Dear fellow South Africans
In the past few years, the issue of social inequality has been thrown around haphazardly. It, and its various connotations, has been brandished around by academics and politicians alike, claiming that it is the root cause of all evils in South Africa. Its associated phrases, such as “redressing Apartheid” or “encouraging diversity”, have become commonplace in the lexicon of those who wish to fight for and against the many racially-based policies in place in South Africa today.
There are certainly facts that, without any shadow of a doubt, highlight the huge inequality in corporate South Africa and South Africa in general. Whether you look at it from the perspective that despite making up roughly 12% of the population, white people occupy 73% of top management positions, or that South Africa has the highest Gini Coefficient in the world for countries with populations above 5 million.
As a white male in my final year of study at the University of Cape Town, it disturbs me that I may not get into the corporate graduate program of my choice because of the colour of my skin and the gender that has been assigned to me. I have been explicitly told that positions on a particular company’s graduate program are assigned to ensure that “diversity” is upheld, since a key aspect of this particular company’s mission statement is “transformation”. Is the real reason not so that they can put a shiny laminated BEE certificate on their wall?
Whilst technically I can’t be considered a born free, I nevertheless was born when South Africa was on the brink of banishing Apartheid. I most certainly was not old enough to ever observe an outright enactment of any Apartheid laws; and from my very first day of school when I was five years old, I was in a class with black students.
Have I at some point in my life benefitted from Apartheid? Maybe.
Am I still benefitting from Apartheid? I don’t think so.
Are the black, Indian and coloured students who sit beside me in my classes currently disadvantaged because of Apartheid?
This is the million dollar question, and I think the answer is a resounding “no”. These students have had the exact same level of education as I have over the past four years. When we graduate, we will all have graduated from the top university in South Africa, in fact the top university on the continent. We will have had access to the same resources and had the same opportunities to pursue our other interests. Yet these students could possibly be favoured for a position despite our academic accomplishments being similar.
What disturbs me most is that I am finding myself being caught in the crossfire. The people who are being advantaged are not the ones who are currently disadvantaged. I don’t see why my career opportunities should be squandered because of my race and gender, while the career opportunities of my classmates who happen to not be my race or gender are being promoted. Similarly, how demoralising would it be to someone who was awarded such an opportunity, not because of their talents, but because of their pigment?
I hope we can work to address this problem at a grassroots level, so that in the future talent is naturally spread evenly around all races and genders. Only then will true redress have been achieved.
Thank you for listening.