A peek into a Zuma-like future
Will he take us to the post-industrial era?
THE trickiness of the future is that no one knows what it will look like. It is thus very difficult for us to know what posterity will say about Jacob Zuma.
Yet all rational beings have the right to reflect on the future; for we know it lies somewhere between the ideal, the planned and the unknown.
What then would the ideal be and what planning must the living do to better the conditions of the unborn?
The greatest threat facing the future of South Africa is the problem of racialised reproduction of poverty and underdevelopment.
If you grouped 90% of whites and the black middle class together and left intact all our national resources, South Africa would be among the top 10 richest countries in the world.
Projecting the future in such a scenario - notwithstanding man-made economic disasters such as past and future economic recessions - would be tantamount to the imagination of bliss.
But our reality lies in the formula: South Africa minus 90% of whites and black middle class is equal to majority of poor blacks.
In all rich societies there will always be sons and daughters who become poor out of their own prodigality. But such isolated cases of human nature do not plunge whole societies into a widespread state of penury.
Thus we can can conclude safely that the children of the well-off are guaranteed a comfortable life in a future South Africa.
What about the children of the poor, though?
This we cannot answer without understanding dynamics in this stratum of society.
The son of a herdsman in Mtubatuba, KwaZulu-Natal, will most likely become a herdsman, if he is not rescued by education.
Indeed, the daughter of a wretched father in Mdantsane, Eastern Cape, will in all probability be the wife of some dangerous tsotsi if education does not intervene.
And so are the lives of the children of poor parents living in shanty towns - their future without education is doomed.
So this means that in order to better the future conditions of the children of the poor we ought to understand and do something about the chain that reproduces poverty.
Well-off black people reading this know only too well that they enjoy a better life than others thanks to education.
To construct an ideal future, however, will take much more than a mere university certificate.
We say "mere" since there are at present 600,000 unemployed graduates in South Africa.
What value do certificates carry if they fail to rescue educated people from poverty?
An ideal future for South Africa can be constructed if our education system is reoriented fundamentally - from producing job seekers to a system that churns out entrepreneurs. Imagine if 400,000 of the 600,000 unemployed graduates established their own, small companies. How many jobs do you think they would create for uneducated blacks?
To many this might sound quixotic. But it has been done and continues to be done elsewhere in the world.
Asian economies that are now viewed as development miracles rose on the back of the creativity and inventiveness of their educated citizens.
Most of the snazzy Italian labels flaunted by BEE fellows in South Africa are produced in small-scale enterprises in Italy.
Japan is another story of the great potential of an educated and inventive individual.
But why go far?
Here in South Africa more than 50% of white males own their own companies. It is true that this is linked to a long history of white economic empowerment. It is equally true that initiative is part of the explanation.
Wasting time moaning about white privileges will only impoverish more and more blacks. Self-pity has never propelled nations to greatness.
Historically blacks in South Africa were transported like cargo on trucks from rural areas to work in mines and factories in industrial centres of the country.
These mines and factories were owned and run by whites. Blacks were stuffed with mageu and kept in hostels to work like machines.
That era of mageu and hostels is gone. It is gone with Fordist modes of production.
A young, uneducated black person in the rural areas no longer has a chance to be transported on trucks to a big factory somewhere.
Global trends suggest that we have no choice but to speedily devise ways to fit into a new, post-industrialist context.
Countries such as China and India - which are still characterised by industrial clouds of smoke - are aware that, in the end, they will not avoid the fate of post-industrialism.
These countries are already ahead of South Africa in producing highly specialised and inventive citizens. How do you think India became a global fishing pond for IT specialists?
Asian countries have learned from the West that future economies will be built on specialisation and innovation.
Microsoft, Google and others provide insights into the workings of future economies, of small-scale firms established by inventive individuals that grow and become global giants - employing masses of highly skilled professionals.
In the economies of the future an enterprise will face two options: innovate or perish.
The Indian automobile company Tata is among the best examples of what future successful enterprises will have to do.
South Africans must not fool themselves; there will be no place for uneducated people in future economies. By the way, even educated people will sweep floors.
We already see this in our restaurants, hotels and suburban households - uneducated South Africans have been displaced totally by Zimbabwean migrants, who are better educated than locals.
What then will posterity say about Zuma? Will our grandchildren say: "There once lived a president so unsuited to the future of our country"?
- Mashele is CEO of the The Forum for Public Dialogue. He lectures politics at the University of Pretoria and is a member of the Midrand Group. His book, The Death of Our Society, is available at Exclusive Books