Of merit and transformation

2013-04-14 14:00

A sad outcome of this week’s hearings of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) to choose new judges is that appointments based on merit, on the one hand, and transformation, on the other, are held to be mutually exclusive.

The debate running through this week’s hearings was sparked by JSC member Izak Smuts’ presentation, which suggested that the commission should confess that there is no longer a place for white men on the judiciary. Throughout the week, various judges and members of the commission have waded in to defend transformation, or attack it.

At the heart of all their contributions have been this fallacy: merit and transformation are different things. It is the height of fallacious race-based thinking as it carries the subtext that white applicants get there on merit and black (and female) applicants are there on a transformation ticket alone.

Nothing could be further from the truth, or as dangerously close to racial myth.

Transformation is a policy to ensure that the judiciary’s make-up reflects the demographics of the society over which it exercises judgement.

All applicants should be excellent and get there on merit. It is a natural assumption (and a correct one), but the tenor of the debate is that black and female applicants are there to satisfy racial or gender quotas – and that the words ‘excellence’ or ‘merit’ are applied to only white applicants.

It will require the most judicious of minds to upend this week’s fallacies. They must work quickly to do so and state so publicly.

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