April 1994, in South Africa, signaled an ending of arguably one of the most brutal and racially exclusive regimes to ever rule during the 20th century. A feeling of hope seemed palpable when, the then President, Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as the country’s first democratically elected leader. As the dust of celebrations of the newly born ‘rainbow nation’ settled it was time to get to work and implement policies that would chart a way forward and subsequently rid the country of its inhumane past.
It was time to redress and construct a new meaning of what South Africa was and could be. And among the best or better ways of achieving such a monumental feat was through the widening the gate of the economy which had been painstakingly designed to afford entry to the privileged minority. Fast forward to 2008 and the ruling had just elected not only, a new president, but also a ‘new’ National Executive Committee that seems to be galvanized by revenge against their predecessors. Jacob Zuma has made it a primary concern of his to assure the international investors and the gatekeepers of white capital, especially the Afrikaner community, that there’ll be no deviation from the fiscal ‘discipline’ that had been followed during President Thabo Mbeki’s tenure. Zuma, while on his please all trans, told Afrikaners at a meeting organized by trade union Solidarity that the affirmative action policy would have to be ‘reassessed’.
If ever there was a contentious issue that has split the fabric of social cohesion in South Africa it has to be undoubtedly the debate surrounding affirmative action and whether it has reached its sell by date or not. Affirmative action has been perceived for what it is and not for what it seeks to achieve at the end of its implementation. Some people who are against its continued existence have even called it racism ‘recycled’. Affirmative action is a system of restitution aimed at helping groups of people who were unfairly marginalized and kept at the boundaries of their society and thereby unable to access the privileges that flow from the spring waters of a national effort. So one can gather from such an explanation that from the on set AA policies are not obsessed with race, but are concerned with marginalized people. The reason AA has been labeled as a ‘recreation’ of racism in this country is probably because race was used as a yardstick of those that shall enjoy the privileges of having a direct contact and effective impact on the economy and who shall be left to yield sustenance from the barren peripheries of the economy. As a result of such diligent planning by Dr D.F. Malan and his clique, racial exclusivity; class and power shagged and culminated into privileges only enjoyed by the white minority. This primarily race based AA was not enacted because the government has an agenda against the white community, but because there’s a need to get the greater population of this country involved and have a say as to how the economy will be managed and it’s through BBBEE, gender parity and favouring of people with disabilities, that the government is trying to even the playing field and counter the historical imbalances that had subsisted for more than a century and that also intensified in 1948 when the National Party gained power.
The idea of even entertaining the illegitimacy and goals of AA in South Africa is a sign of a lack of commitment displayed by those who do not even for once wish to see this country truly transforming. It’s through the charm offensive of the likes of Zuma that white people seek to dictate on longevity and the execution of a policy’s whose purpose is to redress a 46 year old system of injustice. In countries such as the US were there’s been a similar experience with regards to segregation and laws that sprung from it, the issue of AA is still very much a hot potato and it’s not that simple to end it even though it was introduced as far back as the 1960s when John F Kennedy and Lynden B Johnson were presidents respectively. The detractors who seek to prescribe an early retirement for AA in this country were fairly silent when the Employment Equity Commission, and Black Management Forum, president Jimmy Manyi revealed startling facts about how white women were the highest beneficiaries from gender redress in the employment sector even though they weren’t as discriminated by the previous regime as black women were. What’s even more ironic is that when the Pretoria High Court declared South African born Chinese as black, those who have continuously called such a policy as racist where cheering and heaping praises on the judiciary for such a ground breaking decision. Not all of us were fooled by such a ruling, the only reason the Pretoria High Court ruled in favour of the Chinese was because of diplomatic and political ties China enjoys with South Africa and because it would be suicidal for our government to snub the descendants of a country with the fastest growing market and that also occupies a one of the five permanent seats at the UN (in)Security Council.
AA has to be understood in context of its objectives and aims. The unfortunate reality is that black people still have the involuntary monopoly with regards to poverty and we all know or at least ought to know that the economy of the land is still stubbornly white with a few black elites who are there, in most cases, because of their intimacy with the ruling party. The number of families who are fed by people gaining entry into the job market because of such policies is enormous and it does, in a way, help in reducing the levels of poverty nationally. The angst that manifests from the white younger generation is justified, but in all honesty they can’t deny the fact they also benefited even if it’s indirect as a result of their parents’ abilities to go to well off schools and universities in the past. When one is bitten by a snake he’s asked to indentify the kind of snake that bit him in order for the perfect antidote to be administered. Apartheid was a very venomous snake and so far AA is the best antidote at our disposal.
Happy Women’s Month.