For the next 10 days, I will be blogging from South Africa, where I am on a tour to visit friends and colleagues and to participate in a training course on Change Management in Johannesburg.
I just arrived at the Western Cape, where I am visiting an old friend and colleague, Valerie Morris, who is the person who brought Open Space Technology to South Africa 15 years ago. Together with her partner Judy at Renaissance Business Associates, she is doing incredible work for personal and group development. She is such a wonderful source of inspiration for me. Have a look at the view I am having from my desk.
It is not the first time that I am in this country that is still torn apart so I was expecting that I will have controversial discussions. They started right after my arrival. Reading the newspaper of today, the hot issue discussed here is the affirmative action that the Government is taking towards ensuring a better share of the wealth and towards better employability for those who have been let out from any economic development for hundreds of years. For example, private companies above a certain size are obliged to try to make their workforces "demographically representative" (i.e. 75% black, 50% female, etc.) from factory floor to boardroom. Further, the government wants about 25% of most industries to be in black hands by 2010.
Sounds like a good idea? It does. However, the systemic effects for the national economy are devastating. Not enough skilled labour is available to fill the vacancies that the national economy is generating. Economic growth is not as it should and could be, leaving a larger part of the population unemployed and in poverty. Already, the opposition but also parts of local Government are calling for a moratorium on the affirmative action plans. Read more at the Wall Street Journal, and at the Cape Times of today.
I looked at this problem from a systemic perspective, using Peter Senge's archetype Fixes That Fail, well described on the website of Gene Bellinger. There is a desired state, probably shared by the majority of the South African society (let us forget about those who never change). The poor, i.e. black population demands that promises on a better future are fulfilled, pronto. And the Goverment takes action, of which the Black Economic Empowerment is just one of many. This has unintended consequences, namely that most sectors of the industry cannot deliver because they are lacking the necessary skilled workers (training programmes so far have not produced the quantity of black specialists that are needed). Meanwhile, many skilled white people have left the country. So, the current state (segregation plus wide-spread poverty) is maintained, putting an even higher pressure on the Government.
A solution is not in sight. I will continue exploration of this hot issue and be your reporter on that in the next days.