I think Affirmative Action does need a deadline. It is unacceptable to be affirming people for the rest of their lives; especially if the affirmation is done by both the perpetrators of socio-economic injustice and the government of the day.
It can’t be that there should be people who benefited from the atrocities of the past regime but they are excluded from contributing to the affirmation of those they kept down and out for over 300 years. Those who benefited should feel responsible to address the inequalities inherited from the past. And those who benefited should not be begged to right the wrong but should come forward and suggest solutions.
Our white compatriots should not make a mistake of thinking that hiring people in farms and other labour spaces is an equivalent of reparations. Work is celebrated slavery and it should worry them that they seem to have a bigger muscle; after government of keeping people employed when they are such a minority. How did we arrive at a stage where a minority has the power to control the welfare of so many people? By honestly answering that question we can be able to agree on what cut-off date should Affirmative Action be abandoned.
However, much as the economic inequality today can be partly laid out at the door of government; we need to accept that the system of governance we have today is a product of a consensus. The negotiated settlement carved out with political parties is not what the majority of South Africans would under normal circumstances have settled for. What former liberation movements and tribal parties from Bantustans settled for was a sham deal not ratified by the people that the apartheid regime co-opted to negotiate with. The CODESA Agreement was never subjected to a Blacks-Only referendum to see if we agreed with its contents given that Nelson Mandela was an unelected leader when he entered into them. He was a leader of the African National Congress; not of Black people in their totality. So, that agreement is not as binding to all Black people as some people have come to believe. All white people should do is to look up the signature and designation of Mandela on that agreement and they will see in what capacity did he sign. The old man only carried the mandate of ANC members.
However when then President FW de Klerk wanted a mandate to negotiate South Africa’s transition he initiated a whites-only referendum to ask for permission to talk. He was overwhelmingly given by his electorate. It is a transparency Mandela was never granted. So, nothing agreed is binding to Black people but to ANC members. The only thing we can agree on is what was legislated after he was elected President of the country which is Affirmative Action and Black Economic Empowerment. I said Affirmative Action needs a deadline. True. When should that deadline be? It can’t be something that gets decided by the people who benefited from a racially divisive system that made the majority of them wealthy. That deadline should come from Black people.
Let us ask ourselves how long it took Germany to pay war reparations to the millions of Jews who were subjected to genocide, robbing of corpses and economic robbery in the 20th century? The 2nd World War ended in 1945, Israel was founded in 1948 and its industrialisation was largely funded by Germany as part of reparations. By the way Germany might have ceased to transfer millions of Euros annually to Israel but it continues to support it in various ways. It continues to serve as a guarantor of many political developments that Israel is involved in. It shares intelligence and technology of various kinds with Israel. All as part of the reparations package demanded in the 1950s. One of the few safest places for Jews to live in Europe is Germany. The Germans have accepted their culpability in the genocide of Jews, their economic subjugation and cultural genocide and they are affirming Jews at every opportunity they get.
Why is it that white people in South Africa, merely 23 years into our democracy have a problem with affirming Black people? What’s 23 years compared with more than a half century of German accountability? Currently white companies that used to assist apartheid South Africa to bust sanctions are refusing to reinvest billions of rands they made from our father’s sweat and opt to invest them overseas. When asked they talk about policy unpredictability. I am tempted to think that apartheid was so unpredictable that it made no sense to open even a mere firm. But they did; because they had faith in the racist regime that ruled then and they don’t have faith in the government leading today because it is black led.
Affirmative Action is not a new thing. Americans introduced it in the 1960s following pressure from the Civil Rights Movement to dismantle Jim Crow. It was introduced in the 1960s and it took over 30 years for the US to have a really Black public servant in the service of that country. General Colin Powell became the Joint Chief of Staff for the US Army, cracking a glass ceiling in the 1990s. He moved on to become the Secretary of State and later to be followed by Condoleeza Rice in the same position and finally Barak Obama as president. So it takes half a century for the US Affirmative Action to produce an affirmed leader and today we are being told that we have to end Affirmative Action even before the senior management posts and Executive management reflect that we have that policy in place? Why don’t we say we will end Affirmative Action the moment the top lever of corporate South Africa reflect the population dynamics? White people constitute six percent of the population; shouldn’t we say Affirmative Action will die when only six percent of managerial and executive posts are held by those who benefitted in the past and their brood?
This is what white people used to call Job Reservation. Every white person who served in the army, regardless of low education was guaranteed a job and a house under the apartheid regime. This was done regardless of Black people who equally served in the army. Two men served in the same army and at the end one is given a job and a house while the other is given a Passbook banishing him to a Bantustan. That was apartheid but the aim was to affirm white Afrikaners following the Second World War and what was called the Poor White Problem.
Apartheid leaders felt the need to affirm Afrikaners and that project went from 1948 to this day. Job Reservation for whites has not ended because it was protected in the Sunset Clauses whites negotiated with Mandela. But now Affirmative Action, a policy practised in many Western countries is being attacked in South Africa simply because it is being implemented by a Black government