Debate by Hon. P. Govender on the Scrapping of the Affirmative Action Policy

Jul 27, 2023 | Press Releases

Debate by Honourable P. Govender of the Inkatha Freedom Party
27 July 2023

Mover of the Motion, Hon S Thakur-Rajbansi

MOTION : This House notes:

That the affirmative action policy had a 2014 sunset clause; and that this policy was critical initially, but 2024 will mark 20 years since it was first implemented;

This House therefore resolves:

To call for a debate on the scrapping of the affirmative action policy as our “born free” youths, especially those from minority communities, are being side-lined when it comes to opportunities.

 

Greetings to the Honourable Speaker, the Leader of the Official Opposition Hon. VF Hlabisa and all Honourable Members.

I consider it a honour to be representing the Inkatha Freedom Party in this very important debate of a motion that has wide-ranging implications across our country.

I believe that this debate must firstly commence with a clear understanding of the principles and objectives of the B-BBEE Act, which are to promote economic transformation and enable meaningful participation of black people in the South African economy, through increased participation in ownership and management structures, increasing the involvement of communities and employees in economic activities.

Secondly, we must be clear as to the constitutional definition of the term “Black” in this context. The B-BBEE Act defines black persons as “Africans, Coloureds and Indians,” who, as of an amendment to the Act in 2013, are South African citizens by birth or descent or were naturalised as South African citizens prior to 27 April 1994 (or would have been eligible for naturalisation prior to that date).

Affirmative action is there to redress the inequalities of the past and must be seen to do so, rather than to create a form of reverse discrimination.

Hon. Speaker, on paper, the B-BBEE Act seeks to change the pre-1994 status quo, stating in its Preamble the need to “promote the achievement of the constitutional right to equality, increase broad-based and effective participation of black people in the economy and promote a higher growth rate, increased employment and more equitable income distribution”.

In the case of UNISA v Reynhardt, Dr M Mushariwa, Senior Lecturer at Wits University states:

“Affirmative action seeks to create a working environment based on principles of substantive equality, the ultimate aim of this pursuit being the creation of a workforce representative of the population of South Africa. One of the on-going debates around affirmative action is whether or not it has a life-span. The one school of thought argues that affirmative action requires a legislated sunset clause, in which the consideration of issues of race, gender and disability will no longer be required of employers. Failure to have such a clause is held to give rise to an ‘institutionalised racial spoils system’ and to result in reverse discrimination. The other school of thought argues that the need for affirmative action is two-fold – to redress past inequalities but also to deal with existing inequalities within society – and having a sunset clause would pervert the aim of affirmative action to deal effectively with both kinds of inequalities and also to create a representative workforce.”

She goes on to state: “It was held that once an employer has reached his employment equity targets it is no longer justifiable for the employer to continue to apply affirmative action. The employer must therefore in the lifecycle of affirmative action apply the principle of the most suitably qualified candidate. Appointments must then be based on merit. It is therefore possible within a specific employment setting to create a workplace that no longer applies affirmative action due to its targets having been reached.”

Hon. Speaker, we have comprehensive labour legislation in SA with good intentions but bad implementation, with affirmative action being a sore case in point. The main aim of affirmative action is to make sure that qualified designated groups, which include black people, women and people with disabilities, have equal opportunities to get a job. This was a policy in good faith and is good in principle but not practised in our country and several other countries. Again, let’s be reminded that the B-BBEE Act defines black persons as “Africans, Coloureds and Indians”.

Hon. Speaker, I would like to quote His Excellency, Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who very wisely said : “We must review affirmative action. Whilst I believe that affirmative action as a remedy makes sense, its implementation, as it is now, I am afraid, is not fulfilling its original purpose – that of bringing the previously disadvantaged out of poverty.” His Excellency had concerns about labour legislation and the application of affirmative action, particularly, centred on the implementation rather than the principle.

We, as the IFP have always been in favour of changing the status quo of inequality and ensuring that the previously disadvantaged are given every opportunity to take their rightful place in society.

Addressing the Black Business Summit in June this year, the IFP President, Honourable VF Hlabisa put it very precisely when he said: “It is important to note that although Black South Africans have achieved political freedom, for millions, economic freedom remains just a dream, far-removed from their daily lived reality”. Our economy is stagnating and millions of our people, including academically qualified youth, do not have jobs.

The IFP acknowledges the evils of apartheid and the fact that there were unequal opportunities and that there must be redress. Therefore, we fully support B-BBEE: but not at the expense of a State that finds itself incapable of functioning efficiently due to the high number of vacancies we see across government departments. B-BBEE, as it is practiced now, tends to be used as a shield and smokescreen for the benefit primarily of the most fortunate and most politically connected.

Hon. Speaker, subverting policies such as affirmative action to promote cadre deployment is another impediment to economic growth and transformation. Political loyalty should not be favoured over competence. Many of our country’s woes over the past two decades can be traced back to this blind loyalty and deployment of inexperienced and unqualified personnel in critical sectors of the economy.

Whilst acknowledging and fully supporting the redress as intended by B-BBEE, the IFP insists on seeing meritocracy being one of the main considerations for appointments in the public service and in the parastatals. We must also assess the impact of affirmative action on labour market outcomes in the country.

His Excellency, Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, made a very poignant observation when he said: “Affirmative action has been applied in countries as diverse as Malaysia, the USA, Sri Lanka and India. Some figures – and one must treat figures carefully – illustrate that affirmative action has deepened poverty in the USA for poor blacks whilst increasing wealth for rich blacks.” It might appear that affirmative action has created a new form of socio-economic discrimination in employment and education, where the respective government programmes encourage in favour of middle-class members of the majority group over better qualified working-class members from the same group, since such programmes do not, in essence, consider socio-economic class.

As the IFP, we believe that the sunset clause on affirmative action legislation was included for a specific purpose – rightly so and it is now time to review the policy. So, let us task ourselves with taking a hard and dispassionate look at the implementation of the B-BBEE policy and affirmative action.

In his closing comments to the Black Business Summit, Hon. VF Hlabisa said: “As the IFP, we encourage the Department of Trade and Industry and Competition and the BBBEE Commission to target low-hanging fruit, and get back to basics, so that more Black South Africans can harvest the benefits of the BBBEE Act.”

Again, Hon. Speaker and Hon. Members, let’s be reminded that the B-BBEE Act defines black persons as “Africans, Coloureds and Indians.”

In essence, we as the IFP support this motion.

I thank you.

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