Affirmative action in South Africa refers to policies that take factors including “race, colour, religion, sex or national origin” into consideration in order to benefit an underrepresented group, usually as a means to counter the effects of a history of discrimination. The focus of such policies ranges from employment and education to public contracting and health programs. Affirmative action in South Africa ensures that qualified people from designated groups have equal opportunities in the workplace.
Due to apartheid in South Africa favoured white-owned companies and as a result, the majority of employers in South Africa were, and still are owned by white people. The aforementioned policies achieved the desired results, but in the process they marginalised and excluded black people. Skilled jobs were also reserved for white people, and blacks were largely used as unskilled labour.
It has been argued that affirmative action in South Africa benefits people of colour who are already well off or have middle class advantages, not the poor and working class people of colour who most need it. A more careful analysis reveals that affirmative action programs have benefited substantial numbers of poor and working class people of colour. Access to job training programs, vocational schools, and semi-skilled and skilled blue-collar, craft, pink-collar, police and fire-fighters jobs has increased substantially through affirmative action programs. Even in the professions, many people of colour who have benefited from affirmative action have been from families of low income and job status.
The policies of affirmative action indirectly give rise to reverse discrimination. The idea of affirmative action in South Africa is to give support and assistance to the previously discriminated group, for a better future. The fact however is, that many previously discriminated members belong to the economically middle and upper class families and still, they get the advantage of affirmative action policies. A poor white student who works harder avails no benefit and lags behind in the competition. So, isn’t this a discrimination against the minority class? And how come middle and upper class minorities, now in good financial position, are still enjoying the benefits of affirmative action? These questions need to be answered.
Another argument raised against affirmative action in South Africa is that individual white people, often white males, have to pay for past discrimination and may not get the jobs they deserve. It is true that specific white people may not get specific job opportunities because of affirmative action policies and may suffer as a result. This lack of opportunity is unfortunate; the structural factors which produce a lack of decent jobs needs to be addressed. It must not be forgotten that millions of specific people of colour have also lost specific job opportunities as a result of racial discrimination. To be concerned only with the white applicants who don’t get the job, and not with the people of colour who don’t, is showing racial preference.
The following is a basic guide to the application of affirmative action in South Africa.
The Employment Equity Act applies to all employers, workers and job applicants, but not members of the –
• National Defence Force;
• National Intelligence Agency; and
• South African Secret Service.
The provisions for affirmative action in South Africa apply to:
• employers with 50 or more workers, or whose annual income is more than the amount specified in Schedule 4 of the Act;
• organs of State;
• employers ordered to comply by a bargaining council agreement;
• any employers who volunteer to comply.
• Employment Equity Act
Applies to all employers and workers and protects workers and job seekers from unfair discrimination, and also provides a framework for implementing affirmative action
Affirmative Action Measures
Employers must make sure designated groups (black people, women and people with disabilities) have equal opportunities in the workplace.
Designated groups must be equally represented in all job categories and levels.
Based on Legislation in Section 15, of the Employment Equity Act
Why is Affirmative Action Necessary?
Affirmative action makes sure that qualified designated groups (black people, women and people with disabilities) have equal opportunities to get a job.
They must also be equally represented in all job categories and levels of the workplace.
Based on legislation in Section 15,of the Employment Equity Act
What Measures Must Employers Take?
Employers must –
• find and remove things that badly affect designated groups;
• support diversity through equal dignity and respect to all people;
• make changes to ensure designated groups have equal chances;
• ensure equal representation of designated groups in all job categories and levels in the workplace; and
• retain and develop designated groups.
Based on Legislation in Section 15 of the Employment Equity Act
Discussing Affirmative Action with Workers
Employers must discuss employment equity issues with their workers. They must include different kinds of workers in the talks.
Based on Legislation in Section 16, of the Employment Equity Act
Who Should Employers Talk To?
When they discuss employment equity, employers must make sure they include workers from:
• all job categories and levels;
• designated groups (black people, women and people with disabilities); and
• workers who are not from designated groups.
* Based on legislation in Section 16, of the Employment Equity Act
What Should Employers Discuss With Workers?
Employers must talk to workers or their unions about their employment equity:
• plans and