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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

16 Aug 2001: James, Wilmot

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POM     Wilmot, what I wanted to talk about was really the state of higher education, particularly the rate at which there are black graduates in science, engineering and mathematics. I came across some awful figures that 0.2% of black students pass matric in maths and science and yet you have what seems to be an enormous push towards saying the country must develop a high tech sector and that's where the future lies. There seems to be a huge gap between the development of a high tech sector on the one side and the supply of black graduates. I think the high tech sector is driven by whites. Just on the university situation how is transformation working out there?

WJ     If you look at the job market and you look at the science technology and engineering and other related fields then they are getting most of the people they need to get, so from a job market point of view I don't think companies are struggling in finding science and technology graduates and that market will just churn over.

POM     But are they getting black graduates?

WJ     But now the question about the race side of it, it's quite a mixed picture. The number of universities that actually offer decent science and technology degrees are quite small. A minority of South African universities can do it and most of them would be your old classical white, liberal institutions and then a few other more technical colleges.  So those are the places and therefore what matters finally depends on getting a mix of racialistic graduates in those areas. It will partly depend on what they're doing and there the record is actually not terrible. The number of engineering graduates at UCT is very high, more than half graduating with passes out of the University of Cape Town are black, in engineering, and they've had a supportive affirmative action programme in place for a very long time. John Martin who is now dead unfortunately, who was at the time the Dean of Engineering, introduced it and it worked very well. I'm not sure what the figures are like at Wits and at the other institutions. I don't think the problem is at university level. I think they have made quite great strides in being able to take qualified black matriculants and put them through the system successfully.

     But the issue has to do with the number of students, as you suggest, coming out of high school with a decent science and mathematics background and there are all kinds of reasons that are obvious about why it was like that in 1994. The reasons why it is like that seven years later are not that clear. Partly it's because, I think, there was no clear practical strategy adopted by the previous minister. There's a lot of loose talk about the OBE, outcomes-based education, and so on but it's a bit of a mess because it was so vague and it was so unspecified and there was no proper teacher training programme attached to it. There were no rapid teacher training programmes in mathematics and science, especially for black teachers, introduced at all. So the net result of it is we didn't have a significant critical mass of black graduated high school students with good mathematics and science. And Kader had to take that on.

     It's true that he inherited a huge problem and this was in 1999 so it is two years since then, so what has he done? The first thing he did was he's got a very good maths and science adviser, Michael Kahn is his name, he's at University of Cape Town, and he's put forward a programme for upgrading teacher training in mathematics and science. It cost a billion rand and Kader doesn't have the money for it. I don't think Trevor's giving him the money for it so I'm not sure where that's going, but it's very clear that you need you just look at the number of black teachers with ordinary certification in teacher training, it's very poor, it's terrible.

POM     That's with certification in maths and science?

WJ     Maths and science. No, no, not just maths and science, any qualification. The number of black teachers who are under-qualified, they shouldn't be at schools in fact, it's actually very high. I've got the figures in an article I published for Kader.

POM     Yes, I have a copy of that.

WJ     The numbers are in there. So there's a need for massive upgrading of black teachers including and especially in science and mathematics. Universities can do that in terms of upgrading teachers and what Asmal has been trying to do is to attach all teacher training colleges to universities. Before they used to be independent, doing their own thing. So he has been able to do that but we don't have a decisive, clear project for upgrading teacher training in mathematics and science.

POM     So is there in place now a national standard that aspiring teachers must meet if they're certified as teachers?

WJ     Yes.

POM     And it's national, it's not provincial, it's a national set up?

WJ     Are you seeing him at all?

POM     This week he said he's away, but I will, I'm here until November; he said, "Padraig this Racism Conference has been - "

WJ     Been keeping him occupied.

POM     Since Mary Robinson was his pupil Kader will be expecting to run that conference. He will say, "Mary, people move up."

WJ     Yes, that's why he's been going on about it. In terms of the detail with our maths and science, it would be very good to speak to Michael Kahn if you have a chance. He's very knowledgeable and he's Kader's adviser. There must be a plan to turn this thing around and he's been doing quite a lot to help the process. There are national norms and standards. The OBE, the curriculum, has been radically refined and he released that two weeks ago for public comment so they've got a massive exercise of going through the entire curriculum and issuing statements, curriculum statements, basically the books, statements on what precisely is required in the outcome in order to declare yourself competent in a particular area. This is a knowledge field and has to be answered, and what the requirements of the teachers are as well. So that's out and it's out for public comment and then he will finalise that by October. So he's done that.

     I've been involved in this Values Project, this thing that's going to be released next week, and this is the framing document for education.

POM     Is this going to be released next week?

WJ     23rd.

POM     Can I hold it in my pocket until 23rd?

WJ     Yes.

POM     OK, thank you. I wanted to ask you, I've been trying to work on the practical areas of AIDS. I just don't get it. Whenever I come back, or even here, there is no sense of an impending crisis at every level of society that unless extraordinary measures are taken the whole structure of society here is going to change. For example, the population is going to start decreasing in the year 2011, life expectancy will be down to 54 years. It's going to the country, highlighted in the media coverage, that actually fell in the UNDP Human Development Index since 1995. It's almost directly where it was. The only criticism I hear publicly talking about it and referring to it is from former President Mandela. People who used to wear their AIDS buttons no longer do. I was at a launch of an AIDS publication three weeks ago and there were 400 people there, no-one wearing an AIDS button. There's no sense of something massive is happening around us. I don't get it. I'll give you an example.

WJ     There's a lack of political leadership and gross incompetence.

POM     The gross incompetence is on the I mean, for example, I do not understand the decision not to make anti-retrovirals available to pregnant women purely since the evidence is overwhelming that no matter how you measure, no matter what cost benefit ratio you use, that these benefits will outweigh the cost by ten, twenty or a hundred to one, and yet it's not done. I say this, and I'm not being un-serious but I'm not being serious because I don't want to think about it very much, but I sometimes get the feeling that the unsaid policy is let the disease run its course, we can't handle it on our own, if we get UN help and all of that we take it, foreign money we take it, and on the other end people who are dying disproportionately are the poor and the unemployed and in fact in the longer run you just can coldly, in the same way that the black plague jump started the

WJ     But they also, those very people are also members of the ANC. I don't know exactly but it's not as if you could say that the President is not having to confront the fact that the majority of his party will be the ones dying.

POM     Doesn't see that.

WJ     And he must see that, no, no, he must see that. I don't believe he can't see that and I don't believe that he is unsympathetic to the issue. I think he's misguided intellectually. I think it's improper for him to both take no leadership and when other people want to take leadership not let them do that, just defer to the medical community. The incompetence side is that we don't have the administrative health care clinic infrastructure to actually deal with this as a serious, the most serious crisis we've ever faced in the country and the Health Minister has been unable to create those clinics, unable to establish partnerships with NGOs and people in the medical field to have a national strategy for getting whatever programmes are necessary. The NGOs have been fighting with the Health Ministry and got it to the point where, with good reason, got it to the point where there's no love lost, we haven't been able to mould a working relationship with all the organisations. I think the story about money is rubbish, nonsense to say that we have no money.

POM     Some people, quite a number that I've talked to, have said, "Do you know what? A lot of the money that comes in here for AIDS goes unspent, it's unspent at the end of the year."

WJ     Yes, the Health Ministry's budget, one part of it was unspent last year. In an interview that they did on BBC with the DG for Health, it was a great interview on BBC, Hardline or Hard Talk. There was a Hard Talk interview broadcast last week, an interview with the Health Director General, it was embarrassing, with a medical doctor, and he was grilled and kept on. The Minister of Health is hopeless, absolutely hopeless. She is weak, she wouldn't do anything to offend the President, never mind her portfolio so she's just hobbled along, an ineffective leader. So it is utterly perplexing, we don't have the national will, we don't have the national will to rise up to this.

POM     Yes national will. I also found it stunning that when I read the account three weeks ago this Sunday in City Press or the Sunday Times, one of the two, about this remedy and that there was no rebuke, there wasn't a government statement issued to tell her to cease and desist, that this was compounding the problem, not helping it. What I understand from Mbeki's interview with Hard Talk when he says it's not AIDS really, it's we murder each other, we die by violence, we don't die by AIDS; it was dismissive.

WJ     Callous.

POM     And the thing is when you take AIDS and related AIDS (deaths) from the fact that people don't report after they do die from AIDS, so where it's registered as by AIDS it wouldn't reflect the actual number of deaths that come from it, they're put down as TB, they're put down as something else. An incredible statement to make is still not moving from a virus, not a syndrome.

WJ     The theories are straightforward. HIV causes AIDS, poverty makes it worse. Fine.

POM     No-one disagrees with that.

WJ     No. In the long run a cure for AIDS is cracking of poverty. In the short run we have to use every medical intervention possible together with an expression from the centre about appropriate forms of human conduct which involves education and it involves that both in school and in the workplace.

POM     One last thing, in New York in the mid to late eighties when the first AIDS gay epidemic swept through the city, it was widespread, it was demonstrated by ignorance, fear, everything, but it was fear, and the gay community, say there were about 400,000 people affected in New York, and the Minister of Health came out with a figure of about 200,000 and he was chased around the world wherever he went that he had understated the problem, but they had done a study that shows that at its peak in New York there were at most 120,000 cases. But you had this overreaction, fear, they thought it was going to spread into the heterosexual community. There was fear, there were editorials, there was suddenly the white middle class jumping and then when it turned out that it was only something like 20%   Is it anything to associate if you are poor, you're unemployed, the horizons of your life are getting by day to day and that something like HIV is just another calamity that hits you in a serious of calamities and that people are far more I want to get this straight, that the poor people who live the most awful lives expect to die, they see people dying around them all the time from one thing or another, their expectation of long lives and opportunity in life and quality of live are completely different than ours. So it's like they survive

WJ     That's a mood. This government doesn't have the people there. Kader is trying.  But in the Health Ministry you don't have people there who know how to do very simple things of government administration and know which buttons to press in order to get what out. It's just not there and so the system isn't working. Under normal circumstances the health system isn't working, under normal circumstances, and in a crisis like AIDS it's floundering. So what you hear are excuses and you hear intellectual justifications and this slippage, lack of clarity, intellectual clarity, scientific clarity, slippage. Watch that interview, the slide from an analysis of what causes AIDS, an analysis of what causes the other problems of disease and other causes of AIDS. I've never heard such vague, meaningless formulations from the Health Department around the question of AIDS. It's floundering. The thing is the government is not working, it doesn't function properly in that area.

POM     It kind of that prospects for SA moving up on this scale, we're moving here, we're moving there and I'm saying, doesn't anyone realise the country is dying?

WJ     Yes. The South African people are dying.

POM     And life goes on. I keep going back to it.

WJ     Does anybody give a damn?

POM     I don't think they do.

WJ     Mandela is not it's a funny thing, George Bush if you punch him on the one side in order to get something to happen, and then nothing happens. He's not feeling the punch or they just ignore it.  But Mandela if he gets punched he reacts.

POM     I think in an odd way he realises that he had almost personal autonomy for overlooking something that should have stared him right in the face and he's now making up for it as much as he can. He's doing the President's job.

WJ     I had Mamphele Ramphele organise a meeting with Mandela, a private dinner actually, but there were about 30 people from UCT around the table with him and about a third of them were medical science health people and they raised this issue with him. He basically said that, and Mamphele said that he must declare a national emergency, you need to say that this is an emergency and declare it as an emergency and then put your government on a socio-health war footing and say that this is the most important thing and get on with it. And he recognised the gravity of the situation. He didn't say anything about an emergency. He didn't say anything about government should be placed on alert, he didn't expound on that, but he said he will raise the issue.

POM     He would raise the issue?

WJ     He would raise the issue with his Health Minister, at the time Nkosasana Zuma, and nothing came of it. So it's not only him, it's also Nkosasana Zuma, but I think he's trying to atone for that because obviously he understood the issue and appreciated the gravity of it. He responded to it emotionally, people are dying here. The political response was a cold one.

POM     Using an example of the little boy, Nkosi, who gave a human face to the disease. In his short life he did an awful lot of good and yet Mbeki didn't even acknowledge his dying. He spent the day of his funeral at the opening of a development project in Alexandra where you had the UN sending in Kenneth Stander. All over the world you had a response and his own President said nothing.

WJ     You know at the conference on AIDS in Durban when he spoke I don't think anybody

POM     Mbeki walked out.

WJ     On BBC the DG for health was asked the question, "How can it be that the President of your country at that incredibly precious moment, both in terms of global television coverage and the symbolism of it, walks out? As a public relations exercise it's the worst thing he could do, but just on a human level how could he have done that?" And the DG said, "Well he had another appointment and the other appointment was in another country and he had a tight schedule, everyone knew about it, his handlers knew about this and he had to catch his plane." And the interviewer said, "I don't believe it. He's the President of the country. He could have rescheduled. He's got his own plane, he doesn't have to catch a scheduled flight. I don't believe it." I think the point is that I don't think the President has an emotional response to it. He has a clinical response to the issue, a scientific response to the issue, a political response to the issue. He doesn't have an emotional response and therefore he can never understand, he doesn't appreciate being told at a particular moment. Anybody who has an appreciation emotionally could never have walked out, you would just wait.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.