“I refuse to celebrate mediocrity!” says Pot to Kettle

I don’t understand the reaction to the recent matric results. Have we gotten so used to complaining? Are we so easily fooled to even complain about the good things that happen in our country? We are truly a twitter nation, making snap judgements based on headlines, dropping comments like they were change, and moving on to the next story to vent about.

The context

The grade 12 pass rate in 2012 was 73.9% and it increased in 2013 to 78.2%. That is a significant improvement by any measure. This has made people very excited, but the wrong kind of excited. The immediate reaction from some quarters was that the results were cooked before you factor anything else into it. Now add the fact that the Western Cape did not occupy one of the top two positions as it had in previous years. It did not come third either. It came in fourth place. Once you’ve absorbed that then factor in the fact that in 2013 the pass mark was dropped to 30%. That means you only need to know 30% of what you have been taught to advance from grade 12. These facts have strengthened the perception that the results were tampered with.  No wait, that’s a bit of an understatement. These facts have convinced people that the results were doctored. No, that’s not quite right either. These facts have solidified the fact that the ruling party have been for years now tampering with not just the results but with the students themselves and the teachers and the markers to ensure that in 2013 the pass rate would be 78%.

The Da Angie Code

Yes, there is a national conspiracy to ensure that weak students never write matric and thereby guaranteeing that the government can celebrate improved pass rates. It is a conspiracy that involves teachers, students and their parents. They have agreed, under coercion from the government, to hold back weak students in grades 10 and 11 so that they do not sit for matric exams the following year. Robert Ludlum, were he still alive, would be impressed with the ingenuity to pull this off. Imagine the number of people involved in this, and there has not been a single leak on social media! Think of the efficiency of the government agents that have infiltrated the school system. Here in South Africa! I cannot wait for the movie to be made. To the Conspiracy Theorists (now on referred as CT) this project is called ‘culling’ (yes the same word used to describe the practice of controlled killing of animals).

Is the dropout problem new in 2013?

The high (extremely high) dropout rate in students after grade 9 has been cited by them for this assertion (it is no longer a hypothesis, or even a theory it is now a fact as far as the CT are concerned). Roughly 500 000 students wrote the grade 12 exam in 2013. Twelve years prior when the class of 2013 started grade 1 there were about one million students who registered. That means 500 000 students did not even make it to matric to write the exam. That is a ridiculously high number. A study was done a few years ago and a committee formed to investigate the reasons for this drop out. One of the things they found was that the dropout rate in primary school is so small as to be negligible. Their findings are detailed in the above report. This was done in 2007, it is interesting that no one talked about culling back then. Another report is available from 2011. Again there was no talk of culling. One has to wonder why there is talk of it now. As if to suggest the high dropout has only affected the class of 2013 (less than half the kids who started school in 200 wrote exams in 2012). And it clearly shows that there is something seriously wrong with education in this country and how it is being managed. I am not disputing that. But to suggest a nation-wide government-led conspiracy, really?

Some say we are lagging behind other nations in the world and in the rest of Africa. Zimbabwe with all its problems has been used as an example for comparison. It has one of the highest literacy rates in Africa, significantly higher than South Africa and this is rightly due to their fantastic education system. Except it’s not so fantastic. In 2011 the primary school pass rate was 45%. The pass rate for O-levels (which is what they do after form 4 or grade 10, an equivalent of grade 12) was 19.5% in the same year. So maybe let’s stay clear of using Zimbabwe as a comparison.

What about the rest of the world? We are so far behind the likes of the UK that any comparison is ludicrous. From what I can gather, students are free to do whatever after grade 10 (form 4). Apparently only about 20% go on to form 6, our grade 12 equivalent. And then they decide how and when to complete their studies, with the average being 3 to 4 subjects being taken a year. The point is there are so many differences to the system itself that one cannot compare the two. Although in the states grade 11 and 12 are compulsory it is much the same in terms of comparison. Even between different states in the US there are differences in policy.

The (sudden) call for an investigation

Before we go on let’s address the other two factors that have led to conspiracy talk. Why is the fact that the Western Cape has dropped from number one to four matter in this case? Because it is the one province run by the opposition party and they just happen to be the ones screaming for an investigation into the results. As I’ve mentioned before this was the first year a call for an investigation has been heard regarding the improved results. If you take one and put it together with the other you can only come to one conclusion. Contrary to what other defendants of the results have said, I do not believe it is a race issue although I understand why they would say it is. Let’s face it as soon as you shout race it muddies the waters a bit and makes everything difficult from there onwards. It is purely a political decision. It is an election year and no good news from any party can be celebrated, especially when my party has not done as well as expected. That, I believe, is the reason for the call to investigate.

“And the other thing that everyone has been going on about?”

“Oh yes, the drop of the pass mark to 30%! Almost forgot about that.”

This article from a retired headmaster is the perfect read for you if you are in the stable that believes the drop to 30% is criminal and eroding the quality of education in this country. The pass mark in the previous regime was, wait for it, 331/3%.

“Wait, so we are complaining about a 31/3% drop?”

“Um, yes. Yes we are.”

“But people have been going on about 50%?!”

Yes they have, and they have been, and continue to be, wrong. The same people who went through that very same schooling system.

Some went to the trouble of quoting the FS University VC, “You no longer need 50% to pass certain subjects, which means that you can be completely ignorant of more than half of the subject matter content and still pass.”  Yeah, you never needed 50% on any subject, ever! I urge you to go into the DoE website and find out for yourself what the requirements for passing at each level are.

But the poor kids will struggle at varsity!

The final point I want to address is this fear that university students are being compromised by this. There is concern that kids going to university are being set up for failure. As in “these kids will get to university and fail.” Huh? The pass mark was dropped, not the university entrance requirements. A kid who passed with 34% or 30% is still not going to make it to tertiary. None of the kids who pass between 30% and 34% will be at university, so how has it affected university dropout rates? Again, you just have to check the DoE website and you will see that to get to university you need a 50% pass mark in at least four of your subjects, subjects that carry 20 credits. Keep in mind that universities determine their own entry requirements; this just makes you eligible to attend a university. So if they (the universities) have lowered their admission requirement to accept kids that are not suitable to study at university then they should be held to account (with Bra Blade if he’s involved). It’s got nothing to do with matric pass marks.

Cause for celebration

I choose to celebrate the fact that we have 8 provinces with greater than 70% pass rate and 4 at over 80%. I choose to celebrate the fact that we have 61950 more kids who passed matric than in 2012. I choose to celebrate the fact that we have 35708 more kids who achieved a bachelor’s pass and 20411 more who achieved a diploma pass than in 2012. I choose to celebrate the fact that the non-diploma and non-bachelor passes only account for 9.4% of the improvement from 2012. And if you believe in the conspiracy theory and the culling, then I suggest you get Dan Brown on the case although you may have more luck with Tom Eaton for this one.

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Twitter strikes again… and again

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It is sometimes such an excruciating experience but I always go back to it. It’s not quite an addiction yet but it’s getting close. It is true that it sometimes makes me laugh, and I can always find interesting (useless but interesting) facts about stuff and things. I can catch up on the latest sports news, find out how my team is doing (but I have the Supersport app for that?) and just read through people’s thoughts about anything and everything. Mostly nothing. These are people I don’t know, have never met and will never meet. But I want to know what they think about whatever. It’s a craving, but only sometimes. I can stop whenever I want. I can delete it whenever I want. I just choose not to. The fact that this is what every addict says is immaterial to the point I’m making. So you can stop looking at me with those judgemental eyes. Well you’re not looking at me because you can’t see me but I can feel you reading this with eyes full of judgement.

Anyway, where was before you interrupted? Ah yes, the excruciating pain of visiting twitter. I must admit it is nowhere near as bad as News24 and IOL. I mean if you want to be truly depressed and be driven to the verge of giving up on the human race then go read the comments section on IOL and News24. It doesn’t matter what the story is. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Just pick any story and scroll down to the comments section…

Depressing right? Twitter is not so bad. Perhaps because it’s designed for people with (a little) attention disorder and has such limited space and you need tons of attention and acres of space to spew out the negativity like the guys do on News24. Don’t get me wrong they do give it their best shot. But at least they choose their stories very carefully. Anything that is political is fair game. This includes any mention of any politician or pseudo-politician. Any good news about South Africa is also up for attack. And they will never strike alone, they get shipped in The Band Wagon with their fingers ready for war.

The latest band wagon: the matric results. How painful it was to read the tweets! And sure enough The Band Wagon rolled in, full steam (for some reason this band wagon runs on steam, strange). Until about 09:30 (that’s when it ran out of steam). And then everyone remembered they were at work or simply forgot about it. I’m going with they simply forgot. Tomorrow when something else is announced they will become experts in that too (everyone on twitter is an expert). A quick Google search and then they are throwing numbers on their timeline and barely-understood facts to make their point. Logic be damned! And dare to be the one being positive in the midst of all the negativity. They will attack you relentlessly; well they’ll stop and slink away once logic defeats them. But you get my point. Before you know it you are typing furiously asking questions that should be common sense.

I remember Heritage Day fondly. That was incredible. As in, it was beyond belief and not in a good way. The righteousness I witnessed that day was biblical (except it was on twitter so that’s a bit of hyperbole). People who were having a braai were called weak, lacking self-esteem, victims, confused, allowing our culture to be destroyed etc. It was so much fun to read! One person went as far as to say that we should be holding debates and discussions and reflecting and not braaing. I don’t know, I guess because September 24 is only one hour long and South African law dictates that there will be no discussion while having braai, the only talk allowed is sports, but no national teams must be mentioned, only clubs and provincial teams. But I’m moving away from the topic. The pain. The twitter pain.

But I can’t stay away from it. It gives such insight to the people we are living with. And this is important. If one day these people decided to use more than just their fingers for protest and a real revolution started it will be important to know how they think and their views on running the country and the world. Maybe they will start the revolution on twitter. Send so many tweets all at the same time that the government just breaks. So I’ll keep checking in, just in case.

Entrepreneurship and the route to economic freedom

We fear so much losing what little we have that we dare not take a stance against something we know is wrong, or to fight for something we know to be noble. We fail to see that we should have much more than what we have because we have had nothing for so long. We have fallen into the trap of thinking true economic liberation can only come from self-employment. This is what we have been taught to believe. This is what, at least in our country, is the prevailing wisdom.

In fact, it is so deeply ingrained that you might find it hard to reconcile these words with common sense. I mean, of course you need to be an entrepreneur to make it in this world, at least financially. Everyone knows that! I believe this to be very far from the truth. Or if not far from true then significantly skewed towards what is merely one alternative.

The richest in South Africa are entrepreneurs (but are not self-employed)

The list of the richest people in South Africa – and how much they are worth – from Forbes is mind boggling. Incidentally, there is only one black billionaire in this country. That’s one. In the entire top ten there are only two black people. And there are no females.

Rupert is the chairman of Richemont and Remgro; Gore is CEO of Discovery; Bekker is Naspers CEO; Ackerman was chairman of Pick ‘n Pay; Dippenar is chairman (and co-founder) of First Rand Group; Oppenheimer was chairman of De Beers before he sold it for $5.1 billion in cash; GT is also co-founder of First Rand; Saad is co-founder and CEO of Aspen; Wiese is executive director for Shoprite which he bought for R1M; Gray is the founder of Allan Gray; Noutton is chairman of PSG (his son is CEO); Sacco inherited Assore Group from his father; Attridge is co-founder and deputy CEO of Aspen; Ramaphosa chairman and founder of Shanduka Group; and Motsepe owner of ARM.

Although they are all CEO’s or Chairmen of their respective companies they are also co-founders of these companies or they got very lucky with some risky investments. I’m not an economist so I will not try to analyse their situations and what allowed them to make it when so many others did not. Maybe you can read Jim Collins’ Built To Last and Good To Great for that. The point is that it is clear that some form of entrepreneurship was vital in making these men as wealthy and successful as they are. So at this point I want to clarify: there is a difference between entrepreneurship and being self-employed.

The difference between an entrepreneur and being self-employed

There was some research done to try to understand why self-employed people in the US on average earn less than their salaried counterparts. What the researchers found was that they had to separate entrepreneurs from other types of the self-employed by “disaggregate(ing) the self-employed into two groups—the incorporated and unincorporated.” They described the incorporated as having “limited liability” and “a separate legal identity”. This simply means you have your own business but you are owned by a bigger corporation or they have a significant stake in your company. The research they found was that these individuals earn 28% more than their salaried counterparts. They found that unincorporated self-employed individuals earned less than their salaried counterparts. Interesting.

They also found that successful incorporated entrepreneurs were successful salaried employees before they ventured out on their own and that those who remained unincorporated were never successful as salaried employees. Very interesting.

Entrepreneurs in the corporate world

We’ve heard about the incorporated self-employed, what about entrepreneurs in the corporate world? Can they exist? The answer, if you buy into the above argument of incorporated self-employed, is that of course they can and they do. In fact, I would argue that what encourages them to leave and start their own businesses is a recognition that the corporate world is holding them back from achieving their goals of changing the world. The same researchers found that there are have been organisations for a while now, long before Google and Apple that actively encouraged the spirit of entrepreneurship within their employees because they understood the role these people played in the success of the organisation. And think about these guys mentioned above. They are the leaders of their organisations. Is it not feasible and even probable that they will be looking for people like them to continue their businesses? I see a trend in corporate towards building a culture of entrepreneurship. The more forward thinking organisations have this already inculcated in their people and it is a key factor for new hires.

But for some reason we view people who stay in the corporate world as not being brave enough to tackle the outside world on their own. We use terms like the rat race (I saw a poster saying that even if you win the rat race you’re still a rat!). We make being self-employed sound sexy and earning a salary sound boring. You even see it with your friends and acquaintances. They walk around like heroes with the slightest bit of self-importance around them. It’s like people who have this insatiable need to tell everyone how difficult their MBA is while they’re doing it and how hard it is to have to attend lectures after-hours. MBAeish!

The sad thing is I used to feel inferior somehow (I could never really understand the exactly how I was inferior) for not following my friends’ and former colleagues examples of starting my own business. I think about it now and there really is no reason that I can see right now to leave the corporate world and start my own business. If a company is no longer fulfilling my passions then I need to find one that will. I need to rise high enough in the organisation to be able to influence decisions on things like culture change, contribution to economic development, the building of leaders in-house and whatever else you may be passionate about. And if you are truly entrepreneurial you will know when corporate is no longer sufficient to fulfil your passions and then you will build your own little corporate or big corporate to satisfy those passions. Not because you want to make money!

There is nothing less inspiring than money. I had a debate with my little cousin some time back. He was adamant that his goal in life is to make money. I asked why he wants to make money. He was unable to answer not because he didn’t have an answer but because he felt it was self-explanatory. It is not. If you one of those people whose goal is to ‘make a lot money’ ask yourself why? Why do you want to make money? Is it so you can be comfortable? If so would you accept other sources of this comfort other than money? Is it to provide for your kids? I would argue that staying in corporate is the best way to do this. You can’t get any more stability than that. Ask yourself why you want to make money and then stop focussing on the money and start focussing on the reason!

This is where the economical difference between an entrepreneur and someone who is self-employed. The entrepreneur is not focussed on being self-employed for the sake of being self-employed or for the sake of making money. They engage in entrepreneurship because they thrive on invention and innovation, on creating and finding needs to fulfil. A Forbes reader commenting on an article about entrepreneurship wrote that an entrepreneur has “an insatiable need to make the world a better place through… improved services or products.” Richard Branson said “There is no point in going into a business unless you can make a radical difference in other people’s lives.”

So the next time you feel under pressure to ‘start your own business’ think about whether you will be changing the world or not. Think about what difference you will make in this country with your invention. Think about the impact you have in your current job and whether or not you can do more. Ask yourself if you have not been successful in the corporate world where you are given all the resources at your disposal what makes you think you will be successful on your own with significantly less resources. Think about your driving passion and if it is compelling enough for you to say fuck it I’m doing it.

Religion and Politics: A Dangerous Marriage/Working and Travelling in Africa

Before I deactivated my Facebook account (which is now reactivated :-)) I had quoted one of Stephen King’s characters from The Mist: “As a species we’re fundamentally insane. Put more than two of us in a room, we pick sides and start dreaming up reasons to kill one another. Why do you think we invented politics and religion?”
This is not my quote. This is from a work of fiction. But clearly it is an idea the author has thought about (but does not mean that he believes it). There was a time when it made sense to me. And it still does to a large extent. But I am older and wiser (I hope) and have a slightly better understanding of both religion and politics. They both (need to) exist to bring us together towards a common vision to create a better world than we live in today. Religion brings us together and politics keeps us on the path to achieve our collective vision. And with my better understanding of these concepts is the realisation that they can and sometimes are being used for evil purposes. And so I would rephrase it slightly to read: “As a species we’re fundamentally insane. Put more than two of us in a room and the most insane of us will force us to pick sides and use religion and politics to dream up reasons to kill one another.”
This is a very cynical way of looking at things, but after the attacks in Kenya and Nigeria how much can you really argue against it?

Shoppers leaving the mall with their hands up to show they're not carrying weapons. From DailMail Online.
I wrote before that I had fallen in love with Africa. It is a difficult love. Imagine coming home every day to your wife or your husband knowing there’s a possibility s/he will snap and kill everyone in the house. What would you do, stop coming home? Sleep with your own AK-47 under the mattress? You may think it’s farfetched and ridiculous. But when you get to Nigeria for the first time and you are escorted by armed guards to your hotel, or you arrive in Zanzibar and read about the tourists that had acid thrown at them in the streets, well you begin to wonder. And when 67 people are killed in a relatively cosmopolitan city in Kenya in a shopping mall, people like you and I, then wonder turns to belief.
This is what travelling into Africa has become. Sometimes it’s not as easy as divorcing your spouse and not coming home. Sometimes you love them too much to leave them.
And what if love is not enough? Well, the answer to that is it has to be enough. Some of us may have the luxury of the option to live somewhere else. The rest of us must recognise that not coming home is not an option, that Africa needs us as much as we need her. But first we must accept our fundamental insanity and understand how easily religion and politics can be manipulated to exploit that very insanity within us.
I love my country and I will continue to nurture my growing love for Africa. Not despite the recent attacks but because of them.

Aerial-view-of-Westgate-Shopping-Centre-2307561

Travels With Ced – Cape Town: Table Mountain

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So after gallivanting through the Kirstenbosch Gardens we went up the mountain! What a view! As good as, if not better, the view of Rio De Janeiro from the top of Corcovado.
The most beautiful site though was not the mountain, or the flowers growing up there against the odds, or the view of the city and the stadium or even the trip up there on the cable car. This honour was reserved for the guy who asked his girlfriend to marry him and the girl who said Yes right at the top of the mountain!

Travels With Ced – Cape Town: Kirstenbosch Gardens

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The Kirstenbosch Gardens are in Cape Town right at the foot of Table Mountain. With over 22 000 indigenous plants it is also one of the most famous. The fact that it has won gold in 29 out of the 33 entries made at the Chelsea Flower Show is not bad either.
I had the pleasure of visiting this garden for a day. It was a magical experience for sure.

Elysium

Just saw the movie Elysium and I thought it was great. There were a few ideas that the movie shared though that some people, especially critics, did not agree with.

They make the concept of the (super) rich building a space station where they can get away from the poverty and filth and other undesirable living conditions to preserve their way of life seem outlandish if not quite ridiculous. I live in South Africa and although the rich are not building space stations quite yet they are trying very hard to preserve their way of life in other ways. This is how progress in SA works: You get a child growing up in the township much like what you see depicted in both Elysium and District 9 (no surprise here since Neil Blomkamp is South African) in relative poverty; that child if he or she is lucky enough is gifted intellectually or on the sports field or just very hard working and therefore manages to work their way out of the township; this person has now joined the middle class so they move to the suburbs. At the same time with growing urbanisation the poor start building their homes close to these suburbs, their homes being shacks of course, the poor cannot afford brick houses. The existence of these shacks is an eyesore for the rich who prefer their views from the bedroom window to be that little stream from the lake, or the beach or that lovely grassy hill that the sun rises out of in the mornings. It is also a heavy blow to property value seen by the rich as an investment and the not-so-rich as a roof over their and a place to lay their tired bodies after a day at work (or looking for work but we’re getting too political here – back to the point). And having lived in relative security all this time due to the fact that in the previous administration the rich and poor were very nicely separated, they start being exposed to crime. So they move out and sell their home to, well the new middle class (which if you are paying attention is the group of people from the township). These guys don’t mind one or two shacks here or there. A bit of crime although annoying is not a deterrent either. If anything, it’s better than where they come from. So they move in. The rich pool their resources together and build a nice new gated community with security and such exorbitantly high property prices that in and around the area that they have all but guarantee their way of life, at least in their homes. The problem is that everyone aspires to better and more. It is the human condition. Being in the middle class is only fashionable for so long until you aspire to more. You become tire of the crime eventually; you decide you don’t want to expose your kids to any crime. So you work harder, earn more money, start your own business and before the rich know it you have moved into the gated community with your middle class tendencies. Is it so farfetched that the super-rich will one day find a way to elevate themselves to apposition that is truly unattainable? If we are building millionaires faster than we are getting rid the truly despot, the poor will eventually overrun the rich. Real estate is limited if you hadn’t noticed. Unless they go to space. Simplistic view but you get the point.