Education is key for South Africa’s black people

Phumlani Majozi says that focusing more on fight against poverty does not mean indifference to income inequality

Education is key for South Africa’s black people

14 January 2021

The debate on income inequality rages on in South Africa. This debate is mostly in politics, media and academia. But much of the fixation on the subject, is on racial inequality – more specifically income inequality between the white population and the black population.

While many see income inequality between blacks and whites as the most or amongst the most important issues, I see poverty as more of an urgent matter that needs to be addressed. And I believe it must be addressed by both political leaders and ordinary citizens. Who earns what compared to who, should not be at the top of our priority list in my opinion. I think investing our energy in creating an environment full of opportunities for every racial group should be the major focus.

Focusing more on the fight against poverty will not imply that we do not acknowledge income inequality. Inequality of any kind – including racial income inequality between blacks and whites in South Africa – is real. Data shows that. According to Statistics South Africa’s 2019 report on South Africa’s inequality trends, whites earn about three times more than blacks. Black households have the highest unemployment and earn the lowest wage in the country.

These are facts we cannot dispute. But to whine, and not adopt policies that will create opportunities for blacks so they rise to the middle class status, won’t be helpful to our society. The way to try and address these income differences is not to take from white people and give to black people. Our efforts must be focused on uplifting the poor – most of whom are black. And education and skills development can be instrumental in making a positive impact in this regard.

According to Statistics South Africa, unemployment amongst those with tertiary qualifications remains lower in comparison to those without tertiary qualifications. And those who have tertiary qualifications tend to make higher incomes than those without. That alone indicates what direction we must take on public policy to uplift the lives of black people in the country. It’s not rocket science at all.

When it comes to South Africa’s business in the private sector, the majority of top management positions are still held by whites. That’s a fact. But such cannot be changed by government’s manipulation of the market and manipulation of business. It needs a strategy focused on education and skills development. And it must be the education pertinent to today’s technological and scientific advancement.

That black South Africans have limited representation in management positions today, today, has very little to do with racism, and more to do with the skills shortages. Our historical injustices are partly to blame for these skills shortages. But today, we have an opportunity to change the country for the better – and uplift those masses at the bottom of the income ladder.

What black people need to focus on is education, and motivate their children to become successful in life. At this point, the ANC’s approach and EFF’s proposed approach to addressing our socioeconomic problems, and inequality is wrong.

Nationalizations, high taxes, more government regulation and seizing of agricultural land are not the answer to improving black people’s lives. Going further on this route will culminate in instability and economic collapse which will worsen poverty.

The truth is that as long as many black South Africans are uneducated and with no relevant skills, they will continue to suffer in world’s third most miserable economy, as ranked by Bloomberg’s Misery Index last year.

Government is in a financially dire condition – so even the idea of welfare is not affordable. Though President Cyril Ramaphosa has said his ANC government will explore the basic income grant, the reality is that it will further indebt the country and slow down the economy.

Let’s focus on education and skills development in our efforts to reduce inequality and better off black people. Nelson Mandela once said “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. If you are uneducated, you are jobless or earning low income, vulnerable and likely to be a victim of those who seek political gains.

But to succeed, will require a stable, well-functioning government that advocates for pro-market policies to enable a thriving economy. It will not end there. As individuals, we need to commit ourselves, work hard and not vote for political parties whose policies kill economic growth and job creation.

Phumlani M. Majozi is a senior fellow at African Liberty. His website is phumlanimajozi.com Follow him on Twitter: @PhumlaniMMajozi