Qual­i­fied or ca­pa­ble? There’s a dif­fer­ence

CityPress - - Voices - Gugu Mh­lungu

This week, a graph show­ing “South African pres­i­dents’ qual­i­fi­ca­tions” since 1989 made the rounds. FW de Klerk, Nel­son Man­dela and Thabo Mbeki were all shown to hold post­grad­u­ate/mas­ter’s de­grees, Kgalema Mot­lanthe a ma­tric, and Ja­cob Zuma “none”.

The graph of­fered no con­text, no in­ter­pre­ta­tion of “data”, but its sub­text was clear: South Africa has the least “qual­i­fied” pres­i­dent in more than 20 years. The graph also failed to in­di­cate the cir­cum­stances un­der which each of these men would have re­ceived their ed­u­ca­tion.

Zuma’s “lack of ed­u­ca­tion” comes up of­ten, usu­ally when crit­i­cis­ing him.

Re­cently, I saw it be­ing used when the news broke that for­mer MP Pallo Jor­dan was not a qual­i­fied doc­tor.

The im­pli­ca­tion here was that be­ing a man who did not have a ma­tric, but served as pres­i­dent, was the same as a man who had been caught in a lie.

Some­one then rightly pointed out that, as far as we know, Zuma had never lied about his ed­u­ca­tion, so the com­par­i­son was non­sen­si­cal.

The truth is, when we talk about “qual­i­fied”, we still don’t know what we mean. This was ob­vi­ous in the nar­ra­tive sur­round­ing (then act­ing) SABC chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer Hlaudi Mot­soe­neng’s fraud­u­lent CV. The dom­i­nant nar­ra­tive was un­able to sep­a­rate the crim­i­nal­ity of the mat­ter with the other con­ver­sa­tion about a chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer of the SABC not hav­ing a ma­tric, which falls into a broader con­ver­sa­tion about the mea­sure of ca­pa­bil­ity in South Africa. We have yet to dis­cuss these things clearly and as sep­a­rate (but of­ten re­lated) is­sues largely be­cause, for the most part, we con­tinue to hold for­mal ed­u­ca­tion as the sin­gle most re­li­able in­di­ca­tor and as­sur­ance of ca­pa­bil­ity and skill.

This is in­ter­est­ing for a coun­try that has a sur­plus of for­mally ed­u­cated peo­ple (there are an es­ti­mated 344 000 un­em­ployed South Africans with de­grees, diplo­mas and cer­tifi­cates) and a si­mul­ta­ne­ous deskilling of the ma­jor­ity of the peo­ple who are un­able to progress through the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem.

When Thuthuk­ile Zuma was ap­pointed chief of staff in the de­part­ment of telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions, we al­most had the con­ver­sa­tion where de­spite her hold­ing the cor­rect qual­i­fi­ca­tion, her ex­pe­ri­ence was lack­ing. This raised crit­i­cal ques­tions about the value of ex­pe­ri­ence, which can of­ten be as good as a de­gree. The broader ques­tion of the dodgy recruitment process was also lost in the eas­ier con­ver­sa­tion about “Zuma’s 25year-old daugh­ter”.

In this con­text, we find our­selves un­able to truly dis­tin­guish be­tween “not for­mally ed­u­cated” and “not qual­i­fied/com­pe­tent” be­cause we have yet to re­alise that these two things are not the same, but also sep­a­rate from the fal­si­fi­ca­tion of cre­den­tials.

Zuma’s ‘lack of ed­u­ca­tion’ comes up of­ten, usu­ally when crit­i­cis­ing him

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