Whites are two to three times more likely than Africans to graduate from universities in fields such as engineering, commerce and management sciences that are crucial to both the South African economy and the success of the government’s empowerment initiatives, the South African Institute for Race Relations (SAIRR) said on Tuesday.
This is one of the findings of the institute’s annual South Africa Survey.
“While the number of African graduates exceeds that of white graduates at universities, whites still dominate those academic fields that are crucial if South Africa is to reach and maintain a 6% growth rate,” said SAIRR researcher and co-author of the research Frans Cronje.
The reason for the continuing inequality can be traced back directly to the South African school system where three times as many white pupils as Africans obtain higher-grade A,B,C or D passes in mathematics. Only 3,8% of African pupils who pass maths do so with an A,B,C or D or higher grade, compared with 8% of coloured pupils, 28% of Indian pupils and 31% of white pupils, he said.
Cronje added that gains made in improving the matriculation pass rate have not been matched by gains in quality. Despite the school system having reached equity in spending per pupil, white and Indian pupils are still likely to receive a far superior standard of education than African pupils are.
The public school system is producing a small, educated elite within a largely undereducated generation with serious consequences for the government’s empowerment policies, he added.
“As long as the school system does not produce suitable university candidates, the private sector will find it difficult to meet employment and management equity targets, as qualified candidates will remain in short supply. No amount of empowerment legislation can serve as a substitute for a quality education system,” he concluded.
Loss of white skills base
In 2005, the HIV infection rate among white South Africans was 20 times higher than that in Western Europe and 10 times higher than in North America, the SAIRR said—another finding published in the survey.
“The most productive segment of the white population is dwindling and is expected to have declined by just under 8% by 2021,” said Marco MacFarlane, a demographics researcher at the institute and co-author of the research.
But emigration, more than Aids, is considered by the SAIRR to be the key driving force behind the predicted decline in the white population.
“White South Africans have access to anti-retroviral drugs and are less likely to have been influenced by the government’s mixed messages on the best treatment for HIV/Aids. While Aids deaths would have some impact, it is most likely that the decline represents young professionals emigrating to other countries.”
White population figures show there were more whites in the 60-to-69 age group in 2005 than in the 25-to-34 age group. The majority of skilled white professionals were in the 40-to-64 age group and would reach retirement age in the next two decades. The decline in the 25-to-34 age group was reflected in the number of white children born in South Africa in the past five years, which was significantly less than that born in the five years before.
MacFarlane added that the declining white population will have serious consequences for the country’s skills base and its tax revenue.
Black middle class
The survey also found that inequality within the African population is greater than that in any other population group. It found that levels of inequality, measured by the Gini coefficient, had increased for all race groups except whites since 1996.
Increases were most dramatic for the African population, which saw levels of inequality rise by 21% to 0,64 on the Gini coefficient since 1996. Inequality within the coloured community increased by 17% to 0,56, the Indian population recorded a 6% increase in inequality to 0,50 and the white community saw its levels of inequality decline by 2% to 0,44. A score of indicates complete equality and 1 indicates complete inequality.
‘While growing inequality is in part an indication of the growth of the black middle class, and therefore a positive indicator, it is of concern is that such growth has been accompanied by an increase in poverty among the lowest-income groups,’ said Jane Tempest, the head of research at the SAIRR.
Figures published in the South Africa Survey show that the proportion of people living on less than $1 a day, the measure of absolute poverty, has more than doubled since 1994.
Using a different measure of poverty, 50% of South African households live on less than R2 899 per month for a household of eight in 2004, up from 40% in 1994.
MacFarlane said the figures indicate that while progress is being made in the upper and middle classes of South Africa’s society, the poor are being left behind.
He added that this is a potentially destabilising factor for South Africa, as has already been seen in the spate of local government delivery protests over the past 18 months.