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The forgotten diamonds in the rough

The forgotten diamonds in the rough


First published in south africa THE GOOD NEWS, 31 August 2007
Copyright © south africa THE GOOD NEWS
Used with permission of the author and the publisher:
Author: Lindy Mtongana
South Africa The Good News
23 September 2007

Workinfo.com Human Resources Magazine Volume 1 Issue 10, 2007

An online economic and investment magazine recently published an article in which Jimmy Manyi, chairman of the Employment Equity Commission, stated that there is not a skills shortage in South Africa, only a refusal by the private sector to employ skilled black workers.

Needless to say the article spurred some contentious debate. Debate is important for a growing democracy but I was alarmed by the anger with which people addressed one another. Protected by their internet aliases, readers bravely exchanged angry comments:

“One thing about White South Africans is that you are very ignorant hey....but anyway; your lack of interest in Black people's battles will come back to bite you”

“Most [blacks] cannot even pass matric, clever ones are very few and very far in between”

“the truth is that black people, as a whole are a universal, disappointing failure, just open your newspaper, is that fiction?”

I was shocked and frightened by these comments; shocked by the very apparent resentment, distrust and animosity that resides in the hearts of South Africans and frightened by the possibility that the African Dream is a distant and far-fetched fantasy. What worried me even more was the fact that the article could’ve led to a discussion about how we can come together to address the problem of unemployed graduates. The article could’ve inspired a stream of ideas and possibilities for educated South Africans to find gainful employment. But it didn’t.

The subject of unemployment goes hand in hand with the very sensitive subject of Affirmative Action (AA) and Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) and where this is discussed it is not long before racial antagonism rears its ugly head.

I believe that the injustices of the past have to be redressed, that is the only way the “playing field will be levelled”. Only through this deliberate intervention will the business sector become more representative of the population of the country; it is unlikely to do it by itself. Through AA and BEE we can achieve equality in the workplace and most importantly distribute the wealth and resources of the country to all its people. The intentions of AA and BEE are not flawed and there is now ample proof that there has been great economic growth because of it. South Africa has a fast growing black middle class (estimated at three million people over the past five years). These “Black Diamonds” are an important section of the black population and have greatly boosted economic growth through their share of market-spend-growth rose from 2% in 2001 to 5% in 2006.

I am not blind to the forgotten masses, the victims, black and white, of our government’s employment equity policies. But it is important that we acknowledge the progress achieved thus far. As we move forward we must look at ways of broadening our ability to uplift the poor so that a wider section of our population benefits from the legacy impact of AA.

In a study entitled “Changing Class - Education and Social Change in Post-Apartheid South Africa”, University of Cape Town economics Professor, Dr Haroon Bhorat, estimated the figure of unemployed graduates to be at 60 000. Despite their university-level education, these young people face rejection on a regular basis as they are told that their degrees are not enough. Somewhere in the chain of events, something has gone wrong. The system has failed the youth. Students have been ill-advised on what to study in relation to what was needed in the job market. Universities are churning out graduates who are not ready for the professional world. Businesses do not want to spend the time and money to upskill graduates.

These elements of the problem reveal that what is required is a team effort, one that should perhaps, be spearheaded by our growing middle class who now have the economic strength to engage with communities that the system has left behind, the social influence to lead new initiatives and the political pull to pressure government into bettering the situation of the younger diamonds in the rough.

The negative feelings amongst many South Africans are justifiable and I am grateful for the various media platforms where we can come together to discuss our feelings and ideas as equals. But as a recent survey on values in South Africa indicates; pride for our country across all race groups is amongst the highest in the world at 96%, yet trust levels are amongst the lowest at 20%. When trust is examined in more detail it seems that higher levels of trust exist in our institutions and in our leadership but are particularly poor between different race groups.

We need to connect, we need to share. But if our discussions lead to nothing more than racial bickering and finger pointing, they serve no purpose. We, as a country, emerged so strongly from such a painful past filled with much hatred. Let us not go back there. At every juncture we need to take stock of our emotions and realise the damage they can cause. There are no guarantees about the future but no South African has forgotten our past. If we work together to ensure the growth of our democracy, if we take deliberate steps to engage across cultures we can rest assured that each day forward is better than yesterday.

After leaving her beloved student town of Grahamstown, Lindy Mtongana had a brief career in recruitment before travelling to Europe. Upon her return, she managed to wrangle a job at SA Good News, where she spends her days reading ,writing and researching developments about the most remarkable country in the world. 

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