Last week I may have given the impression that I value university education above experience.
Many of you understood that I don’t think much of people with only matric certificates ending up in leadership positions.
It all stemmed from my venting about the university degree skandaal involving two of the DA’s top leaders – Natasha Mazzone and Bonginkosi Madikizela.
It appears that both of them may have lied about having degrees, which they, in fact, don’t.
In the article I talk about the unfairness of some people earning wonderful salaries, with not much more than a matric certificate, while young people who struggled through university, are sitting at home without a hope or a prayer.
I expressed how depressing it must be for someone with a degree to find out they are being governed by matriculants.
After the story was published on our website last week, there were close to 800 comments, many of which took me on for making more of tertiary qualifications than I should.
One of the most liked comments came from Sean Mallach, who said: “…you don't need a masters’ degree to run a political party. You need common sense. You need integrity and honesty. We are not talking about nuclear science, or being a doctor or lawyer where you require those learned skills.”
Micheal Stohr ended his comment with: “There's a certain arrogance in assuming your degree makes you better at thinking.”
Juliet Prowse said: “We should give some value to work experience.”
Thandi Wille chimed in with: “I have a masters’ degree and I definitely wouldn’t be so arrogant as to assume that it makes me better or smarter than anybody else.”
And Johan Coetzee had an excellent observation: “I have come across many people who did not go to university, (but) who are top thinkers and performers, and I have encountered some rather unintelligent university graduates too.”
There are hundreds of similar comments, most of which are of course very valid.
Tara Edem’s comment also caught my eye.
“We see countries where the leaders and ministers have degrees do much better. In this country we have someone working in transport (but) knows nothing about the logistics. If you are studied in the field you will know much better how to navigate it,” she wrote.
And that was really my point.
Yes, I believe in meritocracy, but not solely based on tertiary qualifications.
I agree that some people have a natural aptitude for things, and of course they deserve advancement.
But I believe that is more appropriate in a corporate setting, where the damage is limited to the investors, or the few employees.
When it comes to decisions that affect entire populations, I want the decision-makers to have all the possible intellectual resources at their disposal.
There are jobs where you can reach the top easily and appropriately without a degree.
But I believe a politician should have at least studied something like public administration, political science or political history.
By studying the political ideas of the likes of Spinoza or Descartes, politicians would both enrich themselves and open their minds to new ways of thinking about what is expected of them.
I want them to understand different past and current political systems better than I do.
I want them to have thought about it deeply, been challenged about it profoundly and debated about it critically.
And, yes, I do want them to have gone through the high-performance rigours of applying their minds analytically to their political field of choice and then being measured against their peers and the academic standard of the day.
And if they are going to take charge of the country’s transport system, say, then they should have tertiary qualifications in transport as well.
Common sense is not enough.
They are in charge of the welfare of the entire population and their decisions reach far into the future, and yet we don’t demand a track record of excellence and superior intellect from them.
The problem with politicians being in charge of service delivery, is that instead of seeing it for what it is – a basic human right that all citizens deserve (irrespective of who they voted for), service delivery itself becomes politicised.
I’m not saying that education is the silver bullet to our political problems.
After all, Verwoerd was highly educated.
But I am saying that governing people is a huge responsibility that should be taken very seriously, and if you are not pursuing the broadest possible academic and experiential understanding of it, then you are not taking it seriously enough.