Thursday, October 19, 2006

Mboweni OK with his Afrikaners

A recent edition of the printed FIN WEEK publication caught my attention. Tito Mboweni, ANC member and Governor of the South African Reserve Bank, graces the front page. The portrait photo of him is in photo-comic-book style. A text cloud emanating from his mouth contains the following words: "I'm OK with my Afrikaners. They stay and do the work, and become experts".

I'm sure the words was spoken in a humoristic fashion, but it remains an incredibly bold and non-PC statement all the same. Tito Mboweni was known for cold factual analysis well before he entered the all important Governor position that he's held for a couple of years now. His statement on Afrikaners is one that is sure to draw criticism from the ANC's left wing.

As the FIN Week article, below, points out statements like that uttered by a white South African will very likely be labeled as racist. Hopefully Mboweni will not be the last black intellectual to venture a brave opinion on this matter.

As a white Afrikaans male I very much appreciate his statement, even though it was phrased rather paternalistic. I entered the formal job market in 1994. Within a year or two the first black colleagues was appointed in our then Lilly white department. It was obviously long overdue. What was immediately apparent though, was that a very high turnover was going to be a feature of black appointees. Not only were they appointed at senior salary level, even though most had no relevant experience in the (marketing & PR) field, they did not stay long. I remember my silent astonishment when a black colleague left the department for a three-fold salary increase plus perks such as a luxury Audi. She spent less than a year in our department and had not yet had a chance to make any impact, let alone gain any meaningful experience.

If we did not have 40 years of formal Apartheid and 300 years of colonialism before that things may of course have been different. All the same, affirmative action is a necessary evil at best. It is something that most South African whites grudgingly accepted. But 10 years down the line serious misgivings about the continuation of affirmative action is starting to arise. I attended a seminar earlier in the week where a very dynamic coloured (mixed racial descendancy) speaker said in so many words that BEE (Black Economic Empowerment) is doomed to fail. His argument is not unique. The core thereof is that dividing the economic pie, if the pie stays the same size, will only cause everyone to loose. What you need is to grow the pie.

Of course making sure that an larger pie is fairly distributed will require at least limited government intervention. History has shown clearly that pure capitalism mostly favours the 'have's' and does little for the 'have not's'. The ideal is that this intervention is achieved through taxation, not social engineering. However, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) is under ever increasing pressure to deliver benefits to the poor masses.

One of the real tragedies of affirmative action is that the white population has shrunk by approximately. 800 000. Some sources put the figure at 1 million. That's from a population of approx. 6 million, a massive decrease. This decrease has been primarily driven by the 'brain drain'. Skilled whites who are pessimistic about their professional future in South Africa do as many other skilled individuals from across the world do in a globalised world, they go where they are appreciated. That is where they can obtain a challenging position on merit and receive the financial and other benefits associated with the particular position.

In South Africa the same person will often have to silently accept being passed over for promotion or appointment, in order for a black candidate to move up the ladder. Truth be told, white males over 50 were often already in senior positions at the time Apartheid ended. They may be frustrated at not being able to progress further while affirmative actions propels black candidates to the top. But they could have been stuck at the entry level where many 20-35 year old whites find themselves. Not surprisingly the majority of whites who have emigrated fall in this age bracket.

Another very interesting statistic is that 1 of 4 white males are now self-employed. That's a whopping 25% or a 4% increase in just 5 years. In the Apartheid South Africa in which I grew up only a very small number of whites were self-employed. Afrikaners were often referred to as the staatsdiens nasie ('government service nation'). These days if you attend a trade fair or see a group of business men (still mostly men) huddled around a coffee shop table, chances are fairly good that they're speaking Afrikaans. Compared to just ten years ago that's a truly surrealistic image - but it's very much reality today.

The positive angle of this is that Afrikaners (and English whites) are forced to apply their privileged education obtained under segregated Apartheid to start and build small enterprises. In the process jobs are created. I'm one of those newly converted entrepreneurs. However, the world of self-employment can be scary and shaky. Gone are the government house subsidies, medical aid, study allowances, unemployment insurance, etc... You're on your own boykie. By the way, if you make a success from all your sacrifice and 100 hour weeks the government will reward you by slapping taxing BEE requirements on your business - the irony...

Whichever way you look at it, loosing almost a million mostly highly skilled workers is something South Africa can ill afford. Sooner or later the ruling party will have to face the unpopular fact that making things uncomfortable for your most skilled citizens are going to cost you in the long run.

Many mostly black commentators bristle at the above debate. They retort that black South Africans can take up the slack, surely blacks aren't inferior or unable to perform as well as whites? If we haven't lived with colonialism and Apartheid for as long as we have that simplistic argument would have been very legitimate. However, the fact is that the majority of black South Africans, non-withstanding their equal potential, has lamented in pathetic schools and socio-economic conditions. The sad truth is that the majority of black citizens has simply not had the opportunity to develop their potential to the degree that they can make a meaningful contribution in the sphere of highly skilled workers. To disregard this is to bury your head in the sand. Worse, while privileged black kids now enjoy quality education in formerly whites-only schools, the majority of black kids still suffer incredibly poor education. Sooner or later the current government will have to start owing up to that, never mind how huge the challenge Apartheid and colonialism left it.

So what's the solution? I believe it lies in courageous bold leadership. The kind of leadership that will acknowledge that non-withstanding the sins of their fathers, whites who choose to stay in South Africa (very few don't want to) have a very valuable contribution to make to the welfare of the country. Downscale affirmative action, focus more on merit in appointments, BEEF UP EDUCATION and be patient. We need to grow that economic pie, at present it's way to small for 45 million people to share. The pie is only going to grow if nurtured, disregard the laws of intellectual capital and you risk making the future worse. The ANC's motto since the 1994 election has been 'A better life for all', indeed a noble cause. Social engineering could result in 'A worse life for all'...

I concede that it is probably too early to adopt a totally colour blind approach to fighting poverty in South Africa, thanks to our Apartheid past. But wouldn't it be nice if policies addressed poor, middle-class and wealthy South Africans - irrespective of race? Instead we're still stuck in racially based policies that provide or withhold opportunities based purely on race. Sooner or later that has got to change.

FIN24 : Empowering Financial Decisions: "Johannesburg - Any white male - more so if he's an Afrikaner - who says anything about affirmative action is now quickly relegated to being irrelevant, writes Finweek Editor Rikus Delport in this week's edition.

He writes: 'If you're someone who belonged to a previously privileged class your views don't count in the current debate.

'However, it's different if someone like the Governor of the SA Reserve Bank, a former Labour Minister and a respected figure in ANC circles, vents his views,
especially if he says something positive about whites in the workplace and -
believe it or not - about Afrikaners in particular.

'And that's precisely what happened when Governor Tito Mboweni spoke recently at a breakfast session in Johannesburg. When describing the dilemma the Bank is facing - black people who seek greener pastures shortly after being appointed and trained, his words were: 'I get so upset... I'm stopping this recruitment of black people. I'm okay with my Afrikaners. They stay and do the work and become experts.'

Must learn from experts
'However, what Mboweni said - probably in a joking and light-hearted manner - is what every company is experiencing but is afraid to say, and what blacks - with the exception of a few, such as Mboweni - aren't prepared to admit. Especially not in government circles. 'And that's to the detriment of SA's economy and empowerment. Because how can you empower a person if he can't learn from experts? And due to their previously privileged positions, it's the whites who have that expertise.'

Delport concedes that under the current government, SA has experienced unprecedented economic growth. And it's been said repeatedly that the economy has probably never been managed aas well as since 1994. "However, unless it's accepted that if all SA's people aren't set to work properly and don't use their skills correctly, then we won't reach the above-average growth levels government has targeted.
"To achieve that will necessarily mean that there must be equal opportunities for
all, that the unhealthy trend of putting people in positions just because they
belong to the right racial group or political party will have to stop and that skills must count above all else."

Time to drop the race issue
He says it's disturbing to learn that research shows that nearly 1m people, many of them experts, have left SA over the past 10 years - mainly due to affirmative action
and crime. "Especially if you remember that many of them had the potential to make a contribution to our economy and also create jobs." Delport points out that SA's current unemployment figure shows encouraging signs that the battle against that evil is slowly but surely being won.

"But it isn't happening fast enough, and politicians in particular should realise that people are becoming impatient at the slow progress. So why not use the expertise that we have at home to promote government's own aims?

"What Mboweni said is by implication applicable to most whites and not just Afrikaners: they're committed to the success of SA and they're prepared to work hard, even if opportunities for promotion are limited. But hasn't the time come for us to drop the race question?" "

No comments: