Tuesday, June 8

Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action seems to be a topic that crops up every few months. Jonathan commented on the issue brought up by Mr Lekota, Minister of defense for South Africa. Mr Lekota was asking why it was necessary for him to have a minimum percentage of white troops in the armed forces. Rethabile also addressed it yesterday, saying that he thinks that it is a necessary evil.

My own opinion is that affirmative action is a tool that if used wisely and with restraint can help South Africa overcome some of the challenges we face. It can help open doors for people from communities that never had access to the opportunities available to others which in turn can help communities feel that they have a stake in the future of our country.

If used irresponsibly or with the intention to punish or hurt affirmative action will destroy South Africa as surely as Mugabe has destroyed Zimbabwe.

There is a difference between affirmative action in America, where the recipients are a minority, and affirmative action in South Africa, where the recipients are the majority. Strict quotas and the enforcement thereof will mean that the majority of South Africas white population will be without (even the possibility of) employment. This in turn will mean that the brain drain that we have experienced in recent years will become the flood that scaremongers have warned about, which will destroy the very economy which South Africas black majority wishes to join.

Worse than that, an economic 'land grab' will mean the end of the spirit of reconciliation that has been the backbone of South African society for the last ten years.

On a personal level affirmative action affects my family severely. The opportunities I would have normally in other countries are not as easily available to me in South Africa because I am a white man. Still, the majority of trained professionals entering the work force are still by a large majority white men. In addition to this, I believe the opportunities available to us overseas since the end of apartheid make up for some of opportunities lost at home.

The policy of the ANC, as pertains the private sector, has been that of affirmative action. However, they have used the carrot rather than the stick by using government contracts as a reward for companies that have been proactive in applying affirmative action. I think this has been a good policy on their part.

In the public sector affirmative action has been rampant, and the damage done by employing people without the necessary training or experience can be seen in the number of jobs that have been outsourced by the new government (PPPs, or public-private partnerships, has been the buzzword not only because the ANC are such devout capitalists). It has however been very successful in that it has created a black middle class relatively quickly.

The future success of affirmative action in South Africa will depend on the economic growth we are able to achieve in the coming years, and the ability to move more and more people into our formal economy. That in turn will depend on us being able to use our most skilled people to the best of their abilities. The majority of those people are white South Africans at the moment. Affirmative action is therefore very much a Catch-22 for the new South African society.

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