We’re willing to work
The fact that 30 000 young people were willing to travel to Pietermaritzburg and run ‘till they dropped to get 90 traffic cop jobs tells me something about the state of hopelessness that must be filling the lives of most South Africans. It also tells me that they’re willing to do whatever it takes to earn a living.
A nation-building tool
So here’s my proposal. Let’s bring back national conscription. But this time, instead of shoring up a white apartheid-based illusion, let’s make it a nation-building tool. Instead of making it male-only, let’s include all young South Africans.
Current situation: systemic hopelessness
Our matriculants leave school with a piece of paper that they know in their bones is meaningless. They know that their matric really won’t help them get a job and that only a very few lucky people will ever be employed. So they leave school feeling that they have no future.
This extends to children entering the schooling system too. They know that the end point is meaningless. And their education trains them for a world they haven’t experienced, and probably never will.
The system is a self-perpetuating mill of disappointment and hopelessness.
Create a culture of hope
We have to create hope. How? By giving school-goers something valuable and meaningful to work towards when they leave school. By giving them a life they can be proud of. By giving them a sense that the knowledge they’re accumulating in class will actually be useful to them and to the country.
We have to create a culture of hope: the system must be a self-perpetuating spiral of accomplishment, skills-development, goal-achievement, and self-adjustment.
Conscription: democratic socialism in a capitalist world
Capitalism in South Africa requires skilled labour. Our education system is churning out semi-literate, hopeless people. Our capitalists have to hire many candidates in the hopes of training a few who might one day prove capable.
So let’s throw some proven socialism into the mix. Let’s outsource a myriad of tasks to a conscripted workforce. They leave school, hop on a train, and journey to a part of the country they’ve never experienced.
They get given clothes, food, shelter, and a stipend that they can spend or save or send back to their families. Right off the train, these young individuals will already feel valuable.
Then they get some basic training: discipline, manners, and some rudimentary skills. They get streamed. Some will work the land. Some will make roads. Some will repair power lines. Some will drive, build, teach, and cook. Some will work in higher-level jobs, according to their abilities.
After basics, they get deployed for three months in a particular job. Three months later, they get re-deployed in another job entirely. They have a report card that follows them around for life. It contains evaluations of their skills, attitudes, abilities. Most important for prospective employers, the report card contains the real-world outcomes of their individual contributions.
When conscripts hit certain skills-accumulation milestones, their stipend increases, and they gain rank.
Two years later: hordes of well-rounded individuals who are capable and immediately employable
Two years gives each young person eight three-month stints of exposure to worlds of experience. That’s one basic training stint, and seven different real-world jobs. This gives them a pretty impressive resumé.
This is a powerful tool for employers, because it gives them candidates they don’t have to gamble on.
Article continues on page two: community-building is a win for South Africa...