Opinionista Busani Ngcaweni 7 January 2016

Persistence of white privilege will rupture the rainbow

Well-qualified and accomplished black academics remain employed as junior lecturers at Wits and other South African universities. Likewise, highly skilled and qualified black professionals remain junior managers and window-dressers in corporate South Africa. We can no longer tolerate being disrespected and discriminated in our country by unqualified white people who only ascended to power through white privilege. All indications points to one thing: Rupture is inevitable.

On Monday I posted a comment on social media arguing that Chris Hart has no post-matric qualification in economics, but holds a senior position at Standard Bank. He is also the most quoted “economist” at the SABC and eNCA. I further argued that he has no formal qualification in economics, but is called “economist”. Further, I made a conclusion that Anton Harber is a professor and Head of Department at Wits school of journalism where he supervises post-graduate students. Heads of Department make very important decisions which impact on the fate of post-graduate students). Harber only has a junior degree, and a lousy academic publishing record. Most universities require a PhD, a minimum of seven articles in accredited journals and a record of supervising post-graduate students before conferring professorship. Apparently, as in Hart’s case, Harber practical experience qualified him to hold a professorship, and to serve as HoD, and therefore to produce post-graduate students.

Let us take the debate further. Harber, like Chris Hart never misses an opportunity to give “expert” commentary about what is wrong with South Africa, and how the ANC is promoting corruption and mediocrity through “deployment of unqualified cadres”. Although Harber is in no class of Hart when it comes to expressions of bigotry, they long took what appears to be anti-state postures, including comments about appointment of unqualified and under qualified people into important positions.

What is the point of this argument? Well, it is straight-forward. Well qualified and achieved black academics remain employed as junior lecturers at Wits and elsewhere in South African universities. They would not even dream of appointment as HoD, let alone professorship without the requirements mentioned above. Institutional oppression obtains in higher education in South History, and 2015 was a melting in terms of demands for rapid transformation.

The same is the experience of highly skilled and qualified black professionals. They remain junior managers and window-dressers in corporate South Africa, including at Standard Bank where Hart holds a very senior position. The bank’s public records show that Sim Tshabalala is the only black person in the eight-member Group Exco. The rest are white males and one female. For many years organisations of black professionals have been questioning why Tshabalala was made joint CEO, given his vast experience in the bank and his academic qualifications. We do well to recall another similar incidence at another financial services company, Alexander Forbes, which ended with the resignation of the qualified and experienced “joint CEO”. Even a smaller bank, Nedbank, does better than Standard Bank when it comes to transformation. They even have a black female CFO. As for Absa and FNB, rumors that black managers are toying with the idea of joining the EFF seat-ins should sound warning bells.

Need we add: Hart’s elevation into senior echelons at Standard Bank is very topical given that, without a senior qualification in economics, thousands of black graduates remain unemployed because they “lack experience” and many more skilled black professionals occupy junior positions in corporate SA. This is the democratic dividend which reproduces white privilege in South Africa.

Granted, in journalism, accounting and medicine, experience matters the most, hence there are many “professors” in these disciplines with no post-graduate qualifications. To what extent is this recognition of prior learning and experience extended to black people? If there is consistent and non-racial application of this principle, why are experienced journalists like Mathatha Tshedu not recruited as professors into our schools of journalism. If Media 24 thinks he is worthy of leading the training of their cadets, why can’t he join the academia as well?

It is all about institutional values. Just look at FNB: their chief economist is under 40 and is excelling in his job. Look at eNCA, the media house recently profiled three of their leading economic commentators. Bar Chris Hart, they are all black, under 40, two are female and all have many post-graduate qualifications in economics and finance up to Masters level.

Why then are we expected to forgive and forget and not “think in racial terms” when racism remains so rampant in South Africa? Black people are experiencing dehumanizing violence of racism daily in spite of efforts by government to de-racialise society and build social cohesion. It is not just what Hart said about black people that is disheartening. It is also the fact that corporate SA recognises him with such an embarrassing academic record. Still on that academic record, even now that we know Chris Hart has teaching qualification and a general BCom degree from Wits, I stand by my views that he is underqualified to be called an economist. There are more qualified people, black and white, who should be commenting conscientiously about the South African economy.

We can no longer tolerate being disrespected and discriminated in our country by unqualified white people who only ascended to power through white privilege. All indications points to one thing: Rupture is inevitable. The winner of the 1994 draw can no longer hold on to the illegitimate spoils of colonialism and apartheid.

What is to be done? Few small but decisive intervention are worth considering.

First, we must start with drawing a register of all racist companies and individuals. We must have a roll of shame for all bigots in South Africa. They can then be blacklisted from doing business with the state.

Second, launch an economic boycott of all products and services from companies that promote racism or employ racists that appear in the roll of shame. No black person and government must spend a cent in the companies that harbour racists. An economic embargo will be the most effective weapon against racists, as it did during apartheid. Government should vet all those doing business with it so that racists can not earn sustenance from state procurement. We should use the buying power to teach racists some level of humility. In Zimbabwe and Mozambique they used the gun to teach whites respect. In South Africa we must use the economy.

Third, South African should criminalise racism so that bigots can get stiff sentences. After all, racism stunts growth as much as corruption. So let racists who promote disunity go to jail. Great news we hear from Parliament that the ruling party has been joined by other parties in the calls for legislation to criminalise racism.

Fourth, transformation through such instruments as BEE and EE should be accelerated alongside the provision of high quality education especially for rural and township students. Education shouldn’t stand in the way of black students achieving their dreams and breaking the circle of poverty in their families.

Fifth, there is a need to build a massive anti-racism awareness program supported by civil society so that South African children can grow up in a society which holds values that shun all forms of racism, tribalism and sexism.

Sixth, there is a need to reboot relations with the black intelligentsia so that there can be intellectual leadership and innovation on matters of transformation, social cohesion and national unity. The black intelligentsia holds the key to many answers to problems confronting society hence the call for their re-engagement. The same applies to black professionals who present the greatest possibility of change given the social capital they possess.

Racialpreneurs like Penny Sparrow are doing well to mobilise society against herself and fellow racists who call us dirty monkeys. The millions of patriotic white South Africans are already isolating her and her fellow racialpreneurs.

In conclusion, our society must develop absolute intolerance for racial entrepreneurs. No man must be allowed to kill another man’s pride since “every man is born with a certain amount of pride in his humanity. But I have come to believe that pride is only a mortal thing, and that there are many ways to destroy it.” This citation from Mtutuzeli Matshoba’s “To Kill a Man’s Pride” applies to both racists and victims of racism. Chauvinists like Chris Hart, Dianne Kohler Barnard and Penny Sparrow, should not be allowed to further destroy the pride of black people like during apartheid.

Lest our children idolise Es’kia Mphahlele’s Tekane “who mixed his political talk with religious proclamations and prophesies. The day would come for the white man to do the same dirty work as we were doing, earn their money the way we were earning it, live in Marabastad and enjoy the smell from the sewage works. We would move up to take the white man’s place. God had willed it that way.”

That is not what South Africa is about. It’s about non-racialism, non-sexism, democratic, just and prosperous society relentless in its pursuit of transformation, social and economic inclusion objectives! DM

Busani Ngcaweni is book author and contributes opinion articles in various newspapers.

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