Someone please make me understand affirmative action better!

2013-03-18 09:08

I remember waiting in a queue at the post office down-town Pretoria the other day and behind me was two gentlemen talking about affirmative action viewed by many a controversial issue.

These sounded like two people who were so much into politics and one could tell from their conversation they knew what they were talking about.

With so much passion these guys started rambling that I found myself unintentionally joining their conversation.

I didn’t enter the fray because I knew too much about the topic in question. I am definitely no expert in politics nor am I a political freak. Just like an ordinary citizen I seem to have grown a lot of interest in what is transpiring not only on our political landscape, but also in things affecting our citizenry in its everyday life. I believe one does not even need to be into politics to know what affirmative action is.

I won’t dwell much on what these two gentlemen’s views were on affirmative action, but will give you my take, something I believe seemed to have brought to their conversation a different twist.

Now, I believe it is important that people understand there is nothing wrong with affirmative action.

We are never actually interested and able to really understand and agree on something until there is a need for us to do so. We therefore I believe particularly as South Africans have more than enough reason to understand this sensitive topic.

In short affirmative action has its roots in the earliest efforts directed against unfair discrimination. It was designed to aid those who have suffered historical and widespread mistreatment in the form of both de jure and de facto discrimination. In the broadest meaning it is generally understood to be the practice of favorably considering an individual’s status as a woman, or as a member of a racial or ethnic minority.

The above explanation is actually an understatement considering an immense impact affirmative action has brought with, but it would take me more than enough space if I were to explain affirmative action in broad terms.

But a dramatic turn in the discussion took effect when I started talking about the controversial nature of affirmative action. My view was that affirmative action is a battleground for competing values, especially competing concepts of distributive justice.

Many, especially the white majority of our people I felt held a view that affirmative action was discrimination in reverse. It is however I believe fallacious to equate affirmative action with discrimination given the reasons for its importance and need, but at the same time it somehow puts someone’s view in neutrality.

There was nothing wrong with affirmative action, I cited. However, it becomes a problem when people manipulate and exploit the whole system or programme to benefit a few amongst those it is supposed to benefit. Instead of benefiting a minority, surprisingly it only benefits a few in the minority.

Affirmative action seems to have provided a playground for corruption, nepotism and a whole lot of negative things taking place in the public sector today.

What do you make of a situation whereby a person qualifies for preferential treatment solely on the grounds that he or she possesses an immutable characteristic? An employee for example may be promoted because she is female, without satisfying the job specification.

What do you make of a situation where a black matriculant is promoted rather than the white male graduate with a degree or vice-versa?

Yet we act with so much shock towards maladministration in some government department. People get tired of being overlooked and ultimately resort to ignore rules and regulations guiding them to run the business of government departments.

Do not get me wrong, I am not in any-way saying affirmative action solely is the main cause to these shenanigans and I am so not in any way trying to justify these kinds of doings. Two wrongs have never made it right. These shenanigans however might also be the contributing factor to the failing of our government departments. Again, when people get tired of being looked over, they will at some point resort to doing things their own way; and their own way might mean to hell with rules and regulations.

Amongst others, the recent claims by former Gold Fields Chairwoman Mamphela Ramphele that the Department of Mineral Resources forced Gold Fields to include certain individuals as beneficiaries of its South Deep empowerment deal in 2010 – and threatened to refuse it a mining licence if it did not toe the line, the furore taking place at the SABC and the weekend revelation by the Sunday Times that the Guptas tried to buy SAA boss are not only prove that the state machinery is so much at war with itself, but that SA our beloved country is in one hell of a roller coaster. Even the blind can see this.

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