ASABA Excellence Awards Evening
– 23 July 2015
By Herman Mashaba
Thank you for this opportunity to address you tonight, in particular being expected to provide my views on the difficult subject of transformation in our country.
At the outset please allow me to congratulate your Association on placing the accent on excellence. It is well known that to qualify as an actuary requires years of very difficult study. It is also well known that businesses such as insurance companies cannot function without actuaries. In fact, their existence, profitability, and even survival, depends on the correctness of your calculations and predictions. Yours is therefore a difficult profession that plays a vital role in the proper functioning of businesses that can make or break the success of entire economies.
But now I must be totally open with you. Placing an accent on transfomation, if that means colour, race, gender or whatever the nature of the transformation is, disturbs me. I know, without having to be told, that no preferential treatment is given to people who write your examinations because they happen to be black or fall into any of these other categories. You received your qualifications because of your ability and I admire you for what you have achieved. There is nothing wrong with having an association such as yours to encourage young black people to join your profession and excel as you have done. Also to be role models and demonstrate to them that there are no limits to what they can achieve if they are prepared to work hard. I can say these things to you because I know you have got where you are through your own ability and hard work, and you deserve to be admired and congratulated.
Because you are who you are I want to take this opportunity to call on you to help those of us who are very concerned about the direction our country is taking. I am all for transformation of our country’s economic landscape, inequality created by many years of legislative oppression of black people of our country, but I am totally against laws being introduced again that are intended to give preferential treatment to some members of the population at the expense of others, especially when these laws are based on colour. I am fully behind sustainable transformation, but such transformation must be based on merit for it to succeed.
All of you as professionals have shown, and many people have shown, that black South Africans don’t need a nanny state to look after them. It is not the state’s responsibilty to look after or protect the interests of certain people at the expense of others. The state’s primary responsibilty is to normalise its entire people, regardless of race, gender and background. We owe this responsibilty to the first democratically elected president of South Africa, President Nelson Mandela. We all know what he lived and died for – Freedom of the people of South Africa. He taught us to focus our energies on the future and the imperatives of nation building.
Are we really going to sit back and watch the reintroduction of an apartheid style Race Classification Act to allow bureaucrats to classify people according to race? In my view there is no way, in law, to legally enforce preferential treatment through legislation unless there is an Act like the one that we hated so much. Are we going to have a “pencil test” to, this time, prove that the government is justified in acting for us instead of against us? From a human rights point of view race classification was despicable under apartheid and it remains despicable today.
While the human rights issue is important there is another aspect that is equally important, which is that in the name of affirmative action the entire economy is being directed from Pretoria. Because we are not standing up for the Constitution and the Rule of Law our country is going rapidly downhill. It is bad enough that we are told who we are allowed to employ or not employ, but we are also being told in fine detail by people who know nothing about business how we must run our businesses. They pass laws which does not take into account the realities of economics and of doing business.
Please allow me to give you one example of the devastating effects of affirmative action on the economy of our country, which today is negatively affecting the lives of all of us, in particular the poor and vulnerable members of our society. Just a few years ago, Eskom used to be widely celebrated as a model of transformation for the country, winning numerous awards in the process. The company’s focus shifted from being a strategic supplier of electricity to being a model of transformation. The strategic fundamentals of the business were literally ignored, in fact in some cases abused. I am sure you would not expect me to eloborate on the obvious failures of this strategic entity. We are all disappointed and embarrassed.
I am raising the failure of Eskom because of its significance to the success of the entire country, including our continent: Africa. This failure unfortunately attracts the attention of the world. This is the failure we cannot hide. It directly says to those who had doubts about the ability of the black race... we told you they cannot manage. This reflects badly on all of us as a black race. We should not allow such actions to negatively impact on our abilities. We should focus our intellect on utilising the best and appropriate resources to deliver for our people.Using apartheid style policies is bound to hurt us, our country and our people.
I regard my business career as a crucial practical case study for our country, an example of running a successful business and at the same time contributing positively to nation building in a troubled nation. The year 1984, South Africa under PW Botha, under the one state of emergency after the other, blacks forbidden by evil laws to venture into business, I took a decision to invite a white Afrikaner to join me in business. Johan Kriel not only provided the technical skill I needed, but helped create a platform for nation building. We created this platform outside political meddling and support, hence the success. Johan and us had a common interest, and actually proved how economy does not have colour.
I have very strong views biased towards individual freedom as opposed to group interests. Race-based legislation will destroy our economy and limit your personal successes as capable black people. As part of my contribution to protect us from the abuse of our constitution and our individual rights, I have taken a decision to assist the Free Market Foundation in a constitutional challenge against a section of the Labour Relations Act that gives Bargaining Councils the right to instruct the Minister of Labour to extend any agreement they enter into and impose it on all other firms in their industry. Bargaining Council members are labour 3 unions and firms that are part of civil society and it is obviously wrong for legislation to give them the power to instruct a Minister. It goes further, the decisions that the Bargaining Councils make favour large firms over small firms and labour union members over non- members, and especially the unemployed. The high level of job security that legislation has provided to the people who are already employed has at the same time caused 8.7 million people to be unemployed. This piece of legislation has destroyed small businesses who were supposed to have given employment opportunities to our unskilled people. It prevents unemployed people from making their own decisions who to work for and what they are prepared to accept.
My view is that real transformation can only happen when people are truly free, regardless of their colour, race, gender, or other characteristics. No one can deny the fact that we have to correct the ills of the past, but we must do it within the confines of our constitution and the rule of law. Race-based legislation is against the spirit of our democracy and constitution. The 20 years of our democracy has clearly demonstrated the negative economic results of pursuing such policies. This shotgun approach adopted in the last 20 years of our democracy can only benefit the few, and seriously hurt the majority.
We need to follow an approach with a long term view of positive results, such as to allow all South Africans to be equal in the eyes of the law. By so doing, there will be no intervention in the natural economic prosperity of the country. When the country prospers, the government will collect more taxes to be used to uplift society. The government can then invest in world class schooling, hospitals, infrastructure, which will ultimately benefit all South Africans, the majority of whom happen to be the black people of this country.
In closing, let me also provide my views around the recent attack on our country’s historical statues, driven by the need to see transformation in universities. We today in our country sit with one of the worst performing public educational outcomes ever. A huge number of our students enter universities ill prepared to face the demands of university studies, after being failed by their first 12 years of learning provided by the public sector. Most of us were excited with the advent of our democracy, believing that education of our people is going to be the most important single priority of government. Real and sustainable transformation of people can only happen when citizens of a country are properly educated and trained.
Twenty one years into our democracy, I am surprised to see us focusing on the destruction of statues instead of yearning to acquire the best education our limited universities offer. The tragedy of it all is that this destruction is being supported by the Minister of Education. After our independence in 1994, I was under the impression that former black universities such as Turfloop, Fort Hare, Zululand, Venda, etc, were going to be turned into centres of educational excellence for our black people. Before concerning ourselves with what whites are prepared to do or not, was it not easier for us to focus on these low hanging fruits? These are universities we should have turned into institutions of higher learning where every black student would die to get into. Government should have deployed the best and committed brain power to run these institutions. We are unfortunately looking for a shot-gun approach, expecting someone else to do it for us first.
The destruction of statues can only yield negative results:
They disrupt our schooling programmes
They polarise our fragile nation
We should be building more statues alongside the existing ones
We are destroying our history
Statues are a good resource to build a massive tourism industry.
The lack of proper basic education is compromising the future of our country’s young people. They are made to pass through the schooling system and emerge without basic literacy and numeracy. Tragically, a large percentage of our young people, instead of facing an optimistic future full of promise, end up facing a bleak future of unemployment and poverty. A Stellenbosch University researcher recently reported that South Africa has a dual schooling system, “a dysfunctional system which operates at the bottom end of African countries, and a functional system which operate at the bottom end of developed countries.” Sadly, money is not the problem. The taxpayers are providing almost 20% of government budget towards education. Management of schools and the quality of teaching appear to be the source of the problem.
I once more, make a plea to all of you as actuarial professionals, as future leaders of our country, to play a role in facilitating the development of future focussed policies. Make Nelson Mandela proud.
I would like to congratulate the recipients of the awards this evening. My best wishes to you and I hope you will go from success to success in your chosen careers.
And I thank you.