I find myself fortunate enough to be privy to some interesting conversations these days. One of which was with a German corporate involved in decision making for the company. In the meeting, the issue of investing in South African businesses came up and how German companies that wish to invest in South Africa, have to comply with South African regulations such as the controversial BEE scheme.
BEE or Black Economic Empowerment is a form of Affirmative Action implemented by the South African government, aimed at redressing the unequal opportunities of the past. Companies must meet the requirements of BEE, by employing a quota of black people in the ownership and leadership positions of the company.
In theory, this scheme is aimed at advancing the previously disadvantaged black majority of people. However, in practice, only a small elite group of black people have actually benefited. Anyway, the discussion ensued along the lines of how difficult it was for the German based company to find a highly skilled, black South African to match the European criteria and visions for their company. Nevertheless, they chose a black candidate but felt that he/she still wasn't merited for the position.
Was I surprised? Not really. I have been thinking and comparing the socioeconomic structures of Germany and South Africa quite a lot lately. One of the things that came to mind is the fact that we have a cycle of poverty in South Africa. With the minimum wage at around €1,3 per hour, the majority of black females, who are also single mums fall into this category. Although the minimum wage is an improvement from previous years, it is not enough to send your child to university.
In Germany, the average cleaning person gets paid around €10 per hour and usually works as an independent contractor. Jonathan D. Jansen, vice-chancellor and rector of the University of the Free State in South Africa, wrote an article on the issue of poverty and the impact it has on education. He said that it is still very difficult for a young black student to complete his or her education and get a degree because university fees are so expensive. In a household where neither parent has studied or earns enough, the household income cannot afford a university education.
Often students enrol at a university with the help of a student loan, but by the final year, he or she requires a job to pay off the accumulating loan. At that stage, the interest on the loan is so high that the student usually drops out of university to pay off the growing debt, and so the cycle of poverty continues for disadvantaged poor black students. On another online blog, a young black law student with top marks applied for a job at a hair salon as a cleaner, because her final year results were withheld due to outstanding fees.
It's horrifying that we still live in a world where it is necessary for an individual to offer to pay for someone's basic right to education.
Her potential employers learnt about this and offered to help her pay her university fees. While this was a good deed on the part of her white employers, it also illustrates how great the social divide still is between rich and poor. One reader commented that it's horrifying that we still live in a world where it is necessary for an individual to offer to pay for someone's basic right to education. Some twenty-four years post democracy and still, the education system is not accessible to the poor.
Personally, I think that there is great potential for young black South Africans. I think that it will take more than one potential white employer's offer to pay school fees to break the cycle of poverty. It will take paying domestic workers a relatively higher wage. In the short term this would amount to job losses, but in the long term, it will significantly improve the notion of 'second class citizens,' that many young black women still face. It will open up the possibility for a better quality of life, a greater percentage of educated children with a broad vision for both local and international affairs.