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BSTEP (Black, Science, Technology and Engineering Professionals) is a non-profit advocacy organisation with the aim of advancing black excellence in Science, Engineering, Technology and Innovation

Introspection: The demands of our shared future

"How shall Integrity face oppression? What shall Honesty do in the face of Deception, Decency in the face of Insult, and self-defence before Blows? How shall Desert and Accomplishment meet Despising, Detraction, and Lies? What shall Virtue do to meet Brute Force? There are so many answers and so contradictory; and such differences for those on the one hand who meet questions similar to this once a year or once a decade, and those who face them hourly and daily."

W.E.B. Du Bois

Social justice is a difficult subject to discuss, especially if the prerequisite for all discussions is to seek to understand justice from the perspective of the most vulnerable (the poor, the destitute and challenged). The marginalised that we seldom stop to think about when we shape economic policy and political decisions. What is justice for the majority of people in the country, over 30 million of them are living in under R700 a month? What becomes of us, when we can subject parts of our society to the margins of bad decisions, as they remain the voiceless?

As Mandela said, "Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings." 

We have witnessed first-hand how dire political decisions, can become for the poor. The toil defining individual circumstances of the poor can be affected by a wide variety of external factors, but our politics and race relations needs to get in check before it's too late. We still default to the obvious perceived poverty traps of inequality, political ineptitude, corruption, a slow growing economy and unemployment, making me wonder, if as a nation, we have wrestled with the epigraph from W.E.B. Du Bois?

How does integrity face oppression?

If poverty is the oppressor, as a case in point, consider the failure of moral, intellectual and economic integrity in the fight against poverty. Moral integrity has waived to levels betraying the poor and corruption is breeding an unsustainable future for our society. How else does anyone justly make peace with:

1. One of the biggest casinos in the land opening adjacent to a high school and private colleges despite civil society protests?

2. High levels of road fatalities, with endless reports of impropriety around the licensing process and system?

3. A police force noted for flaunting the law and taking bribes from the public with a brazen attitude?

4. A government out of touch with people, endlessly defending itself from a list of improper transactions and weak decisions?

Intellectual integrity is about remaining true to the development of a people despite all pressures dictating other priorities. The biggest colonialism issue currently oppressing South Africa is an intellectual one. The new colonial master has managed to shape how ideas are commercialised in South Africa. Our institutions and research agencies have failed to translate ideas into businesses fuelling the economy and creating jobs. Secondly, academia has become quiet with a loud silence on issues that should be shaping South Africa. Where are the sociologists of this era to define a nation building path for the country, economists to wrestle with economic development ideas, scientists to toil with knowledge enquiries shaping productivity? Finally, where is the South African intellectual stamp shaping the South African dream? Oh I wail in torment for integrity has failed as oppression evolves.

What does decency do in the face of Insults?

Human Rights Day, Spur incident withstanding, why is our default to insult each other when it comes to class and race relations? There are conversations with a historic connotation that covers generations with despair and unintended consequences. Case in point is a generation that left school under bantu education without completing high school to work at mines and manufacturing companies. A parallel process to the action was a pass law that also demanded that they had jobs.

The social scourge that followed the youth at that time would be a working class that fathered and neglected multiple babies by multiple women. This is an unfortunate episode in the history of our people, but it is further aggravated by the idea that these incidences and other related ones are a reflection of blackness. The idea that all black people are inherently neglectful. I mention this because far too many times we turn to talk out of turn and end up being insulting to those affected. Certain conversations, black people should have on their own, in as much as other conversations white people should discuss off sight.

To this end I am yet to witness, black South Africans take kind to the irresponsible father criticism (leading to the some good in colonialism sentiment) by Helen Zille or the laziness criticism by African expats into the country. In as much as I am yet to see whites, take kind to the idea of being racist, or oppressors or being privilege maybe until we get a Bernie Sanders version to do it, it remains a sensitive area. Decency has become undone in the face of insults and the justice for the poor has been postponed. Surely we can find a way to decency, when it comes to how our conversations are shaped.

Honesty in the face of Deception

Decency does not mean compromising on telling the truth. What is speaking truth to power and who is the preacher? Government need to be confronted with truth, where it fails. The ineptitude and corruption tag have been long held on government. These have proven to be deserved for the political and government leadership in pockets. This honesty cannot be misdirected and as a country our poor deserves more.

By the same token, I should be able to speak truth to business power. For instance there is a ceiling on black people becoming company directors within listed SA companies. The Jack Hammer report suggest that black executives represent 21% of top SA companies, this definition of black should be understood as none white. When this question is brought up the answer is that they have no experience and industries know-how.

This held true for a period, however a 41-48 year old today would have been starting university in 1991, around the same time black people would have been entering the same institutions as white people. So Sam Maseko at Telkom as CEO at 47, and his success should be a measure for the scope for black people to enter these spaces. However out of 20 or so CEOs from SA's top 100 companies between the age of 35 and 48, he is still the only one. So let's be honest, black people are denied access to certain levels of the economy, that's it.

How shall Desert and Accomplishment meet Despising, Detraction, and Lies?

Our biggest goal toward the poor is to improve their prospects and productivity. Essentially we need to improve, for all races, their demographic dividend. Demographic dividend occurs when the proportion of working people in the total population is high because this indicates that more people have the potential to be productive and contribute to growth of the economy. Thus we need to be creating a rewarding economic system with accomplishment for the many. This should be done with urgency and the propensity it requires. However we need to start dispelling the lies that have entangled us into a race war that shifted our focus from a nation we should be building. We need to be brutally forthright where failures exist and stay true to the goal of delivering social justice to the poor.

How does virtue confront brute force?

"Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters." Benjamin Franklin

A virtuous society recognises that there is a standard to be upheld to achieve and maintain a successful society. This expectation is also rooted in moral agency, of all citizens. We as a society, cannot burn schools to make a point, fear foreign neighbours for their economic accomplishments, or society that hates because of race. We need to start making small adjustments as society wavers, and this starts with a virtuous people. If we as a people are not virtuous enough to recognise the deterioration in our society, and we let go of our moral code, then the vicious circle of impropriety, will lead to totalitarian control, to fill the void.

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Monday, 18 January 2021

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