Affirmative inaction

2007-11-14 00:00

Affirmative Action (AA) is a swear word to many white people, even though most of them are already gainfully employed. But AA has also become something of a nightmare for black professionals, who are pressurised to be star employees.

Once you've jumped through all the hoops (like submitting your 1984 student number, agreeing to credit checks and providing an affidavit that you really are who you say you are), the real abuse begins. You have to deal with the high expectations and lack of support that come with being “given the opportunity” to work.

While a fair-skinned employee, who might have as much (or as little) experience as you, is given a chance to learn the ropes and make costly mistakes, the darker-skinned employee remains on edge, with little room for mistakes and no time to learn.

A Ruth, for example, is more likely to be taken to meetings, introduced to clients and shown how to run the budget, while a Lumka will probably be left to answer the phones and figure out how to read memos in Afrikaans.

High pressure and expectations are part of the game in any corporate world, but the rules we play by and the tools we're given are not necessarily the same. Many a black worker has complained about being given a great title but no decision-making power, as well as having to spend hours begging for stationery or a second-hand laptop.

Have you ever noticed how rare it is to find two or more black managers running a show? Instead you're more likely to be window-dressing while the real boss pulls the strings.

Once you've failed or quit your job, you'll hear the sighs and moans of a company that “once again” has been disappointed by black people who “just can't seem to do the job”. But the truth is that the AA candidate never really had the job in the first place.

• Do you agree with Sbu Mpungose's view on AA? SMS “AA” plus your comments to 33358.

• This column originally appeared in Move! magazine, Township Talk.

• Sbu Mpungose is the editor of Move! magazine.

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