The new law or amendment that has caused the ruction between James Manyi and Trevor Manuel and others who jump in to defend one or the other, is based on the demographic configuration of the country. And the new law/amendment, which seeks to compensate for demographics that are a result of historical events, is again putting the cart before the horse. Affirmative action, as applied, put people in positions of responsibility without adequate training. That is because we allow statistics to drive our thinking. In order to create a state in which every community has the correct ratio of Whites to Africans to Coloureds to Indians, would require the same kind of social engineering as resulted from the Group Areas Act. So sensibly it was not attempted before. To try to do it now is not to recognise that an affirmative action programme based on statics does not work. Affirmative action should be based on skills, training and the development of expertise.
That is what the apartheid government embarked on in 1948 and that is why we have large numbers of Afrikaners with expert technical and scientific know how. It is true it was easier for the Nationalist government because their outlook was confined to a tiny minority. Nevertheless, they began with training and the development of skills and expertise. And they set up educational institutions for their people and trained them in all areas needed to run the country. Affirmative action that begins with hiring of one group and firing of another on the basis of race without first improving skills and expertise and without demanding competence, leads to all kinds of problems in governance.
With the proposed new legislation we are still focused on race rather than competence. So instead of attending to the crucial crisis in education that does not prepare youngsters for a place in the society, we are redefining our understanding of black people. Under the new legislation black people means African people. Coloureds and Indians, who were more privileged than Africans under apartheid, are being relegated to their correct positions in a racial hierarchy.
Before further social engineering the government should take an honest look at what affirmative action has achieved:
It has changed attitudes to Black (African, Coloured and Indian) people who are treated with more respect though not complete trust in the formal sector.
It has placed more Black people in positions of responsibility.
It has created a new African middle class through BEE.
It has led to a severe loss of skills through relegation of white managers, administrators etc.
It has led to emigration of skilled people.
It has led to inadequate service delivery.
It has led to protests especially of the very poor in their demands for service delivery.
It has led to widespread corruption.
It has kept alive racism as the basis of relationships in the country.
Affirmative action is needed but simply replacing people on the basis of race alone cannot work. It must be based on skills and expertise as well as a comprehensive understanding of the meaning of service to the community.
We have to begin by correcting the miseducation that began under apartheid and continues under the ANC government.