Thursday, April 16, 2009

Another Enduring Legacy of Apartheid

Young men: uneducated, unemployed, underemployed. In 1976, black students in South Africa began a boycott against the Apartheid government's edict that they be educated in Afrikaans, rather than English and their home language, and that their curriculum continued to be dumbed down inorder to make it impossible for them to compete with whites, and even Coloureds, for better paying jobs. This led to years of intellectual stagnation which consequently led to the rise of a culture of anti-authority, anti-discipline, and unemployability, especially among males. At about the same time, sanctions against the Apartheid government led to many manufacturing plants to close up shop and take their business to other countries. Of course, the immediate consequence of this was the loss of highly skilled, relatively well-paying jobs, as well as the loss of union power in these sectors.

When the first free election was held in 1994 and Mandela began to lead the nation out of bondage, hopes rose high for a better future for all: jobs, housing, education, electricity, running water. This was a huge burden for the new government to undertake, and to date, the results are mixed. The tragedy that cannot be easily rectified is the lasting effects of little or no education and a skilled workforce. Many of the new jobs being created by returning factories require a skill level that (in the early years after 1994) the South African work force no longer had. These skilled factory jobs were gobbled up by Soviet trained workers from Mozambique and Angola, and as the years went on form other African countries as well as immigrants from other former Soviet satellites. Bringing the education system back up to standard for all students has been a major undertaking, but that does not solve the problems of those who lacked even basic employment development skills and training and education between 1976 and 1994.

One of the negative consequences of all of the above is the rising crime rate and continued lack of sufficient employment opportunities for all, especially young males. This has led to a rise in the proliferation of gangs. There was a very interesting BBC report on 15 April 2009 about gang members, current and former, in the Cape Flats area of Cape Town...unfortunately, I cannot find the reference! These young men felt they had no choice but to "stab and steal". They lost count of the number of people they stabbed or shot, had no idea as to whether or not their victims were dead, got high out of boredom, and most felt it was pointless to respond to any of the several outreach programs aimed at skill development..both life skills and employment skills. The young men interviewed were 24!

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