What does the mismanagement of parastatals such as Eskom, SABC and SAA in recent years translate to? The common public opinion when reviewing social media platforms is that “black people cannot manage organizations; they are corrupt and they practice nepotism”. All the ills tantamounting to the failure of these parastatals are as a result of black people, so it seems.
Eskom has had eight CEOs in the past seven years. Earlier in the year, former finance minister, Trevor Manual, confirmed that the past 12 CEOs and executives cost Eskom almost R514m. The cliffhanger and the suspense in this movie have come to an end as in rides the caped hero, André du Ruyter, to save the day! And they all lived happily ever after…
If only it were as simple – let us rewind to “once upon a time” where the South African workplace was extensively divided, with all skilled and management positions reserved only for white people. Everything from education to land and freedom of movement was controlled. Even higher education institutions were divided. Black academics and students could only be affiliated with universities and technikons for either black, Indian or coloured people, otherwise known as “bush colleges”.
As South Africans, we believe ourselves to be free from the shackles of apartheid, to be a new democratic generation. The only thing that South Africans are free to do is vote! We have a backlash against our legislation of B-BBEE and Employment Equity reporting and targets, and the fact that there is no defined end period. The Human Rights Commission was scrutinised about Affirmative Action and Employment Equity policies being unconstitutional.
The burning questions that need to be asked are: In a free and equal South Africa, why do we still have under-resourced rural schools; why do we have a private schooling system which benefits an elite and privileged few and; how do we move away from legislation such as the Employment Equity when in a country with a population in excess of 58 million, 80% are black but hold only 15.1% of the top management positions and 8% of the white population hold 66.5% of these positions according to the 2018/19 analysis of the combined Employment Equity reports for public sector and private sector.
In all management levels, the statistics are consistent and whites dominate. According to the termination statistics which include resignation, dismissal and retirement, 52% of white people were re-employed from a total of 59% which were terminated. In addition to this, JSE-listed companies in 2018 report that 10.2% of CEOs are black African; 1.7% coloured, 2.7% Indian and 85% white.
The current status quo of the country from a racial perspective indicates a somewhat slow and stagnant process of equal opportunities, where black people continue to be disadvantaged from a historical system, where education remains unequal and so do work opportunities. We look at a small percentage of black people who have thrived and focus on their successes, but where do the majority fit in?
In the field research work I undertook with manufacturing industries represented countrywide, the underlying and pertinent issues uncovered was that the workplace continues with discriminatory practices which seem like an extension of our previous separatist laws. In interviewing black and white engineers and human resource practitioners, it was confirmed to a large extent that black engineers are marginalized in many of these organizations due to the fact that they have no formal qualification from previously white higher education institutions. The common perception is that they cannot be “trusted” as engineers. Companies recommend that they work under the mentorship of a younger, sometimes less-experienced white engineer due to the fact that the latter has undergone a more “reliable” education system.
In understanding what transpires in the workplace, we need to take cognisance of the fact that education systems have not democratised with our country’s democracy. This is one of the major reasons for the ripple effect of racial discrimination in almost every facet of South African society, irrespective of being a “free” country. What is democratized education systems?
Coming out of the separatist laws, all educational institutions are now accessible to everyone. In saying this one needs to take note of the current 2019 statistics where South Africa has 1966 independent/private schools, 23 796 public schools of which approximately 11000 are rural schools, mainly found in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo.
The challenges faced in these schools are immeasurable, from under-qualified teachers to the complete lack of any resources or suitable infrastructure. The question once again is posed, in a free and democratic South Africa, how free and democratic is our education system, and what is the extent of the transformation, post-apartheid?
So, how does all of this relate to Eskom and the saga of the failed CEOs, and why has the appointment of André du Ruyter created such controversy? Does this appointment for Eskom mean that it is on its way to privatisation? Or will he (Ruyter) succumb to the temptation that his white predecessor Sean Maritz did in 2017 or will he actually make a positive impact and “confirm” that “South Africa cannot succeed” as a country without white people in key leadership roles? Does it mean that he will condone Employment Equity targets to bring forth his own team under the pretense of repairing the situation? All of the answers to these questions mean nothing to a country who continues to be wounded by the ills of apartheid.
As a sociologist, society is viewed as an integrated system, with education being fundamental. Education begins the moment a child is born, as parents, family, communities and religious organizations become a part of constructing that child’s reality. Therefore, from a sociological analysis and perspective, it would seem that the only cure and way forward is education – formal schooling, higher education and practical work mentoring. This is indeed a tall ask with the current disparities and bleak statistics shown above in the formal schooling system.
With the advent of the Employment Equity legislation, many companies elevated black individuals without proper guidance or mentorship and not taking full cognisance of our unique political landscape and how it has defined the manner in which our realities are constructed. If we continue this path of not growing black leadership and seeking rescue from white people, as is the case with our new Eskom CEO, how do we start moving away from historic ideologies of job reservation and start to balance the racial business leadership statistics in line with the demographics of the country?
To realise the mutually-inclusive and equal fantasy, where black South Africans are able to heal and succeed, private higher education is starting to play a significant role in the transformation of the way education is structured and facilitated. This may be a small step but a step in the right direction. A holistic approach including a review of the entire formative school structure, working with higher education and large organisations is the key to growing South Africa. Based on international models, private higher education institutions are working towards focused practical workplace applications in line with theoretical frameworks.
This focus on an integrated approach to strive for employability will start to eradicate much of the discriminatory ills of our society. Business schools are educating their students on real life business practices globally and locally by firsthand experience. While learnerships, youth grants and SETA-funded (Sector Education and Training Authority) training may benefit young learners, there needs to be a holistic drive towards developing black leadership in the country.
Dr Aradhana Ramnund-Mansingh is an Academic at MANCOA and a former Human Resource Executive.