It has been almost three decades since South Africa was declared a democratic state. Like many colonised states, the taste of independence brought a lot of euphoric moments. This moment marked new changes for the previously marginalised communities, as it is commonly known that promises for a new nation were made as part of the prospective government’s manifestos. Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu called South Africa a Rainbow Nation because of its multicultural society, which also functions as a way to heal the country’s most broken souls and forge a new journey.
As the current government worked with international parties to restore peace and bring liberation to the country, there were and are still high expectations that inclusivity would be its central policy, given its traumatic history of segregation and discrimination. However, many black South Africans, specifically the youth, face much exclusion in multiple sectors of the economy. But what happens when a government promises its youth better succeeding opportunities and fails to fulfil that? Do we blame the government? Do we blame the country’s apartheid history? Basically, what is the meaning of democracy when inequality exists in almost every fibre of the existing system?
One cannot look at this current situation and not think of Steve Biko’s words about the totality of white supremacy, which appeared in his Book I Write What I Like. Biko observes: “The whites have locked up within a small minority of themselves the greater proportion of the country’s wealth. If we have a mere change of face of those in governing positions what is likely to happen is that black people will continue to be poor, and you will see a few blacks filtering through into the so-called bourgeoisie. Our society will be run almost as of yesterday.” Although Biko was writing this during the 1970s, his words resonate with what is currently observable in South Africa. You would swear this man foresaw the country’s future because this is what is happening. The previously existing system still runs the government with new faces to shadow the truth. There is a limited number of transformations. Those who were poor during apartheid still make up a large number of impoverishment. The current government is doing little to fix these issues.
So, Are we there yet? Has the past legislature been dismantled for reparation? Why do we still have an uneven distribution of opportunities? It is pretty challenging to grapple with the fact that the youth born in 1994 is described as “Born-frees” because this label does not resonate with most of them. It brainwashes young black South Africans because, as Clinton Chauke observes, young black South Africans are born in chains and working to free themselves.
The current government has been unable to change things. This is part of the postcolonial states stuck with colonialism’s trauma, and the most affected youth are expected to deal with the cultural trauma. This cultural trauma emphasises black inferiority and white superiority.
A significant issue is educational polarisation. We all know that education is known to be the key to success. But what happens when it is unevenly distributed? Given the country’s racial polarisation, it is not hard to notice that this polarisation has existed surreptitiously. Young black South Africans seem to have it worse.
South Africa’s educational system is skewed and very polarised. For example, the education delivered in government schools, primarily for African pupils, and private or Model-C schools, primarily for White children, differs. Government schools have few or no resources to teach children, and students receive a subpar education compared to private schools. The success rate of young black South Africans is nearly nonexistent because of this unequal educational system. They also have a weak curriculum and development, making it difficult for the parties engaged in teaching and learning. This is seen in the academic achievement of these students. Compared to non-African pupils, many African students struggle to understand the curriculum.
Consequently, some have tried to advocate for the medium of instruction to be changed to help students understand the content (i.e., using the student’s home language to teach and learn). However, none has been made to try these suggestions. Also, even if they attempt them, the pupil will still have issues enrolling in higher education institutions where the medium of instruction is strictly English, with others such as Northwest University that use Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in other programs.
Despite efforts to increase tertiary access for young black people. Especially with the introduction of the National Students Financial Aid Scheme as a bursary scheme. Young black South Africans fight for educational inclusion. This unequal education system has led to the 2016 #FeesMustFall movement that sought to fight for equality within the higher education sector, which appears to be the territory for white supremacy to manifest and be unchallenged.
As a result, the unemployment rate among Africans with higher degrees has more than doubled in the last 20 years, rising from 8% to 19%. According to a news statement issued on April 29, 2015, by the South African Institution of Race Relations: Unemployment appears to be the single attribute that African Born Frees share the most. The same is valid with coloured Born Frees.
Unemployment may also be the most critical factor distinguishing African and coloured Born Frees from whites and Indians/Asians. Rising unemployment may also explain why income disparity has grown among Africans and people of colour after 1996, while it has decreased among whites and Indians/Asians. This illustrates how the Polarisation within the educational system of South Africa undermines the progress of the African youth. The cause of this could be that many young black people cannot provide official documents of their qualifications to their potential employers. This failure is because of the debt these individuals have to universities. This makes one wonder if universities are diversified.
Black students face social isolation in higher education institutions that appear predominantly white. Most young Black South African students rely on the National Students Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) to further their education. However, because it leaves students with unpaid tuition, the plan has been unable to assist students in need adequately. Many words have been submitted as the system becomes overloaded by its tasks. The government has failed to find answers to the shortages that afflict many young African graduates. They have little prospect of finding work unless they can show confirmation of their academic credentials. So, what is happening to liberalism, which the ruling party immensely advocates?
It may be seen that the current educational system of South Africa is unfavourable for young black South Africans, who make up the majority of the population with high levels of unemployment. Those who get employment must support their families, who rely on them. This makes it challenging for them to build generational wealth that will improve their livelihoods. So, are we there yet? No, we are not even close to being there yet. Countless issues need to be resolved. Youth empowerment is essential and should be prioritised, and this can be done if the education system can be fixed to accommodate equal success.
It is needless to mention that public schools need more educational resources. This includes qualified and competent teachers, enough textbooks, and computers. Hence, as a take-home suggestion, schools must have mandatory practical and theoretical lessons to help learners understand what they are learning.