Sama slaps on a bandage while avoiding the wound - Businesslive

20 February 2022 - I often think back to a wry observation by former Robben Islander Saki Macozoma during pre-interview small talk a few months after his appointment as head of Transnet in the 1990s.

I often think back to a wry observation by former Robben Islander Saki Macozoma during pre-interview small talk a few months after his appointment as head of Transnet in the 1990s.

He was surrounded, he said, by young, inexperienced black managers who thought his job would be theirs if only they were white; and young, inexperienced white managers who thought his job would be theirs if only they were black.

Strikingly, Macozoma empathised with both sides; he could see what they were getting at, even as he sought to dismantle their delusions.

I wonder, these two decades later, whether an executive would risk sharing any such casual insight without having to worry about its being judged outrageous or “hurtful”, requiring an apology at least, and perhaps even their resignation.

It does seem that we are increasingly incapable of having a conversation about anything to do with race. (And we are not alone — readers may recall that my last column dealt with Whoopi Goldberg’s travails after having raised not insignificant questions about race and the Holocaust.)

In the very week of the grim, racially charged conflict at Hoërskool Jan Viljoen in Randfontein, it ought to be troubling that the more polite end of society is willing to smother the topic (what meaning we assign to race) in obfuscation and euphemism.

I am referring here to the unnerving events at the SA Medical Association (Sama) after the comments of its now ex-chair, Angelique Coetzee, on admission to medical schools in a CapeTalk radio interview in January.

Dr Coetzee reportedly said race played a role in determining admission to medical schools, was sometimes more important than the applicant’s matric performance, and that there were different admission criteria for different race groups. This was prompted by a CapeTalk listener calling in to ask why his son, who had achieved a straight-A matric, could not get into medical school.

Given the emphasis on race in every field nowadays (with the exception of nonracial SA Social Security Agency grants), Coetzee’s comments seem, frankly, neither implausible nor indelicate. If she was wrong, that can surely be explained.

Key passage

But Sama’s response suggests “transformation” can’t really be spoken about with any candour; it empathised with “the pain and rage” caused by her “regrettable remarks”, which it said did “not represent the ethos of the association and the democratic principles it stands for”, and were “incorrect”. But do we know why? Did Sama explain, or undertake to get an explanation?

The key passage in Sama’s statement reads: “The board acknowledges that Dr Coetzee's interpretation of the admission requirements is incorrect, and that entrance processes for medical students are much more complex and thorough than what was stated in her opinion.

“The board is fully cognisant of the fact that the stringent entry requirements are meant to ensure the provision of only the highest quality medical professionals for the country. Sama further acknowledges that entrance to medical schools requires a high level of academic achievement across the board, and that all candidates selected for entry into medical school are chosen inter alia on merit and ability.”

Perhaps Sama doesn’t know the answer, but when an opportunity arises to address pressing issues head on, can it be enough for a professional body of this kind to fudge it with protestations that entrance processes are “much more complex and thorough”, and that candidates are selected “inter alia on merit and ability”?

South Africans are mature enough for an adult conversation about the kind of society most of us want.

• Morris is head of media at the SA Institute of Race Relations.

https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/opinion/columnists/2022-02-20-michael-morris-sama-slaps-on-a-bandage-while-avoiding-the-wound/

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