Black bling masks white wealth

2010-03-06 00:00

THERE are several indications that members of the white community are unintended beneficiaries of the government’s black empowerment and affirmative action policies.

By contrast, the failure of public education has, in general, sabotaged black people’s chances of benefiting from affirmative action or black empowerment.

Last year, the level of unemployment among whites was in the region of five percent. That was considerably lower than the national average of just more than 23% and even further below the level of 27,9% for black people.

Reports on employment equity indicate that white South Africans also still occupy nearly 70% of the top and senior positions at management level. And more than half of all positions that require professional qualifications are occupied by whites.

Black people occupy fewer than 20% of top and senior management positions and just over 20% of positions for which professional qualifications are required.

The annual per capita income of whites has risen by 217% since 1996, slightly less than the 235% increase for black people, whose incomes grew from a much lower level.

Last year, whites’ disposable income averaged just less than R60 000 a year — six times higher than the slightly less than R10 000 a year of black South Africans.

Despite this, many whites believe that opportunities for advancement in their careers and economic prosperity are limited.

Without a doubt, affirmative action and black economic empowerment are discriminatory and whites have been deprived of opportunities to get “soft” jobs in the public sector and easy tenders for public works.

White flight

Analysis by the Institute of Race Relations indicates that between 500 000 and a million whites left the country after 1994.

The exodus was probably caused by three factors:

•It is possible for young whites to go abroad. In general they are very skilled, ambitious and not risk-averse, and they are able to help alleviate a global skills shortage. This is an important reason for emigrating that is often overlooked.

•Many leave because of their view that black economic empowerment and affirmative action are limiting their career prospects.

•Crime: fearful people will go in search of safer places to live.

Each factor taken individually may not be sufficient to cause emigration, but where two or more reasons exist, people will look at opportunities outside of South Africa.

Unless the government implements major policy changes the effect of these three factors on the white population will not diminish.

Surprisingly vigorous

The economic position of whites has remained surprisingly vigorous. The ANC’s discriminatory policies relating to empowerment and employment appear to have stimulated a greater sense of entrepreneurship and independence among whites.

Many whites have been forced to become more independent and to assume greater responsibility for their own living standards.

The improvement in the living standards of whites can be explained only by entrepreneurship, risk-taking and the obtaining of increasingly better levels of education and skills.

Most black people are lagging behind

We now have a decade of proof that, besides the establishment of a small black middle-class, most black people have been left behind — despite black empowerment and affirmative action.

Advocates of affirmative action and the policy of empowerment will argue that it is not the policies that have failed, but the government, which has not implemented or enforced them properly.

Some on the left of the economic spectrum are now even advocating the nationalisation of private enterprises to give this “wealth” to the poor.

The attitude of “the government will provide for me if only the government were given greater powers and responsibilities” make it likely that the policies of affirmative action and empowerment will continue.

Education sabotages black people

Education data indicate that white children achieve much better results than black children in subjects like science and maths.

This makes the claim that the failure of affirmative action and black empowerment can be ascribed to bad implementation sound unlikely.

Equally, the argument that white assets are located in the banks and the mines is unlikely. White living standards post-1994 prove that those assets are now to be found in the mindset and skills of the white community — assets which the government can never expropriate.

Generally speaking, the failure of public education has sabotaged black people’s chances of benefiting from affirmative action or black empowerment.

The stumbling blocks in the way of improving the living conditions of black South Africans are exacerbated by the attitude that “the government will provide”.

There is no chance this mindset can compete on equal footing with the growing independence and self-reliance characterising the white community.

The irony of the recent past is that affirmative action and black economic empowerment have disempowered their greatest advocates and empowered their greatest critics.

Perception and reality

South Africa’s racial communities appear frequently to be trapped in perceptions of reality that bear little resemblance to the facts.

The result is that many whites argue that affirmative action is hampering their progress, even while they are maintaining relatively high standards of living.

For black people the idea persists that the government will liberate them from poverty, despite the mounting evidence that such liberation is now unlikely.

• Frans Cronjé is executive deputy head of the Institute of Race Relations.

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