Tjatjarag: Say it loud, say it proud: I am a ...

2013-11-19 10:00

I am a proud affirmative action candidate. If it were not for the constitutional clause addressing redress and the laws that flowed from them, I would not have this great job.

In fact, if apartheid’s end had not been structured into steps to redress its impact, we would be up a creek without a paddle.

And I’d be stuck in Industria West behind a bank desk or in an unemployment queue dying a little every day.

You see, that was the destiny of girls like me: a bank clerk or a clothing job, and I’d be unemployed because the industry went to the wall when the economy opened and we went Chinese.

The apartheid system snuffed dreams by deforming destinies.

For me, such a destiny was Hades, but it was a damn sight better than that of blacker compatriots whose Verwoerdian destinies were no better than feudal. I want to cry when I hear DA leader Helen Zille call democratic affirmation “Verwoerdian”.

The purist liberal view that any reference to race in policies to correct this crime against humanity is illiberal and must surely deserve a description as conservative, if not reactionary, thinking in a country like ours.

How on earth are we meant to undo a system of racial oppression and exploitation without reference to race?

The spectrum of debate on affirmative action has been colonised by conservative and right wing thinkers, so almost nobody I know will say it loud and proud: I am an affirmative action candidate; I am an example of why the policy works.

So, in humility, let me stake this claim. I am a grateful and proud beneficiary of employment equity and empowerment laws.

Wherever I speak on the topic (and I do so often), black and female people are always saying: “I’m not an affirmative action appointment; I got here on my own steam.”

Of course you did. Talented. Ambitious. Hard-working. Aspirational.

Tick your box, or tick more than one. But also understand that the networks of racialised privilege and progress had to be physically dismantled.

The employment equity laws gave me the boost I coveted and a space to grow. Without them, I’d be nothing.

I’m tired of how equity in ownership or employment has been allowed to become a process that has put its supporters on the defensive or worse, in denial.

By classifying equity as a risk rather than an opportunity, we have allowed the narrative on this liberating policy to be dictated to by fear rather than hope.

Yet look at the evidence of hope. Employment equity has worked wonders.

The most recent tabulations contained in the Goldman Sachs report on two decades of freedom reveal how the growth of a substantial middle class has been nursed and nourished by affirmative action policies.

The catalytic impacts of this have boosted gross domestic product, ramped up property markets and driven a retail revolution, among other important national goods.

It is time to own this good society and to market it as a national benefit. If I were Brand SA, I’d turn this into a marketing campaign to show how we’ve made the policy work for a national impact.

But every year if you dig down into the report of the employment equity commissioner, you’ll see a sorry tale.

Many companies are in effect boycotting the policy, so the numbers of reporting companies is small compared with the total number of eligible companies.

The DA is in a pickle about equity. Every time Zille, attempts to clarify the party’s position, it gets murkier.

I suspect this is because the premier keeps saying: “We support equity and empowerment, BUT ...” Once you add a “but” to your support, you qualify it and confuse people. Yet the party is an example of how equity can work.

Its faces are increasingly those of the parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko and Gauteng provincial leader Mmusi Maimane, among other talents.

Why is it not possible to drop the ifs and buts, declare support and let your conservatives walk away to join, oh, Solidarity or AfriForum or something to the right of our spectrum?

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