The government's performance in education, especially as it relates to African children, is no different from that of past successive white governments. It is a disgrace that a generation of African children whose schooling started after the demise of apartheid has no better educational achievements to show than individuals educated under apartheid. After a litany of excuses lasting well over a decade, the government must now admit it does not have a plan to improve education. The bulk of improvements in educating African children have come from former white schools - where, tellingly, the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) is weak.
The conclusion is inescapable that Sadtu is a significant part of the problem. The only visible contribution it has made is the chaos into which the education enterprise has been plunged in areas where it strong. Sadtu is at its best when it leads teachers out on strike rather than teaching; the skills of the group lie in demanding undeserved higher pay for which nothing is given in return.
The first order of business should be to close down Sadtu, and summarily dismiss all teachers from the schools where no one passed. Institutions which effectively serve to condemn learners to the margins of society should have no right to exist. Schools with a record of consistent good performance must receive increased financial support. Good retired teachers willing to return to work should be hired.
On the contrary, the record of the African National Congress (ANC) government is clearly worse than previous Nat governments - this is surely why many black spokespersons have publicly said that the old Bantu Education schools were better.
First, as soon as it came to power the ANC got rid of many of the best and most experienced teachers - something the Nats hadn't done.
Second, outcomes-based education was forced on the schools by an ANC minister despite clear warnings of impending disaster from all sides. It was not only a hugely expensive disaster but now we will spend more years recovering from it, waiting for the new textbooks required and so on.
Third, it was the ANC that ended corporal punishment in schools without replacing it with any other means for maintaining discipline. Finally, the malign power of Sadtu is largely a product of ANC rule. The Nats would never have allowed it to become so important, nor would they have been so scared of it.
This is not to say Nat rule was good. It wasn't. Nor can we close down Sadtu. The constitution rightly recognises union rights.
Ugly though it would be, what we need is for an education minister to do to Sadtu what the UK's Margaret Thatcher did to the miners - take them on full-face and beat them thoroughly, with public opinion on his side.
But I doubt whether any ANC minister will ever do that. Personally, I expect the slide in SA's educational standards to continue unhindered as long as the ANC stays in office.
Of course the ANC is complicit in the blight in education. Outcomes-based education has taken the country back decades and yet no one in the ANC seems to recognise it as the catastrophe it is. The evidence is compelling that in schools in which Sadtu has an organisational presence, the collapse in teaching and learning has been precipitous, yet the ANC will not even raise a whimper in protest against actions by what is viewed as a sister organisation.
There is no corporal punishment at Jeppe Girls, a government former white school, but the system works like clockwork and the school is the envy of parents desperate to give their children a decent education, who stop at nothing to have their children admitted there. Sending a child to Morris Isaacson High School, once the pride of the community in its achievements, is equivalent to playing a game of chance in which the odds are heavily stacked against you. The ANC has done nothing to correct this.
It is upsetting that the ANC has hardly lifted a finger to stop the slide of schools whose history of educating Africans is second to none. Healdtown, Inkamana, Orlando High stand as sad monuments of callous indifference.
Yes, I suppose one could amend the Freedom Charter to read that the Doors of Learning and Education shall be thrown open, vandalised and torn off, and then much the same treatment will be doled out to the rest of the edifice. Perhaps the situation is clearest in higher education, where the slide in standards since 1994 is patent. The saddest case is that of the University of KwaZulu-Natal - once third in research behind the University of Cape Town and Wits University and now being reduced to the level of a tribal college.
Essentially, SA is being reduced to a less and less educated society with fewer and fewer skills, doomed to fall back further and further behind other countries. ANC Youth League president Julius Malema is, in that sense, the face of the future, leading us backwards towards semiliteracy.
I can't see any end to this process while the ANC remains in power. Indeed, it's clear ministers like Blade Nzimande would like to accelerate the process by increasing the flow of ineducable students being poured into the universities, lowering standards even further. It is, by the way, now commonplace for ANC and labour federation Cosatu publications to be a feast of grammatical, spelling and syntactical errors. And no one minds. One can see illiteracy gaining ground and gaining acceptance all the time.
Pupils at dysfunctional schools should realise they bear the responsibility to make a success of learning. They should rise above the odds and use resources which are now numerous in their communities to get an education.
African pupils from earlier periods did reasonably well despite a government that was determined to see them fail, and limited resources. There are many more graduates and learning aids in many townships now; they can be used at little cost to improve success rates. Nothing prevents pupils banding together to obtain the assistance of experienced retired mathematics teachers for lessons.
Many in poorly served communities appear to think they do not need to work hard and be smart; after all, scrounging - especially in the African community - has been elevated to acceptable behaviour. This must be opposed vigorously in favour of hard work, which should continue to provide the only avenue for upward social mobility.
What's missing from the discussion is the abysmal state of the black family, which has a huge knock-on effect on children's behaviour, attitudes and attainment. The most recent figures I've seen suggest that barely a third of black children are growing up in two-parent families and that the rate of family disintegration has notably increased since the end of apartheid. This is a very striking fact, given that the argument always used to be that apartheid was responsible for the break-up of the black family. In fact this process seems to have a life and momentum all its own.
An enormous number of black kids grow up in highly dysfunctional families or in single-parent homes where the father makes no contribution. This is true of less than one-fifth of Indian children in SA and is one of the biggest reasons for the huge gap in educational achievement between the two groups.
This is a huge fact of our national and social life, which the government is not keen to recognise. But it won't go away. It ought to be the cornerstone of social, housing, welfare and health policy as well as education. The ANC behaves as if women's rights are about having women millionaires and MPs, but the great silent legion of single mums is what we should be concerned with.