Going down memory lane

Kuwadzana Primary school teacher Rosemary Chakanyuka conducting a lesson as pupils sit on concrete slubs with the moveable desks.

“Additional post primary and technical education for young Africans in Salisbury townships are essential if frustration, widespread resentment and delinquency were to be removed,” says the director of municipal African Administration Department, RC Briggs, in his annual report. The lack of education opportunities had caused increases in delinquency.

Emotional attitudes among young Africans had been fanned by extreme African nationalism and engendered racial hatred.

“The average law abiding African sees his financial salvation and certainly that of his children in education, and it is necessary to ensure that (if this is provided) a further problem does not arise which would generate even more complex problems,” said Briggs. “It would, however, be foolhardy simply to plan for additional education facilities without recourse to the effects of the end product. Problems would increase if the urban African was unable to find the scope and financial reward for his efforts after attaining education skills,” reported the Rhodesian Herald (April 20, 1965) half a century ago.

Prophetic words indeed. Briggs’ words have come back to haunt Southern Africa, the latest being in xenophobic attacks in South Africa recently. Frustration, widespread resentment and delinquency have taken root in South African townships where poor Africans, usually not adequately educated, reside.

Elsewhere in Africa, for example, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Briggs’ concluding remarks are worth restating: “It would, however, be foolhardy simply to plan for additional education facilities without recourse to the effects of the end product. Problems would increase if the urban African was unable to find the scope and financial reward for his efforts after attaining education skills”.

From Abuja to Harare the slogan was the same: Free education for all. No one paid attention to Briggs’ warning about “foolhardy” actions. While social service exploded, investment was not diversified enough. The result is nations full of high school and university graduates. Boat loads sink in the Mediterranean trying to enter Europe illegally. An unemployed graduate, vending for a living, self-immolated in North Africa triggering an uprising later to be known as the Arab Spring, all over the Arab World.

In Southern Africa, Zimbabweans illegally cross the Limpopo literally on the backs of over-fed crocodiles, all in search of jobs — escaping catastrophic policies that not only failed to create new jobs, but destroyed the bulk of the ones in the formal private and State-controlled sectors. The South African education system, though well-funded by comparison to other African countries, has fared worse than other systems in former English speaking countries. Its revolutionary struggle included boycotting schools in protest against enforced learning of Afrikaans. The result is a black population in the 30 to 65 years age group that is not properly schooled and still burdened by “widespread resentment”. Independent South Africa, at a period when knowledge is now globally a key asset in the job market and in economic growth, is not going to deliver much to the inadequately educated blacks. Their “bitterness”, therefore, increases. Then they are forced to compete with desperate, but better educated immigrants for scarce jobs, pushing wages down for all. The mixture is bound to be combustible.

The solution is ramping up economic growth across the region and improving access to, and the quality of education regionally. The Asian tigers and China provide ample case studies. Then, of course, there is need for viable infrastructure and industrial, mining, commercial and agriculture sector growth policies and strategies. The region should aim to grow the gross domestic product (GDP) by over 7% per annum collectively for the next three decades or more, doubling the global (regional) domestic product every 10 years or less.

To achieve those figures, a common legal framework and a common labour, goods and services market, if not a shared currency, will be necessary. More important investment has to play the lead role. That calls for fiscal convergence with government budgets aiming to be around 40% of GDP. In addition, 12% to 15% of the collective GDP, or around a third of the budgets, should be allocated for capital projects on a regional priority basis.

For that to be achieved, leadership is required. Although there may be exceptions, the region’s cabinets and presidents have failed the region.

It may be said without shame, so have the revolutionary parties that brought independence as well. The experience needed to run complex growing economies would not have been found in prisons and guerilla camps.

A way out of the trap of filling Cabinet posts with patriotic ex-fighters without the necessary experience and expertise would be to uncouple the Executive somewhat from political parties and politicking.

The American and Chinese Executive structures offer templates that can be improved to create a better performing hybrid — one seven to 10-year term for a president and his running mate elected directly and a lean Cabinet of not more than 15 ministers picked from the best positioned in the land and not necessarily from the legislature.

These changes would address short termism on policy implementation and distraction of the Executive by politicking and elections.

They will address the skills gap that is shockingly apparent in some Cabinets.

Of course, pooling together of sovereignty in a federal Southern Africa with one Head of State, American or Chinese style, would bring enormous benefits economically, militarily and legally.

One would have thought because of their collective experiences, Southern Africa’s liberation movements would lead the way? In these days of sorrow and shame, let us at least heed Briggs’ advice.

lTapiwa Nyandoro can be contacted on nyandoro.osbert1@gmail.com or feedback@newsday.co.zw