The opposition could use a lesson in the legacy of liberation

2013-11-24 14:00

It all started with an article by James Myburgh, who was in former DA leader Tony Leon’s kitchen cabinet during the Fight Back campaign days.

Myburgh, who is now editor of the influential website Polticsweb, decried the DA’s support for the Employment Equity Amendment Bill as a case of the party voting for “racial marginalisation” of minorities, thus betraying “its supporters, its history, its principles and, indeed, the future of South Africa itself”.

His regressive view was soon taken up by other commentators, including Leon himself. Crusty dinosaurs then crept out of the Jurassic Park of politics to back Myburgh.

They ranged from arch-conservatives like Anthea Jeffery and RW Johnson to Solidarity’s Dirk Hermann.

Predictably, Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Mulder also joined in the chorus.

Within two weeks, years of the DA’s attempts to reposition itself had been virtually wiped out.

Efforts to shake off the “party of white privilege” tag had been sabotaged by the architects of the 1999 Fight Back campaign.

Party leader Helen Zille then chose to play to the conservative gallery and described the party’s support for the bill as a “plane crash”.

But it was her characterisation of certain clauses of the bill as “Verwoerdian” that took the cake. In her world apartheid and the measures that are designed to correct the wrongs of apartheid constituted equal evils.

Like most of her colleagues, Zille has been wobbling like a drunk at 2am in striking the balance between expressing support for redress and opposing one of the effective tools for achieving this on the other.

They have even argued that the so-called coercive sections of the amendment bill will hurt economic growth and thus prevent black upward mobility.

An argument has also been made that South Africa should rather concentrate on fixing education and boosting economic growth. Equity would then follow naturally.

But what do the facts say?

The 2012/13 report of the Commission on Employment Equity tells us that despite the Employment Equity Act having become law in 1998, change in corporate South Africa has been negligible.

It shows that 72.6% of top management positions are occupied by whites, 12.3% by blacks, 7.3% by Indians, 4.6% by coloureds and 3.1% by foreigners.

The commission also found that recruitment, promotion and skills development patterns still favoured white males.

“Notwithstanding that there is a steady but slow representation in the representation of whites over the years, their domination still remains as they maintain more than two-thirds majority in terms of representation at this level.

The trajectory in terms of the trend at this level indicates that equity at this level will only be reached … after many, many decades,” says the commission.

It further notes that “clearly the legislation [Employment Equity Act] has not induced the transformation in the decision-making process” and that the current “approach so far has not generated the necessary momentum for transformation”.

When not dodging the Poo Warriors around Cape Town, Zille must take a moment to read the report. It may just show her that the Verwoerdians are not those championing the legislation, but South Africa’s corporate leaders who unashamedly perpetuate the legacy of HF Verwoerd in their employment practices.

It is they who have necessitated the “coercive” measures.

Zille and her lieutenants would also do well to acquaint themselves with the huge body of work that has been done on the rise of the black middle class.

This phenomenon, which has partly been driven by the limited implementation of employment equity, is one of the great success stories of post-1994 South Africa.

They will see that the upward mobility of black South Africans has boosted the spending power of this segment of the population and enabled black parents to offer an even better future for their children through better educational opportunities.

According to the Unilever Institute, the spending power of the black middle class now exceeds R400 billion.

On the social cohesion front, research by Futurefact revealed that, while differences still exist, white and black classes are sharing similar interests and concerns when it comes to lifestyle choices and views on many issues affecting the country.

Zille’s lot would also be well advised to reread the viral email that a young black Investec employee, Bonga Bangani, sent to the company’s management five years ago lamenting the lot of ambitious blacks in predominantly white corporations.

In the article, which resonated with tens of thousands of young black professionals, Bangani paints a picture of the obstacles placed in the way of black employees and the opportunities granted to their white counterparts.

If the DA leadership read the letter, which is still available on the internet, they would understand why “coercive” measures are necessary.

They would then be able to liberate their party from the past and help it contribute constructively to a transformed South Africa.

»?Makhanya is editor at large

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