South Africa’s Whitewashed Equality

But the decision of striking it out on your own is heavily influenced by your attitude toward risk, your role models and your community’s expectations. Can you even understand the barriers to equal opportunity in entrepreneurship that community and personal mentalities impose on someone who’s grown up in a society characterised by  generational destitution versus someone who’s been surrounded by successful businesspeople?

What this argument should illustrate is that there exists an inherent tension between equality of opportunity and equality of outcomes.

Being aware that inequality of outcomes limits our ability to ensure a society that strives for equality of opportunity, we may need to adopt policies that prima facie work against equality of opportunity. For example, we need AA appointments in companies so that that person will one day be in management and able to say, “These are the difficulties people growing up in the townships of Eldorado Park face. I understand them and so I am not adverse to the person who offers me a soft handshake and I love talking with her about memories of shisa nyama on Sundays.”

To what extent we need to make that trade-off depends on how well we understand the lives of our fellow countrymen. Unfortunately in South Africa, there are few public spaces we all interact in, few public goods we all share and cross race, class and cultural understanding must be one of the poorest in the world.

This reality needs to inform our discussions of policy in general. When we consider policies like a year of compulsory community service for school-leavers, most of the debate surrounds the economic impact but what about the role such a policy would have in creating a space where the poor and the rich, Black and White, interact?

Or should all school-goers learn an African language? While personally I thought it was a terrible idea, with little to no direct economic benefit; I have come to realise that perhaps in the context of allowing our future power brokers to interact and understand South Africa on the average South African’s term, it could be immensely valuable.



By: Michael Fargher