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South Africans are big on celebrations, the makietie ever more lavish even as the ostensible reason for it diminishes. So it is unsurprising that one of the biggest annual bashes is that of the governing party feting nothing more remarkable than its own continued existence.

The African National Congress centenary a few years ago cost R100-million, a not insubstantial sum for a party that is reportedly cash strapped. However, frugality is not in the DNA of our rulers and another big bash is scheduled for January 8, the ANC’s 103rd birthday.

Since 2015 also marks the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the Freedom Charter on June 26 1955, this weekend’s jamboree at the Cape Town Stadium will be quite a party. The venue alone cost R2.2-million, payable upfront because the ANC has a habit of not paying – its Youth League last year narrowly escaped being liquidated for outstanding debts – and the party still owes R1.5-million for hire of the Cape Town International Convention Centre back in 2011.

The choice of Cape Town Stadium for this party is an unintentionally apt metaphor for the state of ANC government. Here’s a showpiece that everyone wanted to succeed but instead it has turned rank.

Similarly, the stadium appears handsome but actually is a disaster, haemorrhaging money. It is also set in a city that regularly wins international plaudits for beauty and good governance, but ironically neither the city nor the Western Cape government are run by the ANC and when they were, both were characterised by corruption and ineptness.

So given the propensity of the ANC to seize the flimsiest excuse to party the night away, even as Eskom’s lights blink out one by one, this week’s annual celebratory hullabaloo over matric results is similarly predictable. Here, too, there is actually little to celebrate, starting with the fact that only one out of two students makes it through 12 years of education.

And while politicians and the matriculants themselves applaud the ever-improving final schooling year pass rates, those statistics are essentially meaningless. Like the old Soviet Union’s annual production figures, they are administrative magicking, unrelated to the quality of the products coming off the assembly lines.

While President Jacob Zuma cheers this as the ‘best matric class since 1994’, University of Free State Vice-Chancellor Jonathan Jansen describes a system that revolves around pass rates rather than the quality of matriculants as a ‘massive fraud’.

In mathematics and science SA’s scores around the bottom of the world class. While the Basic Education ministry argues passionately the point of whether SA is the classroom dunce or merely one of a handful of morons competing for the cap, it is nevertheless clear that we are unable to produce the mathematically and scientifically literate school leavers that are most in demand.

Instead, the trend is increasingly towards easier subjects. One such is Religion Studies, the latest, non-denominational, spawn of that trusty from the old apartheid days, Bible Studies. Appropriate abbreviating to BS, this was an encouraged option in the Bantu Education system – presumably in order to teach black people to turn the other cheek and that their biblically designated role in the racial hierarchy was as hewers of wood and drawers of water – but it was unheard of as a serious matric subject at most self-respecting ‘Model C’ schools.

There is of course nothing innately wrong with any subject of study. To each their own.

But combine a pass mark of 30% with a national predilection for subjects that mostly don’t raise an intellectual sweat, it is not difficult to tease out the implications. While SA’s competitors swot calculus and chemistry – so that they ultimately they have the tools to learn to build bridges and research diseases – our children study Consumer Studies and Hospitality Studies.

It’s not only the schools fiasco that should sober up the ANC party crowd. Tertiary institutions, too, are sagging under the weight of ill-prepared students with poorly developed minds but highly developed senses of entitlement.

I recently had sight of a pathos-filled letter from a job-seeking journalist, in which he bemoans the difficulty of finding work despite his graduate qualification. The letter is riddled with basic spelling and grammatical errors.

His mistake maybe was applying to a commercial radio station. The SA Broadcasting Corporation is awash with executives who boast bogus degrees and imaginary matric certificates. None would have noticed or cared about his illiteracy and sloth.

Meanwhile, you may not have seen our president in Parliament much last year, but you can bet your bottom dollar he’ll be on the stage come Saturday, gooing some cool dance moves. Just goes to show, a matric certificate has long been pretty meaningless.

Follow WSM on Twitter @TheJaundicedEye


  • This Jaundiced Eye column appears in Weekend Argus, The Citizen, and Independent on Saturday. WSM is also a book reviewer for the Sunday Times and Business Day. Follow @TheJaundicedEye.


William Saunderson-Meyer

This Jaundiced Eye column appears in Weekend Argus, The Citizen, and Independent on Saturday. WSM is also a book reviewer for the Sunday Times and Business Day....

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