Employment Equity Act will not end inequality, mass unemployment and poverty in South Africa

The amendments to the Employment Equity Act (EAA) signed into law by President Cyril Ramaphosa
and due to take effect on 1st September 2023, has given rise to a new flare up of racial tensions.
The DA, with the support of the Freedom Front+ and Solidarity have denounced the 2023 EEA. They
argue that it discriminates against the Coloured, Indian and White minorities, and allege that
hundreds of thousands will be retrenched to make way for 1 Africans to ensure that workplace
representation corresponds to the country’s racial demographics. The DA is preparing a legal
challenge in the Gauteng High Court to argue that employment equity numerical targets are in fact
race quotas and discriminatory. The right wing think tanks, the Institute of Race Relations and The
Free Market Foundation describe the amendments as apartheid-style job reservation.

On 12 th June, 2023, members from the Coloured community in Westbury and surrounding
Johannesburg townships demonstrated against the 2023 EEA with placards reading “Coloured,
Indian and White lives matter”. In the same week, at the funeral of an 11-year-old girl killed in cross
fire between gangs in Westbury Patriotic Alliance president, Gayton McKenzie, cited rising crime in
the area as another example of the ANC government neglecting Coloured communities.

The ANC government, for its part, argues that EE targets are nothing new. The EEA was first
introduced in 1998 to address the imbalances in the workplace based on race, gender and disability.
In defence of the 2023 amendments, the government points out that the imbalances the EEA was
originally aimed at addressing, still persist.

The Department of Employment and Labour (DoEL) says that 99% of banks, for example, are not
compliant with the EEA. The Commission for Employment Equity say that the companies are
demonstrating a preference for Whites and Indians in senior positions. The DoEL says the latest
employment equity figures show that racial representation in skilled, junior, middle and senior
management positions do not correspond with the country’s demographics. (See DoEL, 2018
Statistics in Fig1)

Fig. 1 Department of Employment and Labour, Employment Equity Statistics.

Arguing that because employers are failing to comply voluntarily, the amendments are intended to
enforce the aims and objectives the EEA was developed to achieve from inception – redress for
previously disadvantaged individuals who suffered discrimination under apartheid. It has therefore
pledged to press ahead with implementation.

The EEA, at least in theory, is aimed at overcoming the barriers to employment, skills development
and promotion for the “previously disadvantaged”. Most working class people of all racial groups
would not oppose this and would even support it. But fears persist and along with the vulnerability
of “minorities” and their susceptibility to the campaigns of political parties trading on these fears.

How should socialists address this situation?

It is not possible to develop a solution to this crisis without going to its roots. As three decades since the end of apartheid approaches, the ANC’s pledge to create a “non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous” SA has been betrayed. With 43m of the country’s 61m population unemployed – the third highest in the world – prosperity eludes the overwhelming majority. With one of the world’s highest rates of gender based violence, the ideal of a non-sexist society has receded beyond the horizon. Classified by the World Bank as the most unequal society on the planet, with the top 10 % owning 84% of the wealth (counting assets and income) and the bottom 50% with negative wealth – inequality is even worse today than it was under apartheid.

Average household income still follows the field, yard and house slave racial patterns of disparities in the ownership of wealth of apartheid – Whites at the top of the social pyramid, followed by Indians and Coloureds. At the bottom, Africans still hold up the base in both absolute numbers and proportionately (per head of population) by almost all measures of social deprivation.

At the SA Human Rights Commission 2nd Annual Conference on Racism, it was reported that socio-economic status had a direct impact on whether a person was able to access their constitutional rights. See Figs. 2 for Stats SA povertylevels by racial groups and Fig 3 for 2023 Quarterly Labour Survey Unemployment levels. 

At the same conference, Tseliso Thipanyane, the CEO of the SAHRC, lamented the failure to use the Equality courts, mandated by the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act. The act’s main function was to help South Africa transition into a democratic society and to be used as an instrument to address racism. He said the 300 courts were hardly used and had a track record of only 600 matters being resolved a year.

Poverty and Unemployment by Race

Fig. 2 Stats SA, 2022 Poverty Levels by Race.

It is Black Africans who bear the greatest burden of social deprivation; Black African children who still die in pit toilets and Black Africans who mostly go to bed hungry at night and are the victims of violent crime, murder and rape.

Fig 3. Quarterly Labour Force, 2022. Unemployment Survey.

These figures exclude those who have given up looking for work. By the expanded definition of unemployment the figures are respectively: 47.6% 34.1%, 20.8%, and 9.5%.

ANC’s capitalist policies sow working class divisions.

After coming to power in 1994, the ANC government developed a range of legislative and institutional instruments to overcome the inequalities inherited from apartheid such as the EEA, the Employment Equity Commission, and the Equality Court etc. However, it is clear that these efforts are like attempting to use a teaspoon to empty an ever rising ocean of poverty filled by its capitalist policies. These instruments have been a dismal failure.

Apartheid-style inequalities in wealth distribution still characterise post-apartheid SA affecting overwhelmingly the working class majority of all racial groups. However, at the top, nestled beside the still predominantly white capitalist class, a very wealthy black capitalist class – drawn from the Coloured, Indian and African population – has emerged. This class is estimated to constitute up to half of the wealthiest top 10%. Half of the top 10 wealthiest women are Black – a Coloured is at number 3 according to one report. Post-Apartheid SA has become an “Irish Coffee” society, a layer of rich cream with a sprinkling of chocolate floating on a glass full of Black poverty.

Post-apartheid class divisions are further underlined by the fact that the widest inequalities in the distribution of wealth are no longer between White and Black but within the Black population itself. Using the Gini-Coefficient measure where the figure 1 means complete inequality and 0 complete equality, the figures for Blacks is 0.65, Coloured, 0.58 Indian 0.51. These figures show not only that inequality within the racial groups is greatest amongst Blacks, but has grown amongst Whites too.

The stats demonstrate that claims by the likes of the Patriotic Alliance and the Cape Coloured Congress that Coloureds in particular are marginalised by the ANC government are false. But these are not innocent mistakes; they are campaigns to exploit the legitimate grievances of working class Coloureds to get into government for their leadership’s self-enrichment. The widely held view that under apartheid Coloureds were not white enough and under black majority rule, not black enough, is a mistaken perception. It is self-isolating, draws on division apartheid play book divisions, raising utopian expectations of a Coloured way out of deprivation separately from the African working class.

But it can be explained.

The ANC government’s commitment to capitalism has resulted not only in the worsening of poverty and inequality for the working class of all races, it has also meant that apartheid social and economic disparities including residential segregation have continued.

Only a minority of upper middle class Blacks, Coloureds and Indians have been able to move to the wealthier formerly White suburbs. Working class people remain stuck in townships deteriorating from savage social spending cuts, and the resultant growth in the housing backlog, collapse in service delivery aggravated by corruption. Added to this is an economic crisis leading to a sharp increase in the cost of living, rising unemployment, deepening poverty, gangsterism, drugs, crime and violence.

Not only has the racial character of human settlements survived, so too have the social barriers between them. People of different racial groups have only a dim idea that their class brothers and sisters live under the same if not worse conditions across the township boundaries that separate them. It is this ignorance that capitalist political parties exploit to secure an electoral base.

These perceptions have been reinforced by the rise of a Black African middle class whose visibility has created the illusion that under the ANC Black Africans as a whole are disproportionately benefitting at the expense of other racial groups. This is supported by the much greater “success” in achieving employment equity targets in the public sector as part of the ANC government’s “transformation” programmes. The ANC has trumpeted the emergence of the Black African middle class as proof of the “success” of its transformation policies. But the Black middle class are in reality zero carat “black diamonds” who, especially with the rising cost of living, interest rates and inflation, are one pay check away from destitution. Their position is as precarious as the middle classes of all other racial groups.

Working class must unite and resist attempts to divide them by all capitalist parties 

The “successes” in the public sector conceal the reality that the government’s austerity policies have in fact created a new layer of cheap labour with various versions of the exploitative Extended Public Works Programme (EPWP) which has widened the gap between Blacks Africans in management positions and the over million predominantly Black workers in the slave labour EPWP schemes. These workers’ poverty is in fact being recycled through rotational employment on short term contracts.  As the crisis of capitalism deepens, the ANC government is under pressure from the capitalist class to reduce public spending to continue reducing corporate taxes and increase profits. EPWP workers on temporary contracts, occupy permanent posts the government is not filling as the target public sector wage bill reduction as part of the austerity measures it is implementing.

Whist posturing as representatives of all classes, political parties in parliament, now also in local government, represent the same capitalist class interests. The ANC’s track record on what it refers to as the National Question, which has always lagged behind the striving for unity of struggle of the working class, is an important inflammatory ingredient in today’s tensions. (see follow up article)

The ANC’s political off-spring, the EFF, has consciously inflamed racial tensions particularly promoting antagonism towards Indians, Coloureds and Whites arguing that the problem in SA is race not class. The DA has always presented itself as the guardians of “minorities’” interests – especially Whites but to some degree Indians as well as Coloureds. The Patriotic Alliance, the Cape Coloured Congress, the Northern Alliance and Nhlanhla Lux’s Soweto Parliament Operation, spawned by Operation Dudula, have echoed ActionSA in adding xenophobia to this toxic brew.

All of them have one aim in common, self-enrichment mimicking the methods of the ANC itself. They do not want to overthrow the capitalist slave masters but to join them. In competition with the aspirant capitalist from other racial groups for access to the levers of power for this purpose, they exploit the grievances of the working class, poor and marginalised to provide themselves with an electoral base. The divisions amongst working class communities that this results in and the antagonism it incites is not just an unintended consequence; it is conscious and premeditated.  To succeed they must divide the working class and turn them against each other on a racial basis as they ride to power on their backs.

The timing of the EE amendments determined by the 2024 elections

The ANC has introduced the EE amendments alongside the BEE water license requirements in a desperate attempt to arrest the decline in its electoral support ahead of the 2024 election. With its loss of support now reaching the point where it may lose its outright majority, it is attempting to reclaim Black African working class support especially.

The opposition parties see in the possibility that the ANC may fall below 50% an opportunity for their entry into office to enjoy its perks and opportunities for self-enrichment. The anarchy in local government since the 2021 elections especially is driven by these naked ambitions. The ANC’s electoral decline has enabled even small parties to play a role in local government far greater than their actual level of electoral support. These pro-capitalist parties are as incapable of overcoming the crisis of the system as the ANC itself. They are as cynical in politically exploiting the working class, referring to them insultingly as the ANC does, as “their people.”

Whilst the ANC support has historically been greater in the African population, its victory in 1994 was prepared by a united struggle of African, Coloured and Indian in the 70s. To combat the apartheid regime’s divide-and-rule policies, the Black Consciousness Movement BCM) united African, Coloured and Indian, injecting into the word “Black” the political meaning that it encompasses all who suffered national oppression.

The youth and workers’ movement that began separately and independently of the ANC, first in the 1973 Durban strikes and followed by the Youth Uprising in 1976, found their way to each other in the months following June 16. This unification was consolidated with the launch in 1983 of the United Democratic Front in Mitchell’s Plain – the province with a majority Coloured population – and the crushing defeat of the regime’s attempt to reversing the BCM unity through the Tricameral Parliament elections. This set into motion the insurrectionary movement of 1984-1986.

By 1985 with the launch of Cosatu, the recognition that national oppression under apartheid and class exploitation under capitalism were intertwined took consciousness and unity to an even higher level. To achieve the overthrow of capitalism and the socialist transformation of society would require class unity on a non-racial basis. This became the dominant outlook of the guiding layers of workers and youth. “Socialism means Freedom” read the 1987 Cosatu Congress stage banner.

The logic of this process, a struggle for socialism, came into direct collision with the aims of the ANC leadership to preserve capitalism in a post-apartheid SA. In 1956, Mandela had repudiated claims that the Freedom Charter was a blue print for socialism. He explained then that the Charter’s aim was to create the conditions for the development of a rich black capitalist class. To fulfil this aim, the socialist aspirations of the working class had to be derailed. The ANC leadership imprisoned the Cosatu leadership in the class collaborationist trap of the Tripartite Alliance, assisted by the SACP.

In the negotiations, the unity of the working class had to be subordinated to and marshalled behind the aspirations of the aspirant Black capitalist class. To ensure the outcome would be a capitalist post-apartheid SA, it was necessary, in Winnie Mandela’s words, for the elite of the oppressed to get into bed with the elite of the oppressor. As a double insurance, the 1994 elections themselves had to have been rigged to prevent a two-thirds majority and the mass pressure to challenge capitalism. The 57% for the ANC in the Pretoria- Witwatersrand-Vereeniging region was an outrage and insulting.

The racial foundations of the “rainbow nation”

Under the pretext of creating the basis for the “rainbow nation” with the false argument that the majority should demonstrate a generosity towards “minorities”, the hated IFP was imposed on the KZN working class. The heroic resistance against the use of the IFP by the apartheid regime in so-called Black-on-Black violence was ignored. The imposition of the hated NP on the Western Cape, shocking this UDF stronghold. The Government of National Unity, with De Klerk and Buthelezi as deputy presidents was founded on the odious foundation of the division of the working class on a racial and tribal basis.

Socialists must counter the arguments of the reactionary opportunists in the Coloured, Indian and White communities mobilising against the African working class as their enemies and instead unite with their African class allies in a common struggle against capitalism. They must point out that the ANC is in the dire electoral position it is today precisely due to the decline in their support amongst the African working class in particular.

SA’s proportional voting system has enabled the ANC to hold on to power despite the fact that the majority of the eligible African working class voters did not vote for them in both 2019 national and 2021 local elections. The same African working class that has primarily kept the ANC in power, has now created the possibility of the ANC’s removal from office. The African working class has therefore created the conditions for the resuscitation of working class unity with their class brothers and sisters in the “minority” groups. Political parties mining electoral support on a racial basis amongst the “minorities” are therefore acting as a barrier toward this unity without which there is no possibility of the working class “minorities” being emancipated from their suffering.

The ANC government has marginalised and plunged the entire working class, “Africans in particular” into poverty and destitution. If being Black was an advantage, it is the Black African working class who would be entitled to say they are not Black enough.  Unity between the working class of all race groups cannot be achieved if they lend their support to both the majority and minority political parties whose very existence depends on dividing them and enrolling them in an “Olympics of oppression and social deprivation.”

Even worse, inherent in this logic is e.g. the Cape Coloured Congress’ support for independence for the Western Cape. Such notions have also taken root in Kwa Zulu Natal on the basis of ethnic Zulu chauvinism. The Coloured petty bourgeois nationalists have manufactured an identity not accepted by the majority, of the false Khoi-San nation that as the First Nation, the whole of the land in SA should returned to them. Similarly the late King Zwelithini has raised the reparations demand for Britain to return the whole of Kwa Zulu to the Zulu nation. These are not just reactionary utopias;  they are a recipe for racial civil and ethnic war.

Reject attempts to divide the working class — for a mass worker party on a socialist programme

If the African working class’s salvation itself cannot be found within the framework capitalism, this is even less so for the Coloured, Indian and White working class. Despite their social media prominence, these opposition parties still represent a tiny minority of the communities in whose name they speak. The struggle against class exploitation workers by capitalists in the workplace is weakened by these political parties who exploit workers politically. Only through workers unity and the establishment of their own party can the working class overthrow capitalism and create a socialist society.

Worldwide, capitalist parties have responded to the crisis of their system by promoting divisions in the working class on a religious basis as Indian Prime Minister Modi is doing using Hindu chauvinism against Christians and Muslims, British PM Sunak is doing against immigrants.

The ANC government whose capitalist policies the opposition parties all support, have revealed both its and the opposition parties’ anti-working class character. The ANC’s capture of Cosatu, steered by the SACP into the class collaborationist Tripartite Alliance in the 1990s led to the working class surrendering its political and ideological independence ahead of the historical 1994 elections. The ANC has since repeatedly reaffirmed itself in words and deed, as a party of the capitalist class.

Commenting on the 1848 Revolution in France, Karl Marx said that history repeats itself first as tragedy then as farce. Despite the bitter hostilities amongst the capitalist parties, they are preparing the basis for seeking electoral salvation in each other’s arms should the ANC lose its outright majority in 2024. The idea of a Government of National Unity (GNU) has once again entered the mainstream of political discourse. The history of the first edition of the Government of National Unity could be repeated as farce in a second edition in 2024.

The working class has the potential power to lead society into re-entering the historic path towards a socialist SA. Obstructing them are not only these reactionary political parties, but the leadership of all trade union federations including regrettably Saftu. The deep anger and daily struggles have not galvanised a leadership that appears to have lost all confidence in the working class and socialism.

The working class has the potential power to avert this and lead society into re-entering the historic path towards a socialist SA. Obstructing them are not only these reactionary political parties, but the leadership of all trade union federations, including, regrettably Saftu’s, who all appear to believe in the utopian idea of capitalism with a human face. The deep anger and daily struggles have not galvanised a leadership that appears to have lost all confidence in the working class and socialism.

The EFF has rewarded Saftu for supporting its so-called Shut Down by redoubling its efforts to prop up the ANC in a coalition government in 2024 by a dress rehearsal local government coalitions with it since, adding to the chaos. It has recognised the chiefs in the House of Traditional leaders imply because they are Black, as the legitimate owners of land stolen by colonialism and apartheid at the expense of the rural working class they are exploiting and oppressing. It has offered political refuge for the  corrupt, Carl Niehaus, appointed Mzwanele Manyi as MP, and is talks with the corrupt Ace Magashule even the ANC had to expel.

The martyrs of Marikana’s 2012 uprising was against the entire post-apartheid capitalist and political order. They placed the idea of a socialist society and the instrument to achieve it, a workers party, back on the agenda. Saftu’s birth represented the first step in reclaiming working class independence and the restoration of socialism as the workers movement’s driving ideological force. The Declaration to establish a mass worker party on a socialist programme of the 2018 Working Class Summit Saftu convened, remains unfortunately unfulfilled six years later.

The Cosatu September 2022 congress showed the rank-and-file has parted political company with their leaders and desire and working class alternative. A reconvened summit would create the unity necessary to defeat the latest attempts to divide working class communities. Through the unification across all racial groups of youth and students, communities and the workers in the workplace on a common platform and programme of action, the forces for a mass workers party on a socialist programme can be assembled.

The reconvening of the summit would create the unity necessary to defeat the latest attempts to divide working class communities. It would unite all regardless of race – youth and students in the education sector, working class communities in townships and squatter camps, and workers in the workplace – on a common platform and programme of action. Through this, the forces for a mass workers party on a socialist programme can be assembled ad the working class place itself at the head of the nation in the struggle for a socialist SA. Saftu must assist these processes and reconvene the summit as a matter of urgency.

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July 2023