Inequality between South African race groups has stabilised since the year 2000, though still very high and amongst the highest in the world. What has changed is that inequality within the different race groups has increased substantially with the emergence of a strong black middle class as one of the key trends.
This follows from a keynote address by Prof Servaas van der Berg of the University of Stellenbosch at the Business Ethics Network of Africa (BEN-Africa)
conference hosted recently by the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) in Bellville.BEN-Africa
is an African business ethics organisation with members in 25 African countries and held its 14th annual conference this year in South Africa. The theme of this conference was “Equal in an Unequal World.”
According to Van der Berg this trend of higher inequality within groups are found globally. Inter-group inequality is however decreasing.
In a supplementary keynote address, well-known social commentator Rhoda Kadalie said that currently 13 million people in South Africa receive a social grant with the aim to ease the burden of poverty. “The problem is that dependence rather than self-reliance is never a good thing. The social grant system is not economically sustainable.”
Government must simply provide business with an environment to create jobs. The current defective public educational system does not help to alleviate skills shortages in the South African economy.
Elaborating on the educational system, educational researcher Nick Spaull said that educational inequality in South Africa is one of the main generative mechanisms of the continued unequal distribution of income in the country.
“Educational inequalities typically reflect (and often cause) income inequalities that exist. There is a fundamental need to improve the quality of education in South Africa and Southern Africa. Education is a means to an end for increased income, but is also an end in itself.”
Conference delegates got a very real sense of how ordinary people understand the importance of education for access to employment and progress in life when they did a field visit to Blikkiesdorp and Manenberg.
Turning to the role of business schools in an unequal society, Director of USB Prof Piet Naude said that business schools should opt to play an educative, critical, exemplary role to expose and reduce different forms of inequalities within its powers via research, teaching, engagement and activism.
USB Executive Development (USB-ED) CEO Frik Landman
said that inequality is a complex subject and that there is not a single remedy for it.
“Inequality is not only a moral issue, it erodes society and one cannot do business in such an environment. Inequality was brought about by humans and this provides business schools with the opportunity to challenge it.
“The actors in this are business, civil society and the government. It is here that business schools can play a major roll.”BEN-Africa
’s president, Prof Arnold Smit
of USB-ED, said that the work of the conference will be continued by the members of the organisation as they take various projects and themes back to their spheres of influence.
This will include, amongst other things, a focus on the role of business in the promotion of good education at all schooling stages, starting especially with basic education. It is in the interest of both business and society to ensure that access to as well as the quality of education is improved so that African countries can give hope to its youth as well as turn its rich natural endowments into benefit for their own people.
also honoured Prof Willie Esterhuyse for his role in the development of business ethics as an academic discipline as well as his moral courage and leadership in the transition of South Africa to a democratic society. Prof Esterhuyse became the first ever receiver of BEN-Africa
’s Order of the Boabab.