There are some jobs reserved for political deployees and there are some jobs reserved for those that are competent. Not to say that all political deployees are incompetent, but the truth of the matter is that if any of our fearless leaders are to undergo heart surgery, the first question said leader will ask is not “Is he a loyal and disciplined member of the ANC?” but rather “Is he the best we can get?”
(Yes, I’m aware that there’s no such word as deployee. I’ve just made it up. It means he who has been deployed. I’m also aware that both heart surgeon and deployee could be women but no self-respecting woman would lose her heart to a deployee. The great thing about deployees is that one can insult them with alacrity because no one will admit to being a deployee. Unless you are white trying to claim struggle credentials. But I digress…)
The same holds true for airline pilots. An H in mathematics and a G for woodwork might equip you for national office, but if you are not smart enough to pass matric with maths on the higher grade, there is no way in hell that you are going to be allowed to (legally) obtain a commercial pilot licence.
And that, dear reader, brings us to this week’s storm in a teacup — around the fact that our president was flown to New York in a chartered private aircraft piloted by a convicted mercenary, Neil Steyl.
A howl of outrage has followed. “You cannot have a convicted man transporting the president,” Defence Ministry spokesman Ndivhuwo wa ha Mayaba was quoted as saying.
I chuckled at this because our president himself is a convicted man who served ten years on Robben Island for conspiring to overthrow the apartheid regime. He is a hero because our team won. Steyl is a zero because his team lost.
But being the troublesome person that I am, I decided to find out exactly what makes Neil Steyl such a bad person. Clearly, the US government has no issues with Steyl because they did, after all, allow him to land in New York.
Neil Steyl and 66 others were convicted for contravening section 36 (1)(e) of the Zimbabwean Immigration Act. Steyl and his co-pilot lied to air traffic control by saying that there were three people on board and failing to declare the other illegal immigrants.
Steyl and his co-pilot were sentenced to 16 months imprisonment, four of which were suspended on appeal by Judge Omerjee with Judge Mavangira concurring. Steyl served an effective eight months of his sentence before being released for good behaviour.
In other words, he was convicted for doing exactly what minibus taxi drivers do every day with alacrity through Beit Bridge.
So let’s cut to the chase of what exactly in under discussion here. The sense of outrage derives directly from the fact that 17 years into our country’s freedom, we do not have black countrymen able to fly the president’s plane and have to instead rely on white mercenaries.
But we are barking up the wrong tree. The problem is not Steyl. The problem is the education system left to us by Kader Asmal and his cronies. Seventeen years into freedom, our schools churn out vast quantities of unemployable youth who cannot read, write, or count. White matriculants who pass maths with a grade of more than 40 percent outnumber their black counterparts by about 50 to 1. That leaves the pool of potential black doctors, engineers, chartered accountants, and fighter pilots at less than five thousand youngsters per year.
This is why Defence Minister Sisulu cannot accept the resignation of SA Air Force chief Lieutenant-General Carlo Gagiano. Even though he fought in the border war against us, even though he was the apartheid government’s military attaché to Israel, we still don’t have a black person competent enough to take his place.
And that is the real disgrace.