We are still divided in our diversity

2014-05-19 10:00

As South Africans, we say we value diversity but in reality, we don’t. We are vicious towards individuals who don’t fulfil the stereotypes we hold.

Lindiwe Mazibuko has certainly been the butt of our most malicious bigotry. Calling her a “tea lady” certainly exposes our own self-hate and lack of respect for the millions of women who take on this role to support their families.

It was certainly a shock to me when she came on to the political scene as a member of the DA six years ago. Most times, when African people are educated in “white” schools, they are assumed to have been indoctrinated and assimilated, which, quite frankly, is insulting.

As minorities in these institutions, we don’t come out untouched by the culture we are immersed in, but we are not immune to the prejudiced and unfair discriminatory realities of black people as we experience the same in these schools, which are microcosms of society.

This is why Mazibuko’s choice bewildered me as I tried to reconcile how any African person could support a party that is unintelligible on employment equity.

But again, many of us in the private sector join companies that don’t necessarily share all our values or practice what they preach, and we idealistically believe we will change things from the inside.

You soon discover that although you have the title, you don’t have the authority and you fail to change the course of the Titanic.

Having attended a white private school during apartheid and studied to master’s level, it is not lost on me that the opportunities I get largely emanate because employment equity is the law of the land.

The irony is that even with this educational background, I usually get opportunities only when an African female is specifically required. That I have merit is usually a wonderful surprise.

Employment equity might be bastardised and sabotaged in its implementation, but more doors are now open to many of us than there would have been without it.

The mantra of “merit” harped on by the DA is a gatekeeping tactic that might seem innocent but is loaded.

In a society that was constructed on inequalities that were grounded in race, merit will ensure that black people never catch up, including the born-frees because being disadvantaged is not merely an economic metric, as the DA is at pains to advance. Merit means superior quality or worth and excellence.

How do people acquire those qualities without gaining exposure and a track record?

Everyone reading this article has either experienced or knows someone who has qualifications, and the prerequisite experience, but never seems to break through that elusive glass ceiling. Many people end up being career “job hoppers”. But sadly the grass is not always greener on the other side.

I have begrudged Mazibuko because she was not vocal about the legitimacy of rewarding “potential” and just overemphasising “merit” in debates on employment equity.

The nuances seem inconsequential, but are very significant. Even her party did not appoint women and black people to the Western Cape legislature because they did not qualify on merit.

The reports on Mazibuko’s decision to study abroad instead of returning to Parliament intimated that differences between herself and Helen Zille came to a head during debates on the Employment Equity Amendment Bill.

If that is true, it could be a symptom that diversity hasn’t taken root within the DA and that Mazibuko has not been assimilated.

At 34, she is young, and her first job was at the DA. We all can benefit from leaving our shores, learning from other countries and teaching other nations about our country.

Msomi is founder and chief executive of Busara Leadership Partners

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