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South Africa’s “Equality” By: Jamie Glazov
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Dirk Hermann, currently the deputy general secretary of the Solidarity labor union in South Africa. He just finished a book, The Emperor Has No Clothes – Perspectives on Affirmative Action in South Africa, about affirmative action in South Africa as well his Ph.D., Affirmative Action and Alienation – Guidelines for Employers, on the same topic.

Dr. Hermann’s book is a critical analysis of affirmative action in South Africa; it concludes that the programme is doomed to failure because it will leave the majority with unfulfilled expectations and alienate the minority. The Ph.D. study examines the effects of affirmative action on the alienation of white South Africans and gives recommendations to employers on ways in which affirmative action can be implemented without alienating whites. It draws greatly from lessons in other countries.


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FP: Dirk Hermann, welcome to Frontpage Interview.


Hermann: Thank you. It is a privilege to take part in this interview all the way from Africa.


FP: Let’s begin with a few simple themes so we can crystallize the basic problem. Tell us how affirmative action works in South Africa and what its main weaknesses and dangers are.


Hermann:  Affirmative action in South Africa is regulated by the Employment Equity Act. In terms of the legislation, the final objective of affirmative action is that the population composition must be reflected in the workplace at every level and in all enterprises. Companies must submit an annual report to government, in which they show the progress that had been made in reaching this objective. Heavy penalties can be imposed on companies that do not make sufficient progress, and government contracts can be denied them.


The biggest problem associated with affirmative is precisely its final objective, i.e. racial representation. Racial representation and equality are used as synonyms. Since 90% of the population has to be corrected, and this has to be borne by only 10%, it means that only a small group can benefit from affirmative action. The group comprising the 10% is therefore greatly disadvantaged and effectively heavily punished. The end result is that the majority has expectations that cannot be fulfilled and the minority becomes alienated. This is a recipe for social conflict.


FP: Ok, so tell us about the Solidarity labor union.


Hermann: Solidarity is the largest independent trade union in South Africa. It is organized in practically all the sectors of the South African economy. Solidarity operates in the Christian trade union tradition, is strongly focused on values, less government and the free market. It believes, however, that the market is only free if all role players are in balance. Adam Smith calls this “an invisible hand”. If government gains too much power, it becomes a government economy and is no longer free. If society becomes too powerful, it is a social economy and the market is no longer free, but if the shareholder gets too much power the economy is not free either. It then becomes a shareholders’ economy. The challenge is to find a balance that will bring a sustainable growth economy. Growth is particularly relevant to South Africa. In terms of the extended definition, the South African unemployment figure is a massive 40%. South Africa’s sole hope to bring the unemployment rate down to controllable levels lies in growth. An aggressive affirmative action programme that is based on a racial outcome does not promote growth and harms exactly those individuals who are meant to benefit.


FP: Why does Solidarity have a problem with South Africa's current affirmative action policies?


Hermann: South Africa’s affirmative action policy is the most aggressive such policy in the world. In terms of the Employment Equity Act, the final objective of affirmative action is that the South African population composition must be reflected in the workplace. It is, in other words, an entirely racial outcome. It is not aimed at equality or fairness, but at racial representation. The idea of representation is the underlying motif of the South African transformation programme. A racial outcome has absurd consequences. Black people are “imported” from other African countries, for example, to meet racial targets in South Africa. Even African Americans are given positions in South Africa to comply with racial targets. The classic example was when a South African company put forward Lakshmi Mittal – one of the world’s wealthiest men – as proof that its racial figures had been met. Another example is a South African provincial government’s decision to stop giving social subsidies to poor white communities. Many poor white schools operate feeding schemes. This decision denied poor white children their daily sandwich – often their only meal for the day – at school.


Representation also means that affirmative action in South Africa has taken on a permanent character. This puts the South African affirmative action programme at odds with the requirements set for affirmative action by the International Labour Organisation. In terms of the ILO’s definition, affirmative action must be temporary and must be aimed at correction. Attempting to achieve demographic representation makes the affirmative action permanent. Pursuing racial quotas also has little to do with correction. A black person can be “corrected” over and over again, or blacks may be brought in from other countries in pursuit of racial targets. This has little or nothing to do with correction of imbalances that are the legacy of apartheid.


FP: So, as you have referred to earlier, there is an issue of the alienation of the minority and the unfulfilled wishes of the majority. What are your views on this phenomenon?


Hermann: A problem with South African affirmative action is that 90% of the South African population is eligible. In other words, 10% of the population must carry the correction of 90%. This is the exact opposite of the American situation.  It is impossible, however, for this correction of 90% by 10% to be done. If the final objective, i.e. racial representation, were achieved, only 4,7% of black South Africans would have gained advantages in the form of employment and approximately 76% of whites would have to be excluded from the labour market. This is the dilemma posed by the 90/10% ratio. The South African masses can never be “corrected” if the focus is racial representation. This leaves the masses with unfulfilled expectations. In Malaysia, hundreds of people died as a result of uprisings that were brought about by unfulfilled expectations from the affirmative action programme. The other side of the coin is the 10% minority that is the target of affirmative action. These people are completely alienated by the process, and the result is that thousands of young people and professionals leave the country. The sad reality of an alienated minority can be found in Sri Lanka, where a civil war has already resulted in the death of 64 000 people. South Africa has a dual problem: a majority with unfulfilled expectations and an alienated minority. If a solution is not found, this state of affairs has all the ingredients for social conflict.  


FP: What other problems do minorities experience in South Africa?


Hermann: South is a de facto one-party state. The ANC enjoys approximately 70% of the vote and the largest opposition party less than 15%. South Africa is therefore governed according to a majority idea. The minority has no voice. The South African democracy embodies the old fable about two wolves and a sheep voting on what they should have for lunch. The Afrikaner faces the problem of being a discredited minority, due to the apartheid era. The political model has a very simply structure: there are perpetrators and there are victims. The perpetrators are the Afrikaners and the black South Africans are the victims. The perpetrators have a debt to pay. Until the debt is paid, they are not entitled to any rights, and they must be humbly grateful for any rights that are granted to them. This means that legitimate minority issues cannot be addressed.


FP: What are your thoughts on racial classification versus equality?


Hermann: This question sums up the core of the South African affirmative action problem. South African legislation is firmly based on a racial outcome. Racial representation is not equal to equality. Since the final objective of the South African affirmative action programme is not equality, unequal methods are used to achieve demographic representation. The best student in South does not get a scholarship, because he is white. A hungry white child is not fed at school. Companies dismiss whites under the guise of retrenchment in order to achieve the correct racial representation. Striving for equality will eliminate inequalities without creating new forms of inequality.


FP: How then should South Africa address the imbalances caused by apartheid?


Hermann: Many methods are available to South Africa. The most important is to concentrate on growth. Malaysia is probably the best example of a country in which imbalances were redressed through growth. Affirmative action processes must be designed in a way that encourages growth, rather than limit it. The best instruments for growth are training and development. In the US a direct relationship can be seen between the decline of poverty levels among African Americans and an increase in skills levels. A directly relationship exists between a country’s growth plan and its skills ceiling. Affirmative action should therefore be aimed at a training outcome, rather than a racial outcome. The Human Development Report of the United Nations suggests that affirmative action should focus on the socio-economic positions of people and not simply on their race. This may lead to focal shift in terms of which the masses benefit, but a poor white child can still get be fed. In this respect South Africa can learn from African American writer, Booker T Washington. Washington believed in self-help for communities. Independent communities can be a potent instrument for empowerment in South Africa. Companies should also be provided with guidelines on ways in which affirmative action may be implemented without creating new forms of inequality. The guidelines may stipulate, inter alia, that people cannot be dismissed for the purposes of affirmative action, that no absolute ceilings may be set on appointments and promotions, that alternative career opportunities must be created for whites, etc. There are many ways of fighting inequality without creating new inequality.


FP: How can the US help to solve these problems?


Hermann: Pre-1994 the world actively involved itself in establishing a democratic South Africa after the end of apartheid. Post-1994 the world has been absent. A democracy was established, but no-one seems to be concerned about the content of the democracy. The USA has incredible intellectual capacity. Literally thousands of articles and books on affirmative action have been published in the US. The debate on worldwide affirmative action takes place in the US. Probably the best work yet written on affirmative action is by the American economist Thomas Sowell. Affirmative action in South Africa does not, however, even get a mention from Sowell. In the first place, we simply want affirmative action in South Africa to be part of the international debate. We therefore ask American writers and intellectuals to write about South African affirmative action and the content and status of the South African democracy. In die second place South Africa needs research capacity. We are in the process of creating think tanks in South Africa to investigate, in broad terms, issues dealing with the economy, democracy, values, equality, the role of the government and other relevant matters. Our appeal to Americans is for them once again to assist us to mobilise intellectual capacity in South Africa.


FP: Dirk Hermann, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.


Hermann: Thank you very much. It is a privilege to be given an opportunity to speak to such an international audience. The current political climate in South Africa makes it very difficult to get our case on any agenda. Our past muzzles us. It is necessary, though, to look at the content of South African democracy and to see whether equality really is equality and who the people are who have been granted access to South African equality. I am therefore pleased to have had an opportunity to talk to you.


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Jamie Glazov is Frontpage Magazine's editor. He holds a Ph.D. in History with a specialty in Russian, U.S. and Canadian foreign policy. He is the author of Canadian Policy Toward Khrushchev’s Soviet Union and is the co-editor (with David Horowitz) of The Hate America Left. He edited and wrote the introduction to David Horowitz’s Left Illusions. His new book is United in Hate: The Left's Romance with Tyranny and Terror. To see his previous symposiums, interviews and articles Click Here. Email him at jglazov@rogers.com.

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