Monday, June 20, 2011

A Famous Grouse: June 18

Latest Weekend Argus column. As submitted for publication. -- AD

A STUDENT from the University of the Witwatersrand emailed this week with a query about Julius Malema. Was it I who had first called the ANC Youth League president “Jelly Tsotsi”, and if so, could I provide her with the background to this appellation?

I happily replied that, yes, I was the clever pants who came up with that one, and explained that the play on words -- slapping “tsotsi” into the brand name of popular children’s sweets -- suggested that, as a political figure, Malema was both rather immature and something of a thug.

Now that I think about it, there could be other inferences. The “jelly-like” nature of this fruit-flavoured confection -- they’re soft and chewy -- suggests, if not spinelessness, then a certain lack of foundation. A wobbliness, if you will. Figuratively and literally. In Malema, that is, and not the sweets.

But the email pleased me. Not only had she carefully selected the best person to help her with her homework, but here at least was one student who was learning something useful. I began to re-evaluate my opinions about the youth -- perhaps they were not all rubbish and crap, as I’d imagined at the beginning of the week.

What sparked the rancour was a television interview with ANCYL secretary-general Vuyiswa Tulelo ahead of the league’s national conference, in which she burbled on smugly that the youth could no longer be ignored because they have arrived, or some such inanity.

More’s the pity, of course, but the self-importance and arrogance that tripped from the mouth of this slug-like woman was almost too much to bear, and the slough of despond into which I was unceremoniously plunged was yea deep to say the least.

It got worse. Naturally. Jelly himself was all over the place in the run up to the conference, full of belligerent posturing as he lashed out at the Cosatu and SA Communist Party leaderships, accusing them of failing to lead the workers and having the temerity to to criticise the league’s mines nationalisation policy, which they claim is nothing more than a scheme to bail out debt-laden BEE fat cat mine owners.

Another of Jelly’s targets this week was the Minister in the Presidency, Trevor Manuel, presumably because he holds the view that, when it comes to the economy, the youth league president is perhaps something of a half-brained, jumped-up windbag who has somehow convinced himself that, because he has an opinion about something, he is an expert. I’m guessing here, of course. I could be wrong. Perhaps Manuel secretly believes that Jelly should be managing the International Monetary Fund.

But moving on, as we must. The youth. What good are they?

Not much, according to the overview of the country recently released by Manuel’s National Planning Commission. Here, indeed, was bleak reading. That slough of despond? It just got slougher. We are deep in the brown stuff.

We have failed to give them a decent education, according to the report. “Apart from a small minority of black children who attend formerly white schools, and a small minority of schools performing well in largely black areas, the quality of public education remains poor. Literacy and numeracy test scores are low by African and global standards, despite the fact that [the] government spends about 6% of GDP on education and South Africa's teachers are among the highest paid in the world (in purchasing-power parity).”

Learners in historically white schools do better, but at most schools with black learners, “the learner scores start off lower, and show relatively little improvement between grades three and five’, the report states.

“[Though] there have been some improvements, as measured by the pass rate of those who sat the 2010 matriculation exam, which was 67.8%, this hides the fact that only 15% achieved an average mark of 40% or more. This means that roughly 7% of the cohort of children born between 1990 and 1994 achieved this standard.”

All of which means that we have another “lost generation” here, a whole bunch of casualties destined to wander the dusty byways of the country, incapable of doing much other than stare at people in cars. It’s a bloody horrible thought.

But there is hope. Consider this: about 40 000 youngsters crammed into Soweto’s Orlando Stadium to celebrate National Youth Day. About 35 000 of them left in disgust before President Jacob Zuma bothered to pitch up, four hours late. They’d learnt a very valuable lesson -- politicians utterly despise people, they really do.
And maybe as he arrived at the almost deserted venue, with its red carpet strewn with rubbish, the president had learnt something as well.

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