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Date: Sun, 9 Jul 1995 21:01:54 -0200
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From: ancdip@wn.apc.org (tim jenkin)
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Subject: Mayibuye July 1995

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Fair Nourishment For All

By Mziwakhe Hlangani, in Mayibuye, Vol. 6, no. 3
July 1995

Affirmative action is frequently misrepresented, sometimes deliberately, by people resistant to positive change. Mziwakhe Hlangani samples some of the views on the subject.

Albie Sachs, a former ANC NEC member and now constitutional court judge, describes the affirmative action 'contradiction' in his paper 'Affirmative action and the new constitution' thus: "There's an old saying: one person's meat is another person's poison. So it is with affirmative action. For millions of South Africans affirmative action means advance to a better life, a long overdue chance to come into their own and start enjoying the good things the country has to offer. For others, particularly those leading comfortable lives today, it signifies a new form of discrimination and injustice, a vengeful form of juggling around with race quotas so as to threaten their livelihoods and security."

Sachs says that is what apartheid was all about. The real approach is that what is good for the majority can and should be good for the minority as well. The rich and poor, black and white all want peace, prosperity, progress and justice, which mean the country can give not meat for some, poison for others, but fair nourishment for all, he says.

The ANC position on affirmative action points out that real victory for the people meant being able to deliver - not just promises and abstractions - but houses, jobs, electricity, water, schools and clinics, real freedom and real choices in the fullest sense.

The SA Communist Party (SACP) rejects the notion that affirmative action means the promotion of individuals - blacks, more specifically Africans - into managerial posts and into share holding. Affirmative action, it says, is about extending roads and electricity to marginalised rural communities. It is about developing an extensive, state-run primary health network, and introducing a free, compulsory ten years of education to all children., giving all old people an equal and living pension.

Affirmative action should be seen primarily as the empowerment of social groups, sectors and classes which have been historically oppressed. It is about collective empowerment, not the promotion of individuals. It is a massive programme of job creation for the millions of unemployed and empowering women through adult education and the provision of creches: giving workers increasing powers over decision making on the shop floor.

SACP deputy general secretary Jeremy Cronin says once you speak of affirmative action in this way, you are on the right track. "Notice that you are then underlining not just racial oppression, but also class oppression and massive inequalities between rural and urban areas."

Affirmative action in this sense, understands that overcoming decades of racial, class and gender oppression will not be ended simply by formal rights, by constitutional equality for all. Nor will these things be ended simply by creating a new middle class of blacks. The active and purposeful engagement of a democratic state and of progressive formations in civil society is essential and not just formal change or cosmetic promotions is required to overcome the legacy of oppression, the SACP says.

The Black Management Forum (BMF) has proposed in its affirmative action blueprint a policy in favour of blacks designed to ensure the "reversal of discrimination" as opposed to "reverse discrimination".

"Affirmative action targets should be made enforceable by law and monitored by an Equal Opportunities Commission with quasi-legislative powers within the parameters of an Affirmative Action Bill and an Affirmative Action Statute," it says.

The forum also suggest that "coercive laws" as opposed to voluntary programmes are required to eradicate social and economic inequalities. The negative and emotive reaction to quotas could be avoided through consultation with all affected parties and the careful prior evaluation of all relevant human resource data and techniques. It also points out that quotas should only be implemented if negotiated targets are not met without justification.

The BMF also contends that prescribed standards for job entry are sometimes used to retain the status quo and block the employment of specific cultural groups. It proposes that international benchmarks should be examined to redefine job entry criteria and performance measurement.

ANC NEC member Frene Ginwala, in her discussion paper, 'Possibilities for women in the future South Africa', argues that the country's Bill of Rights must go beyond political and civil rights and provide for second generation rights.

Particular attention needs to be paid to the ability of women to claim effective equality with men and to claim human rights on an equal basis with men, she maintains. The attainment of substantive equality requires a clear understanding of how society is hierarchically structured on the basis of different combinations of race gender and class. To be effective, the concept of equality must be rooted in the conditions and experiences of the oppressed.

"It is important that the principle of equality in our new constitution must be such as will provide effective and not token equality for women. To do this, we have to address both the material disadvantages and the full complexity of women's oppression. This means that a concept of formal equality or equal treatment before the law which allows the law to treat persons in the same way will not deliver equality because it does not recognize that we do not all start from the same place in society," she says.

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