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What’s wrong with Haiti?

A century ago, US troops invaded and occupied a small country called Haiti. They stayed there for almost two decades, installed a client government, imposed new laws and fought insurgents in bloody battles on difficult terrain. Thousands of residents perished during what turned out to be 19 years of ‘de facto U.S. rule’.
 
Today, many Americans think of Haiti as a country that is still struggling to recover from a devastating earthquake, but fewer realise that it’s recovering from an invasion that took place in 1915 which resulted in their state president being assassinated.
 
Americans had stepped in under the guise of dismantling anarchy and fostering democracy. But in reality, two things drove their actions: a desire to curb Haiti’s economy and government in a direction that was more in line with their own and concern over imperialist interest from France and Germany. U.S. leaders soon pressured the Haitian legislature to elect a new pro-American president, Philippe Sudré Dartiguenave.
 
When we look at Haiti’s current challenges, we often overlook the bigger problem it has been facing since 1915 and that is Americans invading another country to extract it’s minerals and imposing laws and dictating presidential elections. We are just not looking deeper into the crisis Haiti is facing. We are simply ignoring the overwhelming and most visible facts of Haiti’s real challenges. In an article I published in 2013, I go even deeper to question “are the so called natural disasters really natural?” is my quest to understand the challenges facing Haiti.
 
What you must know is that around 2,400 sq km of northern Haiti – or about 8% of the surface of the entire country – could be ripped away from local farmers and given to US and Canadian companies. In 2012, the mineral wealth for this area, which includes gold, copper and silver, was estimated to be worth more than $20bn.
 
Alarmingly, some contracts have been granted behind closed doors, without scrutiny or participation by Haitian civil society or parliament. Opening this kind of opportunity to foreign investors without proper laws, enforcement and transparency in place has created much anger among the population and some politicians alike.
 
What is happening to the citizens of Haiti is an emotional and traumatic experience. We cannot deny the evident pain the people of Haiti are facing, but we can’t keep quiet about the underlying issues that America has with Haiti. If a government is destabilised, it cannot control or prevent the disasters it finds itself in and that is where Haiti finds itself.
 
I will continue to pray for Haiti, but I also want America to leave Haiti alone.

The struggle to define our own struggle

It was Frantz Fenon who once said “Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it.” The youth of ’76 were able to conquer the Bantu Education System because they had one clear mission. Victory was achieved also when the thousands of women across South Africa who marched to the union buildings on the 9th of August 1956. They were also victorious because they had one clear mission. The question posed to us is “Have we [ordinary citizens] identified our own struggle in this generation? What will tell our grandchildren when they ask us about our struggle?” We remain divided in our thinking.

The famously quoted, Russian communist and political theorist – Vladimir Lenin observed that “one of the chief symptoms of every revolution is the sharp and sudden increase in the number of ordinary people who take an active, independent and forceful interest in politics.” In light of recent events, quite a large pool of young people in the country have been showing an increasing interest in politics. Argued by some, this interest is propagated by an influx of corruption that we are exposed to on our media platforms.

According to Lenin, wherever you see an ordinary man [person] on the ground start engaging into politics and being politically active, that is a symptom of a revolution.

It all started in the ANC Youth League when the radical young people first spoke of “economic freedom in our lifetime”. This ideology carried on to become the foundation upon which the new kid in politics – the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) was formed. YES, I am all in favour of obtaining economic freedom in my lifetime, however the following are some of the many questions I have been battling with lately:

1. Have we clearly defined our own struggle?
2. What does economic freedom look like in our generation?
3. Does “The Global System” allow us become economically free or is it just another far-fetched dream?

I asked one radical gentlemen a week ago to paint me picture of what economic freedom in our country would look like. To my shock, he was unable to pin-point some of the basic things would actually affirm to us that we have achieved economic freedom apart from the land issue.

I would like to believe that we got the vision correct when saying that “we are fighting for economic freedom in our lifetime”, however do we have a clear mission on how to attain it? What are the strategic measures in place to aid us in achieving our vision? Is our mission going to be a multifaceted approach inclusive of both political, religious and social systems? How do the champions of this vision going to clearly articulate the mission to the ordinary citizen on the ground?

Allow me to introduce you to three types of young people in South Africa who all believe that they are economically free:

Person A

This person lives in the townships and rural areas with a family of 5. He believes that if he has a job paying at least R3 000 per month, then he is economically free.

Person B

Person B is a young person living in the flats, earning roughly R12 000 per month. He is able to do more of the things that person A cannot. He also believes that he is economically free.

Person C

Person C is a young person living in the suburbs, in a house owned by the bank. Person C walks away with roughly R20 000 per month. He is able to do more than what person A&B can and he too believes that he is economically free.

Now looking into all the three people, who according to you is really economically free? Keep in mind that all these people do not own a company, land, or industries (e.g. the media, manufacturing, mining, etc.).

Over the weekend, I was wrestling with understanding the words of Kanye West in his recent interview on BBC Radio One when he said “The new form of racism is CLASS.” He continued to explain that; we live in a society that is segregated to the core. We have 1) the poor, 2) those that think they are middle class, 3) the middle class, 4) those who envy the elite and 5) the elite. All these are greatly divided and as a result, thus disabling us to establish any form of communication around this topic. The gap keeps widening up daily.

What is economic freedom? Does it mean that we must own land? Does it mean that I need to work at the largest company in Sandton or does it mean that I need to have means of survival on a daily basis? We need to answer these questions.

I believe that as a young nation, we need to sit down to have conversation around what does it really mean to become economically free. Until we clearly understand what that means to us, we will not be able to have a clear mission to achieve it and thus we will betray our generation as Fenon said. Our children and grandchildren will call us failures.

Let’s take it upon ourselves to have our own struggle. Define it clearly and find ways to conquer it.

Let’s have these conversations
Twitter @abutirams

Educated but broke and unemployed

Just a couple of months back we welcomed thousands more new graduates in our academia. One of the most beautiful and exhilarating moments for many students in higher education. Their achievements have indeed put smiles on their long faces who have put up with the difficulties of long hours of studying in cold, hot and windy days. The sheer joy in the hearts of parents around the country was exhilarating. Higher education department congratulated some of the outstanding pupil who came out of tertiary institutions with cumlaudes. Surely this is a good story to tell in celebrating 20 years of freedom right?

Let me take you back in my life just 3 years ago.

At 22, early months of 2011 I was working at my university’s Library on Sundays just to make some few extra bucks whilst applying for an internship to graduate in September. I made couple of bucks that were not enough but I was never broke. June I got an internship with a marketing and left the tertiary job. I was young, ambitious and fresh in the team in the company.

September came, I graduated with my fellow class mates. The feeling of now being officially recognized by the institution that I was a ‘web developer’ was amazing and I knew that in just 6 months I was to earn R15k before deductions. Who in his/her early 20’s wouldn’t be excited about that anyway? 20th of September I witnessed parents from all walks of South Africa get off City to City buses with traditional apparels ululating in their praise for their children’s achievements. I heard one parent from Limpopo saying “Tlala e fedile” i.e. “No more hunger.”

Hope filled the hearts of the many parents who’ve raised their children in poverty. They’ve spent their last savings and even made credit just to see this day and moving forward. Not even a single person I saw on that day was worried about what tomorrow holds. Fast-forward to today I would like to paint a real picture of what that ‘tomorrow’ actually holds:

  • Over 70% of the people I was in the same class with are skilled, educated, but unemployed;
  • The skills they’ve obtained are no longer useful in the industry of their specialisation;
  • Many of them have used over innumerable amount of data sending out their CVs to recruitment companies for employment;
  • 90% of them are in debts with study loans (not to mention the many times they’ve went to the loan sharks for money to go to interviews).

Not much of a good story hey? What could be wrong? Are we ready to blame the education ministers for creating graduates but not employees and employers? Let’s talk statistics.

According to Stats SA’s Quarterly Labour Force Survey results, under the current leadership, the official unemployment rate in South Africa is now up at 25.6%. This compares with 25.2% in Q1 2013, and 24.9% a year-ago. Clearly, the latest unemployment reading is very disappointing despite the rise in employment, suggesting that South Africa is still struggling to gain meaningful traction in the labour market. At 25.6%, the unemployment rate is extremely high by global standards. Importantly, 70% of SA’s unemployed are younger than 35, while the unemployment rate among people aged less than 25 is over 50%. The unemployment rate among graduates is recorded at only 5.2%, reflecting the fact that education is vital to growing employment (See http://bit.ly/1slv4Wi).

My fear about the current education system is that it is creating more unemployable graduates and 2 real entrepreneurs out of 10 each year. I’m taken aback by some words of Sir Ken Robinson whom in one of his presentations said “the current education system is designed for industrialisation, so young people are still hypnotized to believe that after secondary schooling, you go to tertiary to become a graduate that’s going to help with production instead of leading production.”

Where I live, graduates sit at corners of their streets whilst some chose to gallivant throughout the rest of the day because there is no work for them. You’d be expecting that at 10 o’clock in the morning such educated young people to be at work or at least at internet café’s applying for posts but they are left helpless and resorted to unproductive activities. Sadly I’ve witnessed many of them stay home for over 5 years without employment. As a result, young people are demotivated and feel dis-empowered to even do anything. I would also give up if I was constantly spending thousands of rands just seeking for an internship that will remunerate me R2,5K per month.

Being youth, I’ve learned that we’re very impatient. Trust me, it’s in our nature. Saying to a young person “you’ll get a smart phone 2015” in a fast-moving country like ours is really frustrating. Young people are addicted to speed. They want things to work quickly and on time. We are not so patient, however if you give us your word on when exactly on the ‘not so long future’ how they will be assisted, then you’ve won us. I’ve been to many gatherings talking about 2030 as if there’s some miracle we are going to see. 2030 is too far for the majority of the population. What about now?

Looking into 2015, can things change for the better? Does our government have feasible solutions to actually combat unemployment, specifically in the youth or are we still going to say the same thing come December 2015? Are we still going to see educated young people push each other on long queues applying for EPWP jobs? Are we still going to have young people who are educated but broke and unemployed?

I fear..

Step on the corruption scale

Say you were to step on the “corruption scale”, how much do you think you would weigh?

Just like most people, I have a problem with corruption in its diverse forms. In recent years, most of our media reporting has exposed corruption on all levels of government (be it local, provincial or national). Every week we hear of protests and rumours of protests against inadequate service delivery, often the result of corruption in local government.

And whilst a number of municipalities and leaders may be under corruption watch, I have to ask, are we any different to them?

Some 47% of South Africans say they have <a href=”http://www.corruptionwatch.org.za/content/almost-50-s-africans-paid-bribe-last-year” target=”_blank”>paid a bribe</a> in the last year. According to Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer 2013, securing essential services in South Africa means that a staggering 20% more of our population believes that this is the only course of action compared to the worldwide average of 27%.

What this means is that almost half of the country is participating in some form of corruption to access essential services. Believing ourselves to have no other choice, we pay our way out of trouble.

The barometer also asked respondents how they viewed the extent of corruption in twelve key institutions or categories – from political parties, to Parliament, military, NGOs, media, religious bodies, business, education systems, judiciary, health services, police and civil servants. A 24% increase in perceived corruption in religious bodies – surely the one area in our society that should be above reproach – paints a bleak picture.

Whilst many might debate the real causes behind citizens participating in some form of corruption, one has to consider the impact of historically pervasive disadvantage – a factor that remains to this day.

Take for instance a single, unemployed parent of five children – three of school-going age and two who have completed their education but have not yet found employment. They live in a two bedroomed RDP house and receive a monthly bill of R600 for municipal services, for water, rates and electricity. They’ve accrued a backlog of R25 000 on their account. Failure to pay results in the municipality cutting your electricity and reducing your water supply. As a result many people in this situation resort to paying bribes to municipal officers to reactivate their services. This may seem as an option considering the conditions at hand, however it is another form of corruption and it all starts there.

I encourage us to respect our institutions and make arrangements to pay our debt so that we can root out the influence of corruption in our society.

As a graphic designer, I was recently requested to forge the security certificate required for a tender submission in return for the promised “ke tla go fa ya colie” – the well-known shorthand “cash for a cool drink” that is an invitation to a dodgy deal. I admit I was tempted – until my ethical concerns held out. However, I equally have to admit that I still failed to find the courage to voice my disapproval.

One example most of us are familiar with is that of a traffic officer asking: “What’s in it for me?” It’s a “get out of jail free card”. However, it creates a platform for both you and the officer to contribute towards the advancement of corruption in our society. Like most crimes, corruption should be punished.

The problem with corruption is that it destroys prosperity by doubling the cost of the provision of services or doing business. A corrupt political, civil society, or business leader uses the opportunity to benefit improperly, as insurance for performance of duties.

Such leaders take advantage of their power to harbour resources unto themselves. Corruption has taken hold in all spheres – in both the public and private sectors, and even in religious institutions – that should function as the custodians of our national conscience.

We must hold corrupt officials accountable for their actions – even our Number 1, the president. However, if we are going to point fingers, we also have to look at our own actions and take responsibility for our own ethics. This means that each one of us too should refuse to receive or give a bribe.

It is possible to have a corruption-free nation if it starts with you and me.

Youth Entrepreneurship – A missing link to South Africa’s economic growth

Genuine entrepreneurs are the engine of sustainable economic growth and innovation in South African as a nation. Under proper governance and encouraging environment, they can make a pivotal contribution to the socio-economic development of the continent. However, entrepreneurs, particularly owning Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), have continued confronting formidable challenges.

With a high number of SMME falling within a period of 5 years, it is time for the economic burden to be lifted off the government and for entrepreneurship, diversification and individual empowerment to carry us forward.

Today the problems South Africa faces seem big, and it seems the only force strong enough to fight them is the government. We say this and yet we ignore the potential we have within us and if we come together, everyone contributing. For this to be achieved mobilization of resources and acting courageously is our only recourse.

The current rate of unemployment in South Africa estimated to be about 24% (CIA World Fact book, 2012) is unacceptable. South Africa currently has one of the highest unemployment rates internationally. Our economy had entered a period of “jobless growth”.

More and more of our young graduates are either unemployed or are placed in wrong positions. Research has shown that South Africa is facing structural unemployment and something needs to be done fast and now. South African youth over dependence on government to create jobs must come to an end. Not only are we having high rate of unemployment but always a very low entrepreneurial activity as compared to others developing nations (2009 GEM Report, entrepreneurial activity amongst male South African is about 7% and female about 5%).

The most affected by these rates are young graduates. They lack the necessary skills, inspiration, motivation and acumen to take advantage of their creative and innovative minds. There is lack of entrepreneurial culture and skills among South African Youth.

As a young entrepreneur, I’ve been late to meetings due to using public transport. I’ve needed someone to tell that “My project didn’t go well, what could have led to that?” I needed fast internet and data bundles not running out every now and then. At times I had to make calls to many companies recharging with different sim cards, comparing rates of various cellphone networks. I’ve been there.

I’ve however learned that there are 5 things any young person from a disadvantaged community needs for him/her to become a better entrepreneur:

1. A mentor

2. Access to internet and a telephone

3. Access to efficient transport

4. Healthy and nutritious food

5. Right network of people

With these 5 things firmly in place, you don’t need anything more.

Youth entrepreneurship is not something that would be ‘nice’ to have as a nation; it is a national imperative and the allocation of our national budget must reflect that; our schooling system must reflect that.”

Follow Abuti Rams on Twitter (@abutirams) & Facebook (www.fb.com/abutirams)

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