Redress matters if we are to be a genuine non-racial nation

President Cyril Ramaphosa at a meeting with the Black Business Council at the Union Buildings last week. The BBC grilled the president on his commitment to economic transformation./Kopano Tlape/GCIS
President Cyril Ramaphosa at a meeting with the Black Business Council at the Union Buildings last week. The BBC grilled the president on his commitment to economic transformation./Kopano Tlape/GCIS

Last week, I met with the leadership of the Black Business Council with whom, among other things, we discussed issues of transformation.

I took the opportunity to inform them about government's commitment to transformation and non-racialism.

Of all the achievements since the advent of democracy in 1994, perhaps our most
important is our sustained and unwavering commitment to transformation and non-racialism.

When we embarked on this journey, we aimed, in the words of our constitution "to heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights".

We knew that we had to build a truly united nation, not merely to replace domination by one with domination by another.

Non-racialism is not the product of a negotiated compromise, but a fundamental pillar of the new society we are building.

It's only through advancing non-racialism that we will be able to reconstruct the fabric of our society and narrow social and economic divisions and build a new democratic society from the ashes of the old that had destroyed the potential of our country.

It is a principle we will not abandon. This is not to say that race can and should be ignored. Our constitution affirms that we are a nation of diverse cultures, faiths and languages - and protects the right to self-expression and self-identification.

At the same time we also recognise the unfinished business of nation-building to overcome the deep divisions that apartheid created in our society.

That is why redress continues to be a crucial pillar of government policy, whether it is in land reform, employment equity or in economic transformation.

Though we have come a long way since 1994, the occasional expressions of racial and ethnic chauvinism shows that many in our society have yet to overcome what
Joe Slovo once termed the "psychological barrier" towards true non-racialism.

Whether it's reflected in the internal dynamics of political parties, in the workplace, or outwardly in the letters page of newspapers, one finds a reluctance on the part of some to accept that Africans, whites, Indians and coloureds all have an equal right to a seat at the table of our society.

As a country, we should not allow ourselves to be led down this dark path. We have witnessed elsewhere in the world the consequences of narrow forms of nationalism based on race or ethnicity.

Since 1994, we have actively sought to drive transformation through affirmative action and broad-based black economic empowerment policies, through preferential procurement and initiatives such as the black industrialists programme.

The significant progress that has been made in the public sector has not been matched by the private sector.

The upper echelons of management in private companies are still dominated by white men, though they make up just 5% of the economically active population.

Africans only make up 15% of top management, despite accounting for 79% of the economically active population.

Poor labour relations is in part fueled by perceptions, backed by the employment equity report, that black employees are relegated to the factory floor while white employees occupy management roles.

This inequity naturally has ugly consequences when it comes to the discrepancy in incomes; black workers will always earn a fraction of what white workers and managers earn.

Advancing black and female employees must be a cornerstone of any company's operations. This must move beyond merely ensuring compliance, and towards succession planning, mentoring, training and skills transfer, and towards giving employees a meaningful stake in the companies they work for.

As we intensify the work we must do to deal with the injustices of the past, we must
ensure that all South Africans have an opportunity to contribute to building a better, fairer and more prosperous nation.

*Edited version of Ramaphosa's weekly blog, From the desk of the President.

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