Eskom is the big budget winner

By John Fraser

Make no mistake.  With R69bn over three years, the state power utility Eskom is the big winner in the budget.

Cash for investment incentives is steadily being eroded, belts are being tightened to uncomfortable level all around, there will be effective tax allowance rises for taxpayers through insufficient increases in personal allowance, and all the nice things in life – booze, cigarettes, petrol, will cost more.

The Carbon Tax will be with us in just a few months; there will be a carbon tax on fuel.

Efforts will be made to speed up the retirement of state employees, some of whom will undoubtedly be popping up again as better-paid consultants.

But Eskom aid dwarfs all this.

In a media conference, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni was on the defensive, as well he should have been.

He did clarify that although full-scale privatisation of Eskom is not on the cards, the generation and distribution sections will have all sorts of players, and he gave the example of the private renewable energy producers.

A Man from The Ministry – a sort of curator – will be parachuted into Eskom to keep an eye on things.

Wish him (her?) luck.

And when it comes to SAA, Toto knows he may not win the argument, but he has little enthusiasm for government bailouts there.

He suggested that whatever funds there are for transport should be directed to commuter taxis and to the railways – on which the majority of the population rely.

One footnote for the greenies among you.……

Disposable coffee cups and their lids, caps and containers, and plastic straws could all face a new tax.  Watch this space.

Time the fat cats in government drove local

By John Fraser

I always have two fingers at the ready when one of those blue light convoys tries to force me into a ditch as it whizzes by, with some self-important prat lounging in the back of the largest limo.

So far I am not aware whether any of my hopes have come true – that several bolts of lightning will descend upon the vehicles, microwaving the occupants, and saving a fortune in cremation fees.

However, a suggestion at a Toyota conference by my old chum Martyn Davies of Deloitte that government vehicles should be locally built did give me food for thought (the actual food at the event was very good – not a frequent occurrence at corporate events these days.)

It does seem immensely stupid that government pours billions of rand a year into the SA auto industry, to keep it anchored here and to encourage expansion, and yet so many cars in the state’s auto pool have been imported.

The mischievous might even suggest that there is an element of hypocrisy here, although this is rarely displayed by our political bosses and their bureaucratic lackeys.

Maybe, instead of trying to force us to pay ludicrous tolls and bombarding us with traffic fines (or bribes to make them go away) we could see something more effective.

Official vehicles should be lekkerly local as a strict rule, and should a state employee elect to display extra bling by purchasing an import, then they should enjoy no mileage allowance or any other vehicular perk.

The conference itself was interesting, despite the fawning awfulness of the MC, and Davies produced the shocking statistic that while only 66 electric vehicles were sold in SA last year, the figure for China was 1.1 million.

Toyota SA CEO Andrew Kirby was asked about local production of electric vehicles and hybrids, and he suggested it is some way off because of poor local demand.

This will change, but just not yet.

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Concentration camps in the South African War? Here are the real facts

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One of the Boer concentration camps.
Photographic Collection Anglo-Boer War Museum, Bloemfontein SA

Fransjohan Pretorius, University of Pretoria

More than a century after 48 000 people died in concentration camps in what’s known as the South African War between 1899 and 1902 – or the Anglo-Boer War – the events of that period are back in the headlines.

The camps were established by the British as part of their military campaign against two small Afrikaner republics: the ZAR (Transvaal) and the Orange Free State.

The scandalous campaign is back in the news following controversial comments by British Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg on a BBC television programme.

Rees-Mogg’s statements have caused consternation because they were riddled with inaccuracies. It’s time to set the record straight and to refute his inaccuracies one by one. I do this based on the historical research I’ve done on the South African War for the last 49 years.

Setting the record straight

The claim that caused the most upset was Rees-Mogg’s allegation that the concentration camps had exactly the same mortality rate as was the case in Glasgow at the time.

This is simply factually incorrect.

In its recent Glasgow Indicators Project, the Glasgow Centre for Population Health gives the death rate of people in the city as 21 per 1000 per annum in 1901.

Inside one of the British concentration camps.
Photographical Collection Anglo-Boer War Museum, Bloemfontein SA

The death rate for Boer civilians in the concentration camps in South Africa exceeded this by a factor of 10. It’s well established that 28 000 white people and 20 000 black people died in various camps in South Africa. Between July 1901 and February 1902 the rate was, on average, 247 per 1000 per annum in the white camps. It reached a high of 344 per 1000 per annum in October 1901 and a low of 69 per 1000 per annum in February 1902.

The figures would have been even higher had it not been for the fact that British welfare campaigner Emily Hobhouse exposed the deplorable conditions in the camps. A subsequent report by the Government’s Ladies Commission prompted the British Government to improve conditions. Another factor that reduced the fatality rate was that Lord Milner, High Commissioner for South Africa and Governor of the Cape Colony, took over administration of the camps from the military from November 1901.

Rees-Mogg also revealed his total lack of understanding of why the British military authorities established the concentration camps in statements such as:

Where else were people going to live when … (the Boers were fighting the war)?

People were put in camps for their protection.

They were interned for their safety.

They were being taken there so that they could be fed because the farmers were away fighting the Boer War.

The reality was very different.

The origins of the camps

After Lord Roberts, chief commander of the British forces, occupied the Free State capital, Bloemfontein, on 13 March 1900, he issued a proclamation inviting the Boers to lay down their arms and sign an oath of neutrality. They would then be free to return to their farms on the understanding that they would no longer participate in the war.

Eventually, about 20 000 Boers – about a third – made use of this offer. They were called the “protected burghers”. Roberts had banked on this policy to end the war. But after the British occupation of the Transvaal capital, Pretoria, on 5 June 1900, there was no end in site. On the contrary, the Boers had started a guerrilla war, which included attacks on railway lines.

In reaction Roberts issued a proclamation on 16 June 1900, stating that, for every attack on a railway line the closest homestead would be burnt down. This was the start of the scorched earth policy. When this didn’t work, Roberts issued another proclamation in September stating that all homesteads would be burnt in a radius of 16 km of any attack, and that all livestock would be killed or taken away and all crops destroyed.

This policy was intensified dramatically when Lord Kitchener took over from Roberts as commander in November 1900. Homesteads and whole towns were burnt down even if there was no attack on any railway. In this way, almost all Boer homesteads – about 30 000 in all – were razed to the ground and thousands of livestock killed. The two republics were entirely devastated.

Meanwhile, the Boer leaders were reorganising their commandos after some major setbacks. One action was to remobilise the Boers who had laid down their arms.

Roberts felt he should protect his oath takers and gather them in refugee camps. The first two were established in Bloemfontein and Pretoria in September 1900.

But the scorched earth policy had led to more and more Boer women and children being left homeless. Roberts decided to bring them into the camps too. They were called the “undesirables” – families of Boers who were still on commando or already prisoners of war. They were given fewer rations than others in the camps.

A Boer family looks on at their house that was set alight by the British forces during the South African War.
Photographic Collection Anglo-Boer War Museum, Bloemfontein SA

These families eventually outnumbered the protected burghers and their families by 7:3.

These families were taken against their will. They were forcibly put on ox wagons and open railway trucks and taken to the camps. They were not, as Rees-Mogg claimed, moved for their protection and safety. Nor were they moved to the camps to be fed. Rather, their internship had everything to do with ending the resistance of Boers still fighting the British.

The administration of the camps was appalling. Food was of a very poor quality, sanitation deplorable, tents were overcrowded and medical assistance shocking. Little was known at the time about how to handle epidemics of measles and typhoid.

This isn’t all. Rees-Mogg is also obviously unaware of the action that the British commanders took against black South Africans. A total of 66 black concentration camps were set up across the Transvaal and Free State where conditions were just as bad and the death rates similar.

These camps were set up to get black people off the land so that the Boers couldn’t get supplies from them. In addition, forcing black farmers also enabled the British to use black men as labourers on gold mines.

Rees-Mogg was right on one point: the concentration camps didn’t have the same aims as Adolf Hitler’s extermination camps during the Second World War. The aim in South Africa wasn’t systematic murder.

But this shouldn’t detract from his numerous other falsehoods.The Conversation

Fransjohan Pretorius, Emeritus Professor of History, University of Pretoria

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Does Caster merit special treatment?

This is what I wrote for The Messenger last year.


Caster Semenya is a brave, determined, admirable athlete. It is irritating and humiliating that her hormonal balance is the subject of so much international scrutiny. Is it wrong, though?

Nobody can take away from her an extraordinary array of achievements, nor her excellence as an athlete.

So, what do we make of the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF)? This regulatory body seems to believe that the South African athlete has a hormonal structure which gives her an unfair advantage in races against other female athletes.

The ruling of the IAAF is that female athletes including Semenya, will have to reduce and then maintain their testosterone levels to a certain ceiling if they want to compete in events ranging from 400m to a mile.

Were Caster an accountant, a lawyer, a farmer or (God help her) a journalist, her hormonal structure would be totally irrelevant.

But when you have someone in the fiercely competitive, fraction-of-a-second, watched-by-millions, world of athletics excellence, should the same rules apply?

Let us look at this another way. If you had a Paralympic event which was won by an able-bodied athlete, you would condemn this as cheating.

So how is it different if the other female competitors in a race face a disadvantage because an unusual hormonal mix – caused by nature, not drugs – gives Caster that extra edge?

It is a tricky one, and there is a case to be made for both sides of this argument.

This is not about her appearance, nor her voice, nor her character.    This is about science, not emotion.

It has been reported that MPs have joined the chorus of condemnation against these rules, describing them as “unjust, sexist, dehumanising”.

These rules, however, have not been drawn up with regulating MPs in mind, nor to deal with workplace disputes. They apply only to the athletics track.

Of course, we all bask in the glow of national pride every time any one of our athletes wins a race, wins a medal, breaks a record.

Does this mean we can ignore the concerns inside some sectors of the world of athletics that any female competitor with unusually high levels of certain hormones, has an unusual advantage? Do you ignore this, or do you regulate?

Caster is not being asked to stop competing, but for certain races, she will need to take medical measures to adjust her hormone levels –  if she wishes to enter.

Annoying?  Certainly.   But unjust?  Sexist?

The Australian cricketers were, quite rightly, condemned over the recent ball-tampering incident.

It just wasn’t cricket.  It was unfair.   It was cheating.

The way in which Caster is being treated is harsh, humiliating, hurtful.

When looked at emotionally, it seems so unfair.

But is it?

RIP DVD – a major con on the consumer

By John Fraser

All good things come to an end, and my faithful Blu-ray player needed replacement.   I sought advice from a contact at Makro, who told me Samsung is no longer importing them into South Africa.

A trip to a couple of retail outlets revealed a couple of display units still on offer, along with some really expensive units.   A trip to the Takealot website showed a few units, but no direct replacement for my dying one.

So I suspect the writing is on the wall.    Just like VHS players (of which I could find none on the Takealot website) DVD, Blu Ray, CD players are slowly on the way out.

I did manage to find a suitable Blu-ray rayplacement, purchasing it from Amazon in the US.  It was expensive to ship, the import duties were harsh, and it had the wrong plug.

But it was soon up and running, working well, and it plays my Blu-rays, CDS, DVDs, while having an excellent streaming facility which gives me access to Netflix and YouTube.

But what do I do if this one lasts less long than I do?  I have a good collection of CDs and DVDs, many of which replaced now-discarded VHS and audio cassettes and vinyl (I did not expect the vinyl revival).

My assertion is that the people who sold me all of these discs of one sort or another should have some responsibility for keeping them valid.  Either by getting their associated electronics businesses to continue churning out the players, or by starting their own production.

When I asked someone in the industry about my fears of the death of DVD, he responded: “Have you tried streaming?”

I have, yes.  But I still want to return to the favoured drama, comedy and music for which I have already paid.    Streaming is not cost-free.   If you don’t have uncapped data, it can be cripplingly expensive.  And not everything is readily available online.

So, it worries me that as technology evolves, some of the hardware to drive your home entertainment is facing extinction.

I would like to think the entertainment industry shares my concern, but there is a nagging doubt that it will recklessly continue to offer new products, new systems, so it can cash-in afresh, again and again.

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SA’s red tape is keeping away vital skills

By John Fraser

party glass architecture windows
Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

Top global talent is willing to help close SA’s chronic skills gap, but is it often impossible for international executives to move and work here.

This is the claim of Debbie Goodman-Bhyat, CEO of Jack Hammer, Africa’s largest independent executive search firm.

“Internationally-based executives and entrepreneurs continue to inquire about career opportunities in South Africa, despite the challenges facing the country, including political uncertainty and crime,” she stated.

“South Africa remains a very attractive destination for global talent

“But even though these high-level leaders are in a position to drive growth and job creation locally, the current policy environment makes it almost impossible for them to do so.”

Goodman-Bhyat said that since the expansion of her operations into the US, they have been approached by highly-qualified and experienced executives and entrepreneurs about a potential move or expansion into South Africa.

“Unfortunately, they come back to earth really quickly when we share the realities of attempting such a move, because even once they have gone through the arduous process of applying for a work permit, the chances of them securing one are minuscule,” she warned.

jack Hammers says that in 2016, the Department of Home Affairs noted that “South Africa has not yet put in place adequate policies, strategies, institutions and capacity for attracting, recruiting and retaining international migrants with the necessary skills and resources”.

However, it fears that the situation remains the same today, with a recent report from the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC, June 2018), noting that South Africa is unable to find the critical skills which are desperately needed.

“Note here that we are talking specifically about people who bring scarce skills, resources and capital, who will, in fact, grow the economy, create jobs, and contribute to the fiscus by way of taxes,” said Goodman-Bhyat.

“These are people who are motivated to invest their resources in the country, and have the potential to balance the impact of the brain drain, that continues to flow offshore.”

Goodman-Bhyat noted that top talent is global – meaning that the best talent is very mobile – and that the most competitive companies will secure this talent, from wherever they may be in the world.

“The ability of companies to do this is, however, completely dependent on whether the relevant policies are enabling or dis-enabling. In the case of South Africa, attracting global talent is a very long, steep, uphill battle.”

The recent enquiries from abroad are further evidence that South Africa is losing out on high-quality talent.

“Despite our challenges, the grass is still pretty green this side. Our cost of living, quality and cost of education, access to some of the best lifestyle-related assets in the world – these are very attractive factors to some of the best intellectual capital out there. If you had to compare all of this to working and living in San Francisco, for example, it’s an absolute no-brainer to want to work in SA.,” Goodman-Bhyat argued.

“We have to start looking at the big picture. Addressing transformation and employment equity can happen alongside a willingness to be open-minded and attract great talent – the two are not mutually exclusive. Yet at the moment, we are ignoring – even actively shunning – the intellectual capital that can contribute to the growth of the country.

“South Africa must realise that it is losing out to other countries seeking to attract critical skills, and understand the impact of doing so. Yes, the country finds itself at a difficult junction right now, and this might not seem like the most pressing issue.

“But if stabilising the economy, and ensuring future economic growth and job creation really is a priority, then getting the brightest brains to join the project will be a help, not a hindrance.”

President Cyril Ramaphosa has routinely said that SA wants to make it easier to do business in this country.  However, the government’s actions have yet to match the rhetoric.

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Pravin: Human error or sabotage accounts for half of Eskom’s plant breakdowns

Gordhan

Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan

By John Fraser

The systemic and ruthless destruction of state utility Eskom on Jacob Zuma’s watch was laid bare this week by Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, who claims as many as half of all breakdowns are related to human failures, and therefore not to mechanical factors.

He was addressing a business forum in Johannesburg, organised by Business Unity South Africa (BUSA).

Gordhan told a panel discussion that the crisis at Eskom means that it needs funding of R420bn.

“SOEs (State-Owned Enterprises) are in difficulty, particularly those at heart of state capture.  They became operationally weak,” he noted, referring back to Jacob Zuma’s kleptocratic reign.

“Incompetent people were put in place, for example at Eskom power stations,” Gordhan stated.

He said he has been told 40% of Eskom breakdowns are a result of the human factor. “I believe it is 50%,” he warned.   And he speculated that some of the actions may be deliberate.

He said of the state-owned enterprises that in SA, following the Zuma years we “are left with a bit of a disaster.  We need governance, the right management.  We might need outsiders to give us the technical input we require.”

“We need to get them generating more revenue, to make them more viable.”

He confirmed a major restructuring of Eskom is underway, and the question of whether Eskom is unbundled into three is being discussed.

“We need very fast movement.”

In a later BUSA conference session, President Cyril Ramaphosa hit out at Zuma.

“Our SOEs are not behaving as they should be.  We are in a messy situation,” he stated.

“We have a mechanism which is ferreting (corruption) out.  After that, there has to be real, serious action.”

Without naming Zuma, he said: “there is a notion there are people who will fight back, as they will.  They are going to resist.  And so must we.

“We should not be defined by acts of corruption which have gone out of kilter with our values.

“Transparency International says (in a recent report) we are one of the most corrupt countries in the world.    This is the last time.”

He said of the Zuma years that “unfortunately in the last 9 years or so, policy was almost done on the hoof.  This led to policy uncertainty and inconsistency.

“The state has been denuded of good people, who gave it all up and left.  Some have been hounded out.  The state has been weakened severely.

“That is why we need to cooperate between business and the state.  We need to put all hands of South Africans on deck.”

It was reported, Wednesday, that Zuma had hit back at Ramaphosa, which confirms the mammoth task facing the new-broom regime which is now attempting to turn around the economy.

Ramaphosa also met business leaders in a separate engagement, and there was agreement on a sector-by-sector approach to reviving economic growth.

“Business people and ministers are beginning to imagine a South Africa which will have a 5% and a 7% growth,” the President cheered.

“They are looking at sectors, which for me is the holy grail we should all aspire to touch.  That is where we want to be.

“They tell me: we want the government to deal with the inhibitors.  I found that enormously uplifting.

“This is a no-brainer.  We must remove the inhibitors for growth.  South Africa must go and grasp that high growth.  South Africa is on the runway.  Let’s take off. ”

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What needs to be done to stop Zimbabwe’s violent meltdown

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Tapiwa Chagonda, University of Johannesburg

Zimbabwe is sliding into a violent meltdown, which is expected to worsen unless there are some serious interventions.

Days of mass protests have been characterised by violence, looting and heavy-handedness by the police and army. It has led to the deaths and injury of many people, largely in Harare and Bulawayo’s high-density areas. According to the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, at least 12 people have been killed and thousands injured.

In addition to placing many urban areas under military siege, the government has also shut down social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook. These are viewed as the avenue through which the opposition and other civil society bodies have been communicating messages of “anarchy”. The internet has been shut down twice on separate occasions.

The deadly violence was triggered by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s announcement of steep fuel price hikes on Saturday 9 January. Made in the dead of night, the announcement proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back for a largely peaceful, if not somewhat passive, populace that has borne the brunt of two decades of an economic meltdown. Mnangagwa’s regime increased the prices of fuel by a staggering 150%, making Zimbabwe’s fuel the most expensive in the world.

The sharp fuel hike prompted the country’s largest trade union body, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, and other civil society bodies such as the Crisis Coalition, to call for a three-day mass stay away from work.

The reaction was hardly surprising. Conditions have become fertile for a massive militant mass revolt. Shortages of a lot of goods have become the order of the day. Long fuel queues, and incessant electricity and water cuts have not helped the situation for poverty-weary Zimbabweans.

Mnangagwa, and those he can rally behind him in the ruling Zanu-PF, need urgently to take steps towards forming a government of national unity, as has been done before in the country. This will require the opposition Movement for Democratic Change Alliance (MDC-Alliance) to get its act together by behaving maturely. Another urgent step that’s needed is that the country’s chaotic currency situation needs immediate resolution.




Read more:
Bold steps Mnangagwa should be taking instead of fiddling with the petrol price


Currency crunch

Prior to the deadly protests, Zimbabweans endured a tumultuous few months economically as the country’s cash crunch worsened.

Just before Professor Mthuli Ncube was appointed Minister of Finance in September 2018, he said he wanted to phase out the country’s quasi-currency, the bond note, nicknamed “bollars” by the market. The rationale behind scrapping the bond note was that it was promoting the black market, as individuals were using this quasi-currency to mop up scarce US dollars.

Ncube also argued that Zimbabwe needed to come up with its own proper currency, which could be recognised as legal tender.

The bond note was introduced in the second half of 2016 in a bid to ease the cash squeeze the country was facing as a consequence of using a multiple currency regime which was anchored by the US dollar. But a lack of investment in Zimbabwe, combined with few exports, meant that the US dollar was not readily available on the market.

The bond note was meant to fill the cash gap on the market. Instead, it spawned a flourishing black market last witnessed during Zimbabwe’s dark days of hyperinflation in 2008. Dealers, including top government officials, used the quasi-currency to mop up scarce US dollars on the market.

The Zimbabwean government has consistently argued that the bond note is equivalent to the US dollar. But the market has suggested otherwise. Most retailers have a three-tier pricing system – US$, bond notes or Ecocash, the country’s PayPal like service that is making transactions possible. The reason for providing these options is the shortage of US dollars and the bond notes. Those that are available are largely in the hands of currency speculators.

The bond note’s death knell, which was sounded by Ncube, has sparked panic and led to a devaluation of the quasi-currency. This, in turn, led to retailers increasing their prices of goods and services for people using bond notes.

The knock-on effect is that doctors, teachers and other civil servants are demanding that they be paid in dollars – not bond notes.

Shortages of foreign currency have also led to companies like Delta, the country’s largest brewer, failing to import adequate raw materials for alcohol and soft drinks.

Zimbabwe’s largest cooking oil producer, Olivine, has also closed shop, citing a lack of foreign currency to import raw materials for their products.

What needs to be done

To stem the tide of the current crisis, before it totally overwhelms Mnangagwa and the ruling Zanu-PF, the president needs to immediately cease the brutal onslaught on civilians. In addition, Mnangagwa and his officials have to get off their high horse and facilitate talks that can lead to a government of national unity with the Movement for Democratic Change Alliance (MDC-Alliance).

This has proved to be successful before. A government of national unity was formed in the wake of the violent elections in 2008 that plunged the country into chaos. The 2009-2013 government of national unity helped to stabilise the Zimbabwean economy and brought the country back from the brink.

The MDC-Alliance also has to stop fomenting acts of violence that have become the party’s hallmark since its leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s death in February 2018.

Lastly, Zimbabwe needs to introduce its own currency so the cancerous black market that’s been wreaking havoc on the economy can be eliminated.

Tapiwa Chagonda, Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Johannesburg

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Comment from economist Dawie Roodt:

I disagree with this article!

For one, a new Zim currency will not work because nobody will trust it. Best they can do is to use the ZAR, which they must earn first! That means a CA (current account) surplus!

But the major issue is that there are too many civil servants. First step must be to get rid of them – politically difficult.

What South Africa’s matric pass rate means for universities

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South African universities aren’t doing justice even to top-performing high school graduates. Shutterstock

Suellen Shay, University of Cape Town

South Africa’s Minister of Basic Education announced a 2018 matric pass rate of 78.2% in the first week of January as well as a number of other significant achievements. These are academic results of students in their final year of high school. The results are used to gauge the state of the country’s education system. Based on this performance, the argument is that South Africa’s education system is on the right track and making steady, if slow, progress.

Whether the country accepts this or not, the question that needs to be asked is what these matric results mean for higher education, and more importantly, for the future professions that top matriculants aspire to.

One of the purposes of the National Senior Certificate – South Africa’s main school-leaving certificate – is to identify students who are sufficiently prepared for tertiary study. While tertiary education is not for everyone, the country needs a pool of talented matriculants to provide the high-level skills it needs for its economy and broader society.

So how is South Africa doing? I illustrate the progress by looking at the subject of mathematics. Mathematics develops logical reasoning and problem-solving and hence a “gateway” subject for many of the professions such as engineering, commerce and health sciences.

What do the final exam results say about the size and quality of the pool of matriculants who passed mathematics? What does their performance at tertiary level demonstrate about the pool of graduates ready to enter a workforce affected by changing work environments, particularly the rise of technology?

Small pool

The data suggest that the pool of matriculants who wrote mathematics is small and not strong. Over the past five years, significantly less than 50% of the matric final exam writers wrote mathematics as a subject. Of the 11 top subjects, mathematics is consistently the lowest performing. In 2018, out of a total of 270,516 mathematics writers, 37% passed with 40% and above. The percentage pass has been consistently between 30 and 35%.

From the point of view of selective universities who require 80% and above for programmes in commerce, engineering, science, health sciences and quantitative social sciences, the pool is extremely small. Out of the total mathematics writers, 5828 passed with distinction (80% or above) which is only 2.6% of mathematics writers.

From this very small pool, universities then compete to attract and retain these highly talented students. How well are they doing? Data collected on the past three years performance (2015-2017) of an entry-level mathematics course in one of South Africa’s selective universities shows a sobering reality: those who come in with a National Senior Certificate mathematics mark of 90% and above pass the course (with an average mean of 64%). Those who entered with a score below 90%, fail the course.

This is a course convened and taught by award-winning, highly committed teaching staff, where significant resources have been allocated to provide additional support for students, including an extended degree taught by highly experienced teaching staff.

Failure of higher education

South Africa can draw two conclusions from this data: firstly, although growing and strengthening this pool will require efforts at the primary and secondary level, the onus for growing the pool of qualified graduates lies with higher education. This underscores the argument made in 2013 by the Council on Higher Education which pointed to a systemic failure of universities because they were failing to graduate the strongest pool of students that the schooling system had to offer.

Even if the schooling system is able to enlarge the pool of matriculates passing mathematics, the data suggests that this will not inevitably result in a larger pool of students who succeed in mathematics as a gateway to their chosen field of study. There is a great deal of work to be done at the university level to grow and strengthen the pool from the existing talented school leavers.

Secondly, the problem of the “gap” between schooling completion and university preparedness is not new. Nor are solutions: South Africa has 30 years of interventions aimed at addressing this problem. However, a critical look at the high failure rates in these gateway courses (such as mathematics, physics, statistics, economics) despite a wide range of interventions would suggest that the sector is not doing as well as it should.

Perhaps some of the persistent educational problems, in part due to gross educational inequalities, require a different way of thinking. Perhaps the higher education sector needs to shift its resources from interventions for those deemed “at risk” (thereby leaving the rest unchanged) and to focus on systemic change. This means focusing on structural changes and the core business of teaching and learning itself –- curriculum that is flexible to accommodate diversity, teaching that actively engages students, an assessment that not only tests but promotes learning.

Contrary to the perception that this constitutes a “lowering of standards”, these systemic changes will profoundly raise the quality of teaching for all.

Higher education has no choice but to work with the pool of talent it receives. The challenge is how.

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Remember your sunscreen. And your sheep.

sheep

Baaaad for tourism

By John Fraser

Wow!  Who would have thought just a few weeks ago that the country would be in a tizzy over:

a) first the presence on a beach of a band of security guards, and then

b) a sheep having its throat cut on one of CT’s poshest beaches?

The racial polarisation over this issue would be hilarious, were it not so worrying.

Before my own questions on all this, here is a fairly measured statement by the CT Mayor:

CITY OF CAPE TOWN

31 DECEMBER 2018

STATEMENT BY THE EXECUTIVE MAYOR OF CAPE TOWN, DAN PLATO

City outlines actions around events at Clifton 4th Beach

The City of Cape Town will be taking a series of actions in response to the events which unfolded at Clifton 4th Beach in the last week.

In respect of events on Sunday 23 December 2018, where a private security company, Professional Protection Alternatives (PPA), were accused of requesting beachgoers to leave the beach following several alleged safety concerns, the City will be laying a complaint with the Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority (PSIRA) once its offices reopen after the festive season.

The organisation is a nationally constituted body that governs the private security industry. We are laying the complaint so that the matter can be fully investigated by the appropriate structure so that any wrongdoing can be identified and addressed accordingly by PSIRA.

In respect of events on Friday 28 December 2018, where a sheep was slaughtered during a protest on the beach, the City will serve a notice on the protest organiser as the act was performed in contravention of the City’s By-laws. It is our understanding that the Cape of Good Hope SPCA will also open a case of animal cruelty.

Many persons have asked why the City did not act. It should be noted that during public order policing situations, the South African Police Service assumes command over all policing staff on the scene. Senior SAPS officials in charge of the situation at Clifton on the day would not allow City and SPCA staff to act to prevent the slaughter.

We will be engaging with the SAPS on this matter, as well as with the Western Cape Police Ombudsman, as we cannot allow anyone to undermine City By-laws and prevent them from being implemented.

At issue was an allegation by the African National Congress (ANC) that a private security company acted inappropriately and this claim subsequently went viral on social media – at no point was an actual complaint directed via the correct channels for investigation.

The feedback I have received is that, despite the insinuation that particular races groups were targeted, all race groups were in fact asked to leave the beach; and they were asked in a peaceful, non-aggressive manner. PSIRA will have to get to the bottom of this, but to manipulate this information as has been done over the past week is disgusting and plays on the emotions of many.

Going forward, we remind the public that our facilities are open to all and that only uniformed City staff have the power to enforce by-laws.

Anyone else who claims to have such powers is likely impersonating a peace officer, which is an offence.

Furthermore, we encourage visitors to City-owned public facilities to report any problems or concerns about the conduct of staff or any person claiming to have peace officer status to our 24-hour hotline on 0800 32 31 30, which is monitored by an independent service provider.

Any safety concerns or requests for emergency assistance can be directed to the City’s Public Emergency Communication Centre by dialling 021 480 7700 from a cellphone or 107 from a landline.

End

Issued by: Media Office, City of Cape Town

OK?   Well, I have a few questions:

Given the sensitivity of the issue, why did we not immediately know exactly what happened when people were asked to leave the beach?   Why were they asked to do so?   If there was no racial discrimination, why was the situation not immediately diffused by a statement to that effect?  Sorry, Mr Mayor.  This was a fuck-up of note.

Why was there no clear plan to prevent the sheep slaughter on the beach?  Why were the correct authorities not deployed – early and in force?  If the SAPS had the authority, why no proper liaison with the City?  Which political and police authorities were incompetent?  Or has some other agenda?  They must be identified and sacked.

There is, as yet, no law preventing people who do well from purchasing expensive properties in Clifton, and other seaside spots, and enjoying the lifestyle.

Equally, there is no reason why people who follow the law and behave responsibly should be stopped from enjoying each and every one of our public beaches.

All of this is a very dangerous storm in a turbulent teacup.

Instead of making it all go away, the bungling authorities have taken a tense situation and made it far, far worse.

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