c riticism of affirmative action unfair

FORMER president FW de Klerk and businessman-commentator Moeletsi Mbeki have said unkind things about affirmative action and black economic empowerment.

FORMER president FW de Klerk and businessman-commentator Moeletsi Mbeki have said unkind things about affirmative action and black economic empowerment.

Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak is doing away with the New Economic Policy (started by his father Abdul in 1971), whose stated aims were to redistribute wealth, then largely in the hands of ethnic Chinese and other non-Malaysians, and place it in the custody of "sons of the soil".

Employment equity and economic empowerment based on ethnicity is not only under the whip in our country.

I don't care about BEE insofar as it does not create new entrepreneurs and rewards the parasitic political elites in the hope that they will put in a good word for them when ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema finally gets his way and nationalises all that the Freedom Charter says should be owned by the state.

But I believe that De Klerk, Mbeki and their allies, who take potshots at affirmative action, are either throwing the baby out with the bath water or being completely disingenuous in their diagnosis.

De Klerk, Mbeki and trade union Solidarity, among others, say in broad terms that they are opposed to affirmative action because it only benefits a few blacks and leaves the majority out of the loop.

Mbeki and De Klerk are correct to say that education is the only way to eradicate these inequalities in the long term. But as I understood it, employment equity was a measure of ensuring that those who already have the required education and skills, but were excluded only because they were of the wrong skin colour or sex, get a fair crack at opportunities.

By harping on how it is making black society unequal, De Klerk and them stop short of saying that black people with the skills should be put on hold until their kith are up to the standard at which they too will benefit from equity laws.

De Klerk himself approvingly quotes a Professor Francois Venter, who says "inequality is a natural fact that cannot be undone by the creation of a right to be equal".

By that logic, there are blacks who will have the skills that other blacks don't have and they will be rewarded proportionally to how in demand the skills they have are. They should not be made to feel they are dishonouring the cause of freedom by possessing those skills at a time when many of their "brothers and sisters" are still to acquire them.

The two gentlemen and their followers throw the baby out with the bath water when they correctly point out that the state in particular is guilty of being fixated onrace when making appointments.

De Klerk goes as far as to assert that the state would leave posts unfilled rather than appoint suitably qualified whites.

If the state is doing that, it is plainly silly and racist to boot.

While we should also disabuse ourselves of the myth that one cannot be both suitable for a post and hold membership of the ruling party, when the state ignores the requirement of suitability and chooses unsuitably qualified cronies or deployees, it should not mean that the concept itself is flawed. It is simply being abused.

It is like a person taking medicine contrary to the doctor's instruction and then complaining of its ineffectiveness, or worse, spreading falsehoods about the necessity of the medical profession.

De Klerk and Mbeki should stop pretending that it is either government becomes serious about educating as many South Africans in the right fields of study as it is possible or ensuring those blacks who already have required skills get the jobs they deserve. It is both.