The apartheid-era Bantu education system was much better than the current education regime, a Wits academic said in Pretoria on Thursday.
"It was far better in terms of quality than the education that our kids are receiving nowadays. That is where the problem is," Rabelani Dagada, a lecturer at Wits Business School, told a debate on affirmative action.
"Affirmative action should be about empowerment. The best way to empower is not to take from those who have and give to those who don't have. It won't work."
Dagada said South Africans could only be empowered through proper education.
"After 20 years of democracy, the education levels have plunged. It's worse than the so-called Bantu education. The best way to do transformation, empowerment is to provide quality education."
Former foreign affairs minister Pik Botha said South Africa, under the ANC's leadership, had moved away from former president Nelson Mandela's principles. He said the country's affirmative action policies were mainly hurting the black majority.
"How much further down must all of us go before we say this is enough now? Our education is far behind, it is the worst in Africa, [but] it has the highest per capita expenditure."
Botha said Zimbabwe's education system was better than South Africa's.
"When is this going to change? At state hospitals black patients must wait for three years for an operation."
Botha said when Mandela became president, he was careful not to lose skilled white people.
"He said we must not lose the proficiency of the whites. They must not leave the public service, but they should help us to train people to achieve that same proficiency," said Botha.
"They have now removed all those people."