Adam Habib gives NWU students new insight on South Africa’s political landscape

Annette Willemse -- Mon, 11/17/2014 - 08:49

Adam Habib gives students new insight on South Africa’s political landscape

Recently political science students from the Vaal Triangle Campus of North-West University (NWU Vaal) got a rare opportunity: to receive a lecture and interact with the author of the book they study in class.

Prof Adam Habib, Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Witwatersrand, is also the author of the book “South Africa’s Suspended Revolution: Hopes and Prospects” that political science lecturers decided to include in the curriculum of the third-year students.

Prof Adam Habib   Dr Ina Gouws

Lecturer for the political science module, Dr Ina Gouws, explains why Prof Habib’s book was chosen: “The Subject Group Political Science introduced a new module, Issues in South African Politics, in 2014. This module addresses issues currently influencing the political landscape in South Africa, consequently our colleague, Mr Pieter Heydenrych, suggested that we consider Prof Adam Habib's book (South Africa's Suspended Revolution: hopes and prospects) as primary study material, which turned out to be an excellent idea. In his book Prof Habib captures the forces, policies and personalities which has shaped our new democracy and will continue to do so in future. In addition he provides well researched possible solutions to our nation's challenges.”

In his lecture Prof Habib talked about the essence of his book: where South Africa is at present and what to do about it. Generally South Africans are in one of two camps regarding the current situation in the country: one camp professes that things are collapsing, while the other camp contends that South Africa is generally doing well with a few problems.

Prof Habib identified a number of key problems that seem to inhibit South Africa’s growth into the country envisioned in 1994. The first of these is the state of inequality in South Africa. Although this is an international trend, the huge gap in South Africa between the group at the top and the group at the bottom results in a polarised society with people comparing themselves to others and concluding that they are worse off. Such polarisation results in the violence, crime, protests and strikes which has plagued our country for a number of years and results in investors leaving the county and economic growth to plummet.

In this regard Prof Habib contends that the National Development Plan is nothing more than a sleight of hand trick, since the focus of the document is on poverty and getting more South Africans employed to get the economy to grow. What the plan does not factor in is that with more employed citizens at the bottom end employed, the ones at the top will also be benefitted and the inequality gap is not fixed. Instead, Prof Habib believes that to close the distance between the ones at the top and the ones at the bottom, the guys at the top must be kept in check through salary package caps, while the bottom half is moved closer with improved salaries.

The second problem hampering South Africa’s growth is how BEE is implemented at present. Currently only a small group benefits from it and most of these individuals are already wealthy business people, thereby adding to the country’s inequality problem. Instead, Prof Habib believes that BEE should be directed at entrepreneurs who are trying to get business ventures off the ground.

Poor service delivery is South Africa’s third Achilles Heel, where Prof Habib argues that people who don’t have the right qualification are often appointed in key jobs like finance and simply redeployed when dire mistakes or mismanagement comes to light. This practice results in erosion of development in the country and serious discussions must be had on how to fix this problem.

So what is needed? Among the important factors Prof Habib mentioned to help steer South Africa in the right direction is that perceptions of ordinary South Africans must be managed; a more coherent debate is needed between the ANC government and South African business about the way forward; and very importantly: leadership, which has been lacking over the past five years in both the political landscape and business. South Africa is, according to Prof Habib, suffering from a crisis of leadership and right now our country is at a moment of reckoning when the hard, right choices must be made. The time has come to hold people accountable.

When a student asked what role they as soon to be graduate can play, Prof Habib urged them to take the professions seriously and not to repeat the mistakes of those who preceded them. Secondly, he advised that they should call a spade a spade and to tell the truth of what is done wrong.

“Our students enjoyed reading this book and engaging in class with the issues highlighted by Habib, since we see the real time manifestations of much of his findings in current affairs daily. In light of that I invited Prof Habib to come to the NWU Vaal Triangle Campus to engage with our students about his book and he very kindly accepted. He talked passionately and animatedly about a few of the issues he addressed in his book and it was evident that students hung on his every word. Afterward in class they referred back to many of his statements during discussions and debates. It is a rare privilege for Political Science students to engage with an author of a book they use, since most books are written by foreign authors. It was a short, but hugely successful event and I believe Prof Habib also enjoyed the interaction with our students”, said Dr Gouws.