The celebration of rampant incompetence

Johannes Wessels

As grotesque neon-light signboards shout their messages out in the darkness of night, the ANC’s signature of their quarter century of rule has been rife in evidence in the first weeks of 2020. No, not the good life of liberty that the movement had promised, but the embrace and celebration of rampant incompetence.

Nowhere was that more obvious than:

  • in the jubilation about matriculation results;
  • when senior well-decorated police officers didn’t know their right from their left at the funeral of Richard Maponya;
  • in both the presentation of and applause for the platitudes in Pres. Ramaphosa’s ‘January 8 speech’.

Matric results: better outcome than Bantu education?

There was warm applause for the matric pass rate, almost as if the applause would neutralise the criticism about education standards. This celebration of failure as success (for a Higher Certificate Pass at least 40% in three subjects and 30% in four other subjects suffices) ignores the standards South Africa requires at least to maintain its position in an ever-modernising economy.

In fact, just like under Bantu education of old a large percentage of learners is systemically obstructed from acquiring competencies for a place in the economyabove the level of certain forms of labour” (to use the words of Verwoerd), thereby ensuring that Cyril’s dream of skills for the 4th Industrial Revolution remains just that.

Nowhere is there cognisance of the warning voices and indicators that expose an inferior public education system. Jonathan Jansen has repeatedly stated that in education “failure has become the new norm” and the introduction of tablets would be meaningless if the basics of education were not be seriously overhauled.

In 2015 the OECD ranked the South African school system in position 75 of the 76 countries that were assessed. And the World Economic Forum’s Global Information Technology Report (2016) placed South Africa last out of 139 countries in the category of quality of maths and science education. In the category measuring the overall quality of the public education system South Africa obtained position 137. Only two countries were assessed as worse off.

Graduation by death threat

Over the years numerous voices have warned that education under the ANC is inferior in quality when compared with Bantu education. Already in 2013 Rabelani Dagada, then attached to Wits, said: “After 20 years of democracy, the education levels have plunged. It’s worse than the so-called Bantu education. The best way to do transformation, empowerment is to provide quality education.

Despite massive resource allocation, the ANC has not succeeded in improving the education standards of Bantu education. The doors of free tertiary learning, forced open by the Fees Must Fall campaign, announced unilaterally as ANC policy by Jacob Zuma at the end of 2017, against the recommendations of a Cabinet committee, and then embraced by Ramaphosa, now produce the graduation of uneducated ruffians.

At tertiary level lecturers are threatened by students and they fear for their lives should they fail such students in tests and examinations.

  • The poor quality of public education maintained and rewarded under ANC rule will be an incentive for any potential industrial investor to look for opportunities elsewhere.

Criminals feel safe under the ANC

The recent state funeral for Richard Maponya was the best medalled spectacle since the days of Idi Amin. A police force with senior officers, each with a medal collection that would have made Amin green with jealousy, who cannot perform a very elementary drill procedure, must be very reassuring to SA’s criminal community, whether ordinary hijackers or corrupt officials.

Their blunder was officially shrugged off as “an unfortunate error”. Not so. What is unfortunate is the reality that incompetence has become the signature of South African policing. The 2019 WEF Global Competitiveness Report ranked the South African Police service in position 121 out of 141 countries: well cemented into the bottom 15% of unreliable police forces globally.

Either they know it can’t be rectified, or they don’t want it rectified

This is not new: the country has been stuck there for almost a decade with no indication from Government intending to take effective action in this regard. Whilst Ramaphosa committed himself to improve the ranking of SA on the Ease of Doing Business Index, there has been no detectable sign from Government to improve the efficiency of the police service. Either they have given it up as a hopeless task, or there is no urge to have a reliable police service

Ignore Einstein: it hasn’t worked but we’ll try it again

The ANC’s annual jamboree (especially the 8 January statement) was, for anyone hankering after indications that Ramaphosa and the ANC leadership grasp the seriousness of the economic decline and the growth in lawlessness, far less inspiring than the Protea batting performance.

The message was similar to that of the old Sankey hymn “Tell me the old old story…” Leadership and followers concurred that the full implementation of the ANC’s 2019 election manifesto would bring about the second coming of economic growth and sharing in the country’s wealth.

Candyfloss reforms: more fluff than substance

The repetitive regurgitating of (in the main) ideologically based myths neither indicates a grasp of the reality that the key SOEs are beyond redemption, nor does it offer any realistic solution. Even Red Riding Hood would be sceptical about these promises.

Since assuming power, CR’s commitment to keep “an unrelenting focus on restoring economic growth” has not been much in evidence. The most basic reason is that his economic reforms can be described as candyfloss reforms: the voluminous fluff disguises a remarkably tiny kernel of substance.

  • His dogged persistence in trying out again what hasn’t been effective thus far, is another signal of a keenness to reward failure by bestowing more time and resources on policies and strategies that already have failure written in bold over them.

Tipping point

Attempts to mobilise know-how and expertise (both quite different from formal qualifications) to address the lack of maintenance, planning, strategic thinking as well as meticulous management that is so rampant in the police, in education, in public hospitals and clinics, in local authorities and in SOEs, will unlikely succeed in reversing the slide into the mud of mediocrity.

These entities do not suffer only because of the loss of skilled individuals; anything resembling an institutional culture of performance and maintaining efficient delivery has been broken. The country is in all probability beyond the tipping point of retaining a critical mass in productive knowledge.

Shall we admit that the continuing celebration of incompetence will not pull us out of the current quagmire? Such an admission seems to be a far more realistic starting point than the desperate clinging to the pat promises of our ever-positive (and just so often surprised) president.

  • As the global statistics on education, policing, and competitiveness clearly show, South Africa has lost enough competence. Mouthing soothing platitudes will no longer do.

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