from the ed­i­tor

JANA MARAIS

Finweek English Edition - - CONTENTS -

on 4 Septem­ber 1998, Cuba’s pres­i­dent Fidel Cas­tro re­ceived a roar­ing wel­come in Par­lia­ment. Watch­ing footage of his speech – which he de­scribed as a “love let­ter to a sweet­heart thou­sands of miles away” – will leave even the fiercest Cas­tro critic some­what emo­tional.

In many ways, 1998 feels like a life­time ago. Nel­son Man­dela was still pres­i­dent, and South Africa the dar­ling of the world. Mo­siuoa Lekota, now leader of Cope, was still a blue-blooded ANC man, serv­ing as chair­man of the Na­tional Coun­cil of Prov­inces. The much-re­spected Frene Gin­wala served as the dig­ni­fied speaker of a House that was prob­a­bly never go­ing to be ready for the likes of Baleka Mbete and the EFF.

Cas­tro’s mes­sage that day fo­cused in part on the mir­a­cle of SA’s peace­ful tran­si­tion to demo­cratic rule, and the huge chal­lenges we had to over­come to re­duce the in­equal­i­ties be­tween our two economies – one rich and largely white; one poor and largely black. The chal­lenge, he ac­cu­rately pre­dicted, would be to “carry for­ward so­cial change in an or­derly, grad­ual and peace­ful way, so that [the con­sid­er­able ma­te­rial and tech­ni­cal] wealth could con­trib­ute to the op­ti­mal ben­e­fit of the South African peo­ple”.

He high­lighted a num­ber of spe­cific chal­lenges we would have to ad­dress: il­lit­er­acy, un­em­ploy­ment, in­come in­equal­ity, life ex­pectancy, land own­er­ship – de­tail­ing how it was all skewed ac­cord­ing to race. Nearly 20 years af­ter his speech, it is de­mor­al­is­ing to see just how lit­tle progress has been made. Un­em­ploy­ment has, for ex­am­ple, in­creased dras­ti­cally among both black and white, even though it re­mains sub­stan­tially lower among whites.

The num­ber of black grad­u­ates has in­creased sig­nif­i­cantly, a fact that should be lauded, but much work re­mains to im­prove the qual­ity of ed­u­ca­tion at school level. An in­ter­na­tional study, re­leased on 29 Novem­ber, which tested grade 5 and 9 pupils, showed SA is one of the five low­est-per­form­ing coun­tries in the world in maths and sci­ence. The oth­ers were Jor­dan, Saudi Ara­bia, Morocco and Kuwait. Only a quar­ter of chil­dren at pub­lic, no-fee schools got maths scores above the min­i­mum level of com­pe­tency.

“There are many na­tions with sim­i­lar so­cial and eco­nomic prob­lems that are the re­sult of the con­quests, the coloni­sa­tion and an un­bear­able dis­par­ity in the dis­tri­bu­tion of wealth; but in no place other than here has the strug­gle for re­spect for hu­man dig­nity kin­dled so much hope,” Cas­tro told Par­lia­men­tar­i­ans that day.

With hope in short sup­ply, it is per­haps time that we rekin­dle that strug­gle for re­spect for hu­man dig­nity.

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