Saturday, July 26, 2008

Racist job policies polarise races

Washiela Jantjies is a 27-year-old contract surveyor working for the construction firm, NMC, in Cape Town. She is from the coloured community - a minority group that makes up less than 10% of South Africa's population.

Despite her age, she is already quite senior in her company. "My career started when NMC recruited me from high school," she says. "My school was in a hardcore area where you find people attending with different problems, where kids get pregnant at 14, where a father abuses his daughter.

"All you can think about is getting out of that hell-hole."

Ms Jantjies is a beneficiary of affirmative action. Under a company scheme, she was given extra maths and physics lessons and put through university.

NMC also employs 29-year-old Banyane Makwebu. She is a black South African - and the company's first female site manager. "It's up to you how far you want to go," she says. "NMC has plans in place for everyone to grow."

Finding talented young people like Ms Makwebu and Ms Jantjies and giving them the chance to break out of poverty is not just the aim of this Cape Town company, but of the South African government as a whole. In 1998, the new democratic government introduced the Employment Equity Act - affirmative action legislation which forces South African companies to give preferential treatment to its 90% black, coloured and Indian population, as well as female workers.

Jimmy Manyi, the Chairperson for the Commission for Employment Equity, says South Africa needs affirmative action to redress the inequalities of the past. "We've just come out of a system of apartheid where based on the colour of your skin you were deprived of all kinds of opportunities," he says.

But although many skilled black workers have found jobs because of affirmative action, unemployment remains at around 40% in South Africa - most of this concentrated in the unskilled and poorly educated black population. And not all affirmative action schemes are as successful as the one that Ms Makwebu and Ms Jantjies enjoy.

Many black employees do not receive the necessary training to carry out their new jobs - and this has meant the policy is coming under fire for replacing able workers with incompetent ones on the basis of race.

'Too pale, too male'

In a leafy affluent Cape Town suburb, white engineer Mark Obree runs his own consultancy company. He used to work for the Cape Town municipality until he and other white senior managers were made redundant for being what he describes as "too pale and too male".

"Most of the people who were sidelined were professional people," he says. "The people who replaced them were younger, had less years of experience and in many cases were less qualified.

In this country it's difficult to find senior professional staff of the right colour.

"Affirmative action, along with high crime levels and political uncertainty, is a recognised factor in the emigration of 1 million white South Africans - 20% of the white population.

The leader of South Africa's ruling ANC party, Jacob Zuma, has said whites should not feel threatened by the policy.

But many, especially young South Africans, think they will be barred from jobs because of the colour of their skin. And it is not just whites who are critical of affirmative action.

'Band aid' policy

Black academic and human rights worker Rhoda Kadalie believes that the policy is a huge waste of resources.
"I firmly believe that a lot of the white people here want to help build this democracy," she says.

She describes affirmative action as a "band aid" policy used by the government to gain support from the majority black population without proper implementation.
"It's a liability when it's not accompanied by a whole lot of other steps," she says. "If you want affirmative action, you have to have staff development programmes, monitoring mechanism and sanctions."

"If people don't deliver, you fire them."

Millions unemployed

But Mr Manyi disagrees. He says there are enough qualified black people in South Africa to make affirmative action work. With millions of South Africans out of work, he says the country cannot afford to drop the policy.

"If it doesn't happen, you're going to have millions and millions of people who are angry and a little spark will set them off," Mr Manyi says. "People have been patient - They have been waiting for the government to deliver on affirmative action.

If that patience thins out, we're going to have turmoil in this country, I can assure you."

2 Opinion(s):

Anonymous said...

Interesting articles. South Africa Sucks ("uncle" cracker) just posted an article regarding affirmative action - omitting many truths and adding warped perceptions as though they are fact. He's not the only one on the site who seems bent on attacking his own race... and now branching into sexist bigotry. As such, their site, in view of getting the truth of matters into public sight - is fast losing all credibility. It's a shame in view of the credible work that's been done to get the truth out.

Anonymous said...

Glad to have you here with us. We certainly try and be objective and hope that we remain credible.