On August 16, tensions between striking miners and the police erupted into the largest-scale incident of state violence in South Africa since the end of apartheid. At the Lonmin mine in the Marikana area, miners went on a wildcat strike to garner a pay raise, beginning August 10. The situation escalated. On August 16, forty seven people were killed – most of them miners – and dozens were injured.
According to the Bench Marks Foundation, the miners’ frustration bubbled over because they are not benefiting from the profits of the mine. And the “lack of employment opportunities for local youth, squalid living conditions, unemployment and growing inequalities contribute to this mess.”
Once the shining star of the African continent, South Africa has hit some bumps in the road. Its rate of growth has slowed down to barely 2% in the last few years. Furthermore, it is ranked 132nd out of 144 countries for its primary education, despite President Zuma’s vow to make education the number one priority in South Africa. Even more unsettling is the level of inequality when it comes to education: three-fourths of white pupils complete their final year of high school, while only one-fourth of black pupils do the same. Says the The Economist’s Baobab blog, “after 18 years of full democracy, South Africa is one of the most unequal countries in the world.”
The Marikana miners’ strike is just one piece of evidence that governance in South Africa is not working. Another is the recent demolition of homes in Lenasia, where government officials claim homes were built on illegally sold land. These incidents are simply a symptom of alarger problem, which The Guardian defines as the disconnect between the reigning political party (ANC) and the South African people. Regardless of the political party in power, major changes need to be made in South Africa’s governance to effectively promote education, protect citizens’ public space, and reduce the high unemployment levels.
It is crucial to consider how important education – which raises the quality of job opportunities available to South Africa’s citizens – is to creating stability within a country. South Africa needs about 25,000 new teachers a year, but only about 10,000 qualify. Close to half of the 95,000 nursing jobs in the public sector are unfilled. These statistics reflect the importance of promoting education as a means to empower South Africans.
There are certainly rays of hope. For example, the “Towards Carnegie III” conference held in September at the University of Cape Town set a research agenda for the next three years to identify strategies to address poverty and inequality in South Africa, with education being one of the conference’s main themes. Nonprofits like Room to Read, the South African Education Program (SAEP), and Equal Education are also making tangible impacts. Room to Read has established 292 libraries in South Africa since 2006, and SEAP has numerous programs, including one that provides capacity building to turn community “educare centres” into sustainable education providers. Equal Education is going as far as taking the Minister of Education to court later this month. Here’s their video about the campaign, featuring some pretty staggering statistics on the state of South Africa’s schools now.
Amidst this movement towards a stronger education sector, South Africa must not forget the days of Nelson Mandela, and his eternal words of wisdom. For he said both that “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” and “it always seems impossible until it’s done.” South Africa may be still be finding its way, but there are grounds to believe that these are just growing pains, and South Africa will come through to once again be a shining star on the continent.
Maya Salwen is a dual-degree MBA-MPA student at NYU studying International Policy & Management, and Entrepreneurship. Her blog, Idea Stories, chronicles individuals’ journeys as they turn their ideas into reality. Maya is passionate about capitalizing upon entrepreneurship to facilitate international economic development.
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