Blog 4- South African Delegates Elaborate on the Nature of a Majority Mandated Affirmative Action

Loyiso Mbabane began the South Africa section by recounting the history of South Africa and the formalization of apartheid. Beginning in 1948 by the Dutch party, Loyiso dryly noted that it represents one of the longest lasting and most effective form of affirmative action by blatantly redistributing resources in favor of the Afrikaner race.   

Once apartheid ended in 1994, South Africa modeled its affirmative action initially after the Malaysian which is based on the Indian model.  Eventually, they settled on the Canadian model with its broader scope.   

From there, another speaker discussed the role of affirmative action in post-apartheid South Africa. For some, it offers transformation from the past. Yet, an ongoing debate also continues in South Africa with a privileged minority still fighting the discrepancies affirmative action is trying to correct.  Another point of contention, are those who are colored South Africans but not black South Africans. Often they feel that the affirmative action policies discriminate against them in favor of black South Africans. In addition, under the apartheid system, they received favorable treatment because their skin was not as dark. Many of them lost their privileged status.   

Complicating matters is the widening economic gap between black Africans after 1994. While affirmative action does not address this, it brings up the need to “de-racialize” the economy, as one speaker put it, and focus on poverty in the country. Instead, the speaker realizes that the government and many people in South Africa have a desire to prove that the new South Africa, run by Blacks, can succeed at the cost of neglecting needed development.   

After a quick break, the next speaker addressed the current arguments circulating in the press. For one thing, affirmative action in South Africa is not colorblind.  Instead the debate is how to build a cosmopolitan citizenship while staying committed to being just. 

From there, the speaker presented two methods utilized to achieve this goal. One, is to have an additional criteria along with racial affirmative action. For example, one needs to be black and from a historically disadvantaged group to qualify.   The second option is to set economic incentives, such as 50% ownership in order to qualify for government contracts.   

Shereen Mills spoke about the legal context of affirmative action beginning with the constitution.  South Africa established equality as the core value of their constitution. Second to that is non-racialism.  In order to achieve equality, the constitution has two aspects, one against discrimination and another promoting positive measure provisions. Non-racialism has a historical context of being used by the ruling minority during apartheid to hide structural racism. Now it is promoted by the disadvantaged minority under the new constitution.

In addition, the constitution sets up a test for reparation. Since colored South Africans were treated differently based on skin color, the test uses relative disadvantage to determine who benefits from affirmative action.  Now, the case of reverse discrimination against white males is being brought to court. Ultimately, the debate around affirmative action, according to Mills, overlooks the moral claim of affirmative action. Instead, it is currently muddled by a relativist look at what it means to be disadvantaged in South Africa.   

During the question and answer section, provocative questions emerged. One participant asked how will class play a role in South Africa since in that country those who were discriminated against are the majority, the power to make significant changes is in their hand. In addition, another person questioned the ability to make changes when apartheid fell, not with a revolution, but with a changing of power, therefore the former governing coalition still has the power to influence policy.

 To address the majority/minority problem, one speaker suggested that South Africa is actually not an anomaly on a global scale. Compared to most countries, the power of the state has been erode by the global market and the advantage of being the majority is diminished by the weakened state to enforce its policies. In addition, in South Africa’s case, the white minority makes up only 1% of the poor population, which means that poverty is a largely colored people’s issue.

What does make South Africa unique is that it is trying to transition from apartheid without falling into genocide (as a result of segregation amongst black Africans during colonial period) as occurred in surrounding countries. In addition, the conflicting notions of identity continues, with some striving for a Black cosmopolitism and others holding onto Black Consciousness, which has shifted its focus towards a more socialist stance.

Loyiso also brought up the concern of “oneness” being used as an excuse to bypass needed improvements and imbalances in order to create a cosmopolitan nation.

In addition, the historical legacy of race based learning institutions resisting integration while dealing with the problem of lacking qualified people for professional or leadership positions is an ongoing issue brought up by one of the speakers.












%d bloggers like this: