voucher system where each child gets a certain amount each year for education, but the government has no say over curriculum or placement or language policy. A system where many people are looking for and finding a multitude of different solutions will always produce the best results. The freedom given to educators will bring positivity back into the learning environment and competition between schools and educational systems will only benefit learners.

The Hoërskool Overvaal saga is mole hill made into a mountain, but is is also just a symptom of a much bigger problem. A problem to which the solution is not more government control, but less of it. We cannot expect the organisation that is causing all these problems to solve them if they have more control. We need to free our schools, our teachers and our principles to provide quality education, without government interference.