Before the 1994 elections, surveys conducted by the ANC revealed that black South Africans over the age of 55 were more likely to support the existing status quo, that is, vote for the Nats, which is not surprising really, better the devil you know than the one you don’t.
The young however, have very different ideas about the future which is not surprising either. But aside from a minority of radical students, most appear not to want to have much to do with politics either, at least in the traditional sense and which again is not surprising. Most with an education and skills want to get a piece of the ‘good life’ and why not, isn’t that what the struggle was all about?
Young black South Africans who have access to the Web appear to fall into two categories (judging by our visitors anyway); they’re either at teknicon/university or at work in corporates or parastatals. I suppose this is the ‘black [petty] bourgeoisie’ that the media keep rabbiting on about, the ones that don’t exactly fit into the ‘two nations’ theory. Hey! it’s you they’re talking about!
Herein lies the flaw of the two nations theory, especially when viewed in the light of the development process. Development is not likely to be fuelled by the most disadvantaged communities. Hopefully, it benefits from the development process but at the end of the day, the needs of the poorest differ radically from the minority who possess a decent education, skills and access to resources, regardless of colour. Yet black South Africans continue to be black with all that that means. But the two situations are not necessarily mutually exclusive, the trick is in finding out how their needs can complement each other.
In the early daze of the IT revolution, progressives either ignored or poured scorn on computers and the Internet, viewing them pretty much as ‘the tools of the devil’. It was not until the late 80s that progressives started to understand and explore the implications and possibilities of IT. Naturally enough, it was the most educated and skilled who first saw and benefited from the IT revolution. Are their needs and aspirations to be pitted against those of the poor and disenfranchised? Are they mutually exclusive?
The Industrial Revolution of the 19th century saw the product of centuries of doing things a particular way – cottage industries, peasant farming and so on – swept away – almost overnite and replaced with an urban, industrial society which relied on the various colonial empires for raw materials and as markets for the products it churned out of the “dark, satanic mills”. The battle was fundamentally over the ownership of the tools of production, which in the previous epoch had been owned by those who produced – the blacksmith, the miller, the basket weaver, the potter, carpenter and farmer.
By robbing the peasant of his tools, all he had left to sell was his labour and the notion of ‘skilling’ and the ‘worker’ was born. Our entire contemporary educational infrastructure is based on this idea. You were taught enough in the way of ‘skills’ to equip you for work in a factory and later the office but not much else. Only those ‘born to lead’ were given access to the skills that really gave you power, history, economics, language etc and above all, an ‘innate’ sense that you were born to lead. In reality of course, it was your class, gender, race and educational setting that gave you this sense of ‘inevitability’ as to your role in life.
So today, the same battle is being waged as the one waged and lost in the 19th century, only this time, the contested terrain is the brain itself rather than the tools the brain guides. Understanding this is fundamental to understanding the role of and one’s relationship to, the IT revolution. Hence the talk of Intellectual Capital – a notion rejected entirely by the majority of ‘progressive’ theoreticians 15 years ago – is in fact another way of saying that the real wealth of nations is based on human beings, even the mere fact of their existence is enough to create value, after all, isn’t this what demographics and surveys are all about.
The fundamental question is whether or not, in the process of revolutionising production, those who inhabit the rural areas and the disenfranchised communities, will be left out once more, just as millions in the colonies were denied participation in and the benefits from the first Industrial Revolution? Do I have an answer to this? Is there an answer? I believe there is even though I’m not sure what form it takes exactly but the seeds have already been planted.
As physical production becomes more and more a mundane aspect of economies and broadly speaking intellectual production comes to the fore, intellectual production takes several distinct forms;
Virtual Infrastructure, its maintenance and development;
Intellectual products ie, music, sport, entertainment, travel/tourism, fashion, ‘leisure’ or broadly speaking, culture;
Physical production eg cars, tvs, mp3 players;
Food processing (as opposed to its primary production);
Looked at from this perspective, South Africa has all four components although taken collectively they are grossly unevenly developed but the potential still exists. Taking into account that there are only a minority of people with the necessary skills and above all, experience, to take advantage of the IT revolution and that at present, it is almost entirely white male in composition, then clearly, to take the maximum advantage of the situation, we need to create an empowered core of intellectual capital.
And in the context of development, the IT revolution as it has expressed itself in South Africa, is very lopsided with financial services and now business-to-business, dominating its development. The mass consumer market is not big enough to sustain the kind of innovation and sales which has powered the development of the Web in the US and Europe, there are simply not enough people with disposable income. How then are we to leverage advantage from the revolution in production?
The one area which connects both the rural and urban poor and the intellectual elite however, is culture. Culture in its intellectual capital sense, which is largely based on life skills and experience, not formal education. Tourism for example, is seen as major creator of jobs but depressingly, the majority of jobs are destined to be menial; waiters, maids, cooks, cleaners and guides. Tourism is also a highly competitive business and the competition is global. Yet, seen from an intellectual capital perspective, tourism opens up vastly different horizons because it sees people, their lives and experiences as the major capital asset. This is after all, what Hollywood or Bollywood is based on, or for that matter, Auckland Park.
How then, do we turn the life experiences of the population into ‘Intellectual Capital’? And will it be enough to sustain the development process? Much depends on our ability to create a context within which life experiences can be converted into products. Crucially, will the proceeds from such conversion flow back into communities or will they be appropriated by the global culture machine? Perhaps more importantly, can we re-appropriate our intellectual capital in a socially just manner which sees the development of the spiritual life of communities as more important than profit?
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