As the fallout from Oxford University Rhodes Must Fall leader Ntokozo Qwabe’s Facebook comments continues, high-level panellists at a discussion in Salt River this week questioned whether land restitution would be enough to solve South Africa’s socio-economic woes and effectively address inequality.
The debate, which included former DA Parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko, agriculture and land specialist Professor Ben Cousins and UCT Graduate School of Business associate professor Mills Soko, formed part of the Cornerstone Institute’s Pat and Shelma James Memorial Dialogue Series titled “Fighting Ra-cism”.
Land restitution has been at the forefront of the national conscience following Mr Qwabe’s Facebook post last week in which he detailed an exchange with waitress Ashleigh Shultz at ObZ Cafe in Observatory.
In the post, Mr Qwabe ex-plained how fellow activist Wandile Dlamini from the Rhodes Must Fall movement slipped Ms Schultz a note which read “WE WILL GIVE TIP WHEN YOU RETURN THE LAND”, causing her to burst into tears. He then proceeds to opine on how no white people will be absolved of their responsibility to return the land to black South Africans.
The incident sparked a wave of protest on social media, with crowd-funding campaigns launched to raise money for Ms Shultz. By early this week more than R100 000 had been raised.
At the debate on Tuesday evening, the panellists spoke to the land issue among a range of topics seeking to uncover solutions for redress in South Africa.
While acknowledging that land dispossession was something that had to be tackled in South Africa, Professor Cousins was concerned that frustrated students were being too simplistic in their proposed solutions to the land issue.
“Land is a complex issue. Every aspect of society hinges on the land question. What is interesting is that in South Africa it is only for land that we have restitution measures, and we have to ask why this is,” he said. “Realistically, unemployment stands at 35% in this country. There is a lot of anger over land, but agriculture will not create jobs. And job creation is what we need to focus on right now. As it is, agriculture is a highly concentrated field, in fact every sector of our country is highly concentrated. In addition, the industry is becoming increasingly automated. Where are the jobs going to come from?”
Professor Cousins said he did not have the answers, but put forward that in order for South Africa to improve economically, it had to place the emphasis on manufacturing. “Of the services that are being provided in our country, the majority are financial. I don’t even think it’s enough to have a good education anymore. We need a manufacturing sector. That is key.”
He said South Africa’s youth also had wildly outrageous expectations of what it meant to have a good life. “We are not alone in our problems. There is no end to the economic slow-down globally. We have to go back to the basics as a humanity. I think the youth need to be realistic about what a good life means. We have to rethink things. Owning nice things and living a comfortable middle class life, I don’t think that’s realistic anymore. You have to work hard and accept that whatever comes to you is an improvement on the current situation.”
Ms Mazibuko also raised concerns about students’ expectations in the current economic climate, and suggested that not enough was being done to educate children for jobs that were desperately needed.
“Teaching is the problem. We have a lack of quality teachers, and questions have to be asked whether this is a systemic problem, or whether a situation has arisen where unions are protecting students from being accountable,” she said.
Ms Mazibuko said she fully appreciated many students’ anger over the situation they found themselves in.
“You have students who are getting into university by studying by candlelight in the townships, and barely have enough money for food. And even if they make it (through university), they are entering a system in which it still might not be enough. We must recognise that the experiences of one high school or university student is not going to be the same as another’s.”
She said a recent Stats SA report that showed black South Africans were less skilled than their parents was “shocking”.
“What breaks my heart is that we have had education ministers who have tried to break the deadlock, but they have been stopped in their tracks by government.
“BEE and affirmative action cannot alone solve the problem of inequality. These policies aren’t enough, and an additional number of smallholding farms won’t make a significant difference. What we need to appreciate is that the cost of implementing these policies cannot undermine investor confidence. On the level of redress, we need to be responsible, so as not to scare off investors.”
Professor Soko agreed that the government’s biggest failure had been education.
“This is why we have seen the rise of parties like the EFF. To Julius Malema, these angry youngsters are a captive audience. They are impatient, and the EFF speaks to this impatience,” he said.
He also suggested that the ANC government had failed to understand the structure of the economy.
“There is still a belief that our economy is driven by mining, but those days are gone. The people in charge of policy simply don’t understand the economy.”
Professor Soko said while the corporate sector could not be exonerated, he could understand their reluctance to invest.
“They (corporate sector) are sitting on R650 billion they could invest in the country, but they don’t because they don’t trust the government. And to be honest, I would also think twice about investing.”
While indicating that Mr Qwabe and Mr Dlamini were “not interested in speaking to the white media till further notice”, Rhodes Must Fall spokesperson Simon Rakei told the Tatler the sympathy Ms Shultz had garnered in the mass media and public was the “definition of white privilege”.
“No matter how many degrees black people get or what education they receive, this is a privilege that black children who’ve been homeless, can’t afford to pay tuition fees and are facing exclusion, will never know no matter how much they cry and ask for help,” Mr Rakei said.
“The public outrage for making a white waitress cry has overshadowed unspoken violence that old black women go through daily cleaning the houses of their madams in the suburbs and the constant dehumanisation of those who scrub toilets in public spaces and corporate offices.”
He said these silent cries went unheard and more attention was paid to the tears of a single white woman.
“I can’t help but think whom else to rightfully ask for the unjustly acquired privileges in society other than those who have it and the structures which enable them to do so with impunity.
“As long as there are those still asking to be seen as human from those who are present benefactors of humanity and understandings of what it means to be human, society will be still unequal. And in the most unequal society in the world which has yet to take any tangible steps towards a more egalitarian path refusing to confront its colonial history, the land question has been a burgeoning bubble that will eventually erupt.”