FW de Klerk pontificates on inequality and our ‘catastrophic education system’

FW de Klerk, former President of South Africa

The outcome of the ANC’s elective conference in Mangaung at the end of the year could have a big effect on South Africa’s future, former president FW de Klerk said on Thursday.

“I do think the choice of leadership in this December can positively or negatively effect our future in the short and the medium term,” he said, speaking at a Cape Town Press Club memorial dinner.

It was important that African National Congress members attending the conference acted in the interests of the country, and not individuals.

“Therefore I think it’s important that, in the context of a party structure, that the conference goers take good account of what is in the best interests not of person A or person B, but what is in the best interests of South Africa.”

De Klerk called for a return to the spirit of seeking reconciliation that prevailed in the country in the years immediately after 1994.

“How can we rise above grabbing and looking for positions and filling your pockets?”

South Africa needed political leaders who could serve communities and “put their hands and their heads together in ensuring we tackle the challenges we face”.

Responding to a question on whether South Africa should not be promoting itself with a massive international “road show”, De Klerk said investors had been frightened by what they had seen happening in South Africa over the past 18 months.

“What has happened at Marikana will make a joke of any road show,” he said, referring to the shooting dead of 34 striking mineworkers by police in North West on August 16.

They were also put off by reports of corruption.

“Investors are put off by factual accounts of the unbridled corruption that is taking place in South Africa. You can’t have a road show unless your house is in order.

“We need to sell ourselves, but we need to get the product right [first].”

Earlier, De Klerk, who turned 76 in March this year, said the main inequality divide in South Africa was no longer between blacks and whites, but between unionised and employed workers on the one hand, and unemployed on the other.

“It is a divide that lies at the heart of our inequality challenge.”

It was also a divide “that the Congress of SA Trade Unions is determined to defend by vigorously opposing any efforts to make the labour market more flexible”.

Another principal cause of inequality was the “catastrophic failure of our education system”.

A total of 60 percent of those who left school did so without a matric, and those who passed matric did so with an average mark of less than 40 percent.

De Klerk criticised the ruling party’s affirmative action and black economic empowerment policies.

“In the face of increasing national inequality, there is good reason to conclude that the government’s affirmative action and BEE policies have failed to address inequality, and might even have aggravated it.

“This is because most affirmative action and BEE occur in the top 10 to 15 percent of the income pyramid and have little or no impact on the bottom 85 percent of our society.

De Klerk, who served as South Africa’s last apartheid president from 1989 to 1994, called for these policies to be abandoned.

“Shift the accent in affirmative action programmes from race to relative disadvantage,” he said.

He also offered recommendations for the promotion of equality, including a more flexible labour dispensation, accelerated economic growth, and the rooting out of corruption, among others.

– Sapa