Journalism training usually includes the injunction to not be afraid to ask for clarification when you are interviewing someone.

If you as a reporter or journalist do not understand what is being told to you, why should your audience, reader, listener understand it?  In tandem with that goes the instruction to be more persistent in asking the ‘why’ question – to ask people why they are taking a certain action or why they believe what they believe.

This is a difficult hurdle for all but the most talented of inexperienced journalists to overcome. It’s particularly difficult in an authoritarian or hierarchical society that kowtows to those who wield political or traditional power, regardless of their ridiculousness (yes, I am thinking of Fikile the Fantasist Mbalula, here), unduly reveres experts (usually those who share their views), that defers to people who parlay a Phd into a stick with which to beat lesser intellectuals and other mortals.

So in the spirit of ‘no question is a stupid question’, here’s some questions I’d like to know the answer to.

When should minorities be assisted in attaining equal rights and protected from discrimination?

When should they be cast aside as so much unwanted luggage on our voyage to Utopia?

What is the end goal of transformation?

I am increasingly aware that 7.7% of the population of South Africa is officially regarded as not being worthy of appointment to management positions in the private sector (it has long been ignored in the government sector except for a handful of surviving liberation strugglistas).

It is also regarded by many people as not having much right to accrued assets and property, or in fact citizenship. So it’s no wonder many – with some means and skills – are joining other South Africans from the middle class and the media/super rich/intellectual elite in exiting the country for greener and less fenced off pastures.


This week there was a nasty little blurt by the Public Investment Corporation over the appointment of a white man as CEO of ABSA Bank. It was disappointed an opportunity for ‘transformation’ had been missed.

It’s the age-old problem of majority rule democracies, I suppose. How do you give minorities a share of the cake when the majority of the crowd is howling for all of it? 

It would seem the yardstick normally used is whether the minority is perceived to have power or not. Or perhaps whether it is useful to you as the holder of power.

No one these days can accuse the African National Congress of being perceptive, mindful of the consequences of its actions, of making sound choices for the country.

I am left to presume it has simply judged whites as too powerful a minority, with a tendency to pop up in powerful positions, and best got rid of, at least from prominence.

What does that augur for other minority groups, whether coloured, Khoi, San, South Africans of Indian descent or a tribal group, whose members may become prominent or successful?

If the progress of one minority group is threatened and impeded, surely other minority groups will also feel threatened, and be driven to coalesce against the majority?

The ANC has helped preserve minority groups with its unblushing adherence to the racial classification pioneered by its race nationalist predecessors. It is determined to achieve transformation using its handmaidens of race classification and the binary genders (for now), as well as the ‘Is this one related to someone powerful?’ cadre category.

It is continuing its social engineering project, ring-fencing jobs, businesses and access ever more tightly, rewarding and punishing, all under this handy banner of ‘transformation’ even as the country deteriorates into a shadow of its former self.

To my mind it would have helped the transformation process no end this week if there’d been a purging of cabinet, but I realise this is not the transformation anyone in the ANC is envisaging. Certainly not while the opposition is howling for it.

Down the line

So what exactly is the ANC seeing down the line, when transformation has been achieved to its satisfaction?

The imposition of official discrimination against citizens based on race or anything similar – apart from criminality (yes, Bathabile Dlamini you are in my sights) – is to be abhorred and resisted. (Even the National Party was at pains to carve out respectability for apartheid by attempting to make black people citizens of other ‘countries’, the homelands.)

Discrimination in favour of a category of people, because of their race or position on the gender spectrum may seems a good idea at the time and keep them acquiescent to the powers that be. But there’s no guarantee they’ll stay that way. Especially if they feel it was only cosmetic.

I know from experience that some degree of ‘transformation’ can be achieved if merit and ability to fulfill the task and responsibility requirements of a job or an employer are the principal determinants.

I relied on these tools for 15 years managing a Cyril Ramaphosa-initiated ‘employment equity’ programme for graduates wanting to be journalists. Of course, it also required plenty of money and organizational cooperation to remove hurdles, barriers and impediments to a fair chance in an unequal society. It also takes time to produce the desired results.

So, back to the stupid question. What exactly is the ultimate target of the ongoing transformation process? Is it a 2030, a 2050 target? Is there any end date at all?

Obfuscatory jargon

The African National Congress should answer and set out its vision of a transformed South Africa using coloured pencils, crayons, paint, industrial theatre, interpretive dance, finger puppets – in fact anything but tired old political slogans, charterist and obfuscatory jargon.

The 7.7 percenters and all the other minorities deserve to know.


The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR

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Paddi Clay spent 40 years in journalism, as a reporter and consultant, manager, editor and trainer in radio, print and online. She was a correspondent for foreign networks during the 80s and 90s and, more recently, a judge on the Alan Paton Book Awards. She has an MA in Digital Journalism Leadership and received the Vodacom National Columnist award in 2007. Now retired she feels she has earned the right to indulge in her hobbies of politics, history, the arts, popular culture and good food. She values curiosity, humour, and freedom of speech, opinion and choice.