Empowerment stops exploitation, but raises political risk

Political risk affects business, labour, state, and the public. Political vandalism of infrastructure requires a social risk assessment, and culture change.

Mabila Mathebula unpacks political unrest in the context of political empowerment, and notes some American precedents to the growth pains of South African democracy, and its flip side, entitlement.

Political risk is difficult to assess. It fluctuates in frequency and severity, and has many immeasurable effects on productivity, motivation, corporate culture, and thus on health and safety behaviour.

The effects of empowerment on behaviour at work are also difficult to assess. It easily flips over to the unsustainable side of the coin, selective entitlement, and selective state suppression. When the coin flips over, it is war, and truth, along with health, safety, environment and quality, are the first casualties.

Among the incidents warning us of political risk in a time of fluid alliances, and uncertain industrial relations, are the recent burning of schools and trains, as well as university campus violence.

Collectively we do not seem to have learned from the Marikana massacre, where truth, Sheq, workplace culture, and part of the economy were among the casualties left bleeding on the ground.

Empowerment efforts are more often than not paved with good intentions, but the downside to empowerment is gross ignorance on the part of ‘empowerees’ (the people being turbo-charged with empowerment), about the benefits and risks of the empowerment process.

This was aptly put by William Shakespeare in one of his powerful lines: “Ingratitude is monstrous”. Empowerment’s worst enemy is the people who are being empowered.

Would people who value national empowerment, torch schools, libraries, trains, and places of historical importance, such as Timbuktu in Mali?

When the collective anger of people works them up towards destroying national assets, and when we fall into the traps of factionalism, then we are anything but empowered.

Any person who has read Booker T Washington’s autobiography; Up from Slavery, 1900; or Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1852, exposing the evils of slavery, would attest that education is the greatest equaliser.

Do people who burn libraries, trains and schools know that their future depends on education, and a sustainable transportation system?

Do they know that vandalism leads to servitude and rural economy, that is not sustainable with our population numbers? Do they want to turn back the global clock to before the Middle Ages?

It took an abolitionist like Abraham Lincoln to dismantle slavery, eventually opening the floodgates of talent for slaves to be numerate and literate.

Slavery was not only of an exercise of hobbling someone with the chains of hard labour, it was also an exercise of dehumanising people by prohibiting them from reading, writing, and getting white collar jobs, and the power that goes with it.

Booker T Washington captures this appropriately: “I had no schooling whatever while I was a slave; though I remember on several occasions I went as far as the schoolhouse door with one of my young mistresses to carry her books.

health and safety issues
Any issues impacting on the workplace could legally be considered as ‘matters of mutual interest’, and may accordingly lead to industrial action. Labour and the state both have to maintain a balance between self-interest and social interests.
The Marikana massacre is an extreme example of how delicate democratic procedures are.

Education is the way to paradise

“The picture of several dozens of boys and girls in a schoolroom engaged in study made a deep impression upon me; and I had the feeling that to get into a schoolhouse and study in this way would be about the same as getting into paradise”.

The long frustrated wish of emancipated slaves was to first acquire education; after they had acquired education they could do the rest. In contrast, some of our people want to do the rest whilst relegating education to the background.

When we burn schools how will we achieve goal number two of the Millennium Developmental Goals? Is it possible to achieve universal primary education at the rate we are moving?

According to the World Bank, education has been singled out as a goal of overpowering importance – educating children, particularly girls, has the greatest impact on eradicating poverty.

Research has shown that an extra year of secondary schooling for girls could increase their future wages by 10% to 20%.

It is interesting to note that the World Bank has placed education as its top priority for a period bordering on 51 years, and the bank is the largest external financer of education in the developing world.

An American teacher, Ms Bessie Taylor, sounded a warning: “If you don’t read, you can’t write, and if you can’t write, you can stop dreaming”.

One may surmise that because slaves were not allowed to read and write their dreams were most likely not realisable.

History records that wherever Abraham Lincoln went, he carried a book in his pocket; to him books were sacrosanct.

A Hindu saying goes: “A wave grieves over its separation from the ocean; and yet when its grief subsides it realises that it is the ocean”.

I hope that sanity will prevail and we will realise that we are part of humanity and whatever we do to strands of life we also do to ourselves.

If we burn schools we are not destroying property but we are mortgaging the future of our children; when irate passengers vent their anger on railway property is not the railways that are being damaged but we are destroying a sustainable transport system for future generations.

England’s transport system was superb, not because of her wealth, but because of the behaviour of the citizens. That does not mean that they are problem-free.

What does violence and loss achieve under democracy?

The difference between us and them is that we believe that violence solves problems, and they believe that constructive engagement solves problems.

In addition, they believe that government property belongs to the people and future generations. Whereas we believe that government property belongs to the government and not the people, and that government funds are infinite.

It is high time that Africans agreed that uncontrolled anger channelled at government property is an indication of horrible wounds crying out for healing.

There can be no cure without a correct diagnosis, or in Sheq terms, an incident investigation. Why do irate protestors take out their anger on state property?

Slaves were emancipated in America, but there isn’t a cure for self-servitude because there is no longer a slave owner; the slave is self-owned.

The world is carefully watching us and we can no longer blame white people for our infernal actions. Jared Taylor in his book, Paved with Good Intentions, enhances this view.

When black children drop out of school, the given explanation is that teachers are insensitive to their needs.

When black people commit crime, oppression and poverty are cited as reasons for the crime.

When black people are unemployed the normal reaction is that white businesses are prejudiced against them.

When we burn trains and schools who should shoulder the blame?

In a society that is falling apart, where the centre can no longer hold, self-criticism could produce self reformation.

People should rise up and proclaim sanity among all South Africans: perhaps we could save this country! In the words of Allan Paton: “People arise! The world is dead!”

• Mabila Mathebula is a senior researcher at the South African Railway Safety Regulator (RSR). He writes on Sheqafrica.com and in other publications, in his personal capacity.
• This post is an extract from an article in The Thinker, 2013, volume 50, p53; Are Africans drifting back into servitude?

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Mabila Mathebula

Mabila Mathebula (BA North West University, BA Hon UNISA, MBA Milpark Business School, Post Graduate Diploma in Advanced Project Management at Cranefield College), is currently engaged in a PhD study in construction health and safety management.
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