Racial and other myths of the new South Africa – Politicsweb, 23 November 2015

In the first of a series Sara Gon writes on the concept of demographic representivity.

By Sara Gon 

There are many myths perpetuated in South African politics. A myth is a “widely held but false idea or belief”. This is the first in a series of articles from the SAIRR which debunks some of those myths.

There are 3 necessary requisites for a myth: first, it has to be widely held, not confined to a small or minority grouping. Second, it must be untrue. Third, it is an idea or belief not a proven fact or scientific claim.

Myths can be very powerful when repeated, expressed in an emotive tone (usually sneering and contemptible) and intended to demonise. They are usually expressed in a way that, repeated often enough, become the “truth”.

Myths replace facts, much like creationism is presented as the counterweight to evolution: what isn’t a fact becomes an emotion expressed as a fact.

Myth no. 1 – Representivity

Representivity of the South African population is a necessary requirement for the development of South Africa and all its people.

No country in the world is likely to achieve racial, cultural or other representitivity unless extreme social engineering is implemented. And extreme social engineering justifiably brings to mind the tyrannies, not the democracies. Such as our own apartheid regime.

Where minority groups have been “overrepresented" in certain environments, they often became the subjects of discrimination, expulsion or worse: the Asians from Uganda, and the Jews from 15th century Spain and 20th century Germany.

Commonly experience in countries with high levels of immigration reveals that in certain areas of endeavour different groups are disproportionately represented for a myriad of reasons - often a reflection of the cultural and aspirational attitudes of a group or community.

Jews who emigrated to South Africa from the mid-nineteenth century until after World War II usually earned their livings in ways that were menial or low wage. This was because of straightened circumstances arising from emigration from Europe. They were forced to abandon education to equip them for better jobs, or they were insufficiently connected to get better jobs. Language was often an additional barrier.

Jews who emigrated (to anywhere including South Africa) from oppression attached huge importance to the education and upliftment of their children, to have the benefits they never had and, critically, to receive an education that would set them up for life. For Jews, education, and the security and status it brought was paramount.

So Jews have until recently been disproportionally represented in the professions all over the world not just in South Africa. It’s not a matter of superiority or privilege. It is a multifaceted issue which includes a complicated cultural and survival imperative.

Much the same has been seen in South Africa’s Indian community. Post-apartheid mobility has seen Indian students dominate in professional degrees at universities. The Indian communities, both Hindu and Muslim, have similar prerogatives to the Jewish community.

However, even the inequities of apartheid do not warrant imposing simplistic and statistically questionable, numeric representativity on the basis of race to reflect the national demographics of the country.

The need to redress the deleterious effects of apartheid on the black population is not debatable debate. However, upliftment should be directed at the disadvantaged and thus meet most of the government’s needs to achieve redress for those who were the victims of apartheid. Not all blacks are either disadvantaged or poor anymore.

Second, the national demographic as a measure for redress is not natural, not achievable and largely based on false premises.

Third, to use broad national demographics as a measure is not in itself fair: it’s too broad, it’s unsubtle, it takes no account of cultural difference, it is a false measure, it ensures that mediocrity is forced onto employers (private or public) and it does little to reduce poverty.

Dr. Anthea Jeffery, political analyst for the SAIRR in her book BEE: Helping or Hurting? (Tafelberg) notes that the Employment Equity Act (EEA) is premised on the assumption that demographic representivity would be evident in every aspect of society if this ‘norm’ were not being undermined and thwarted by racial discrimination.

As Jeffery argues that this view overlooks relevant differences in human capital as well as variations in factors, such as median age. Jeffery points out that there are salient differences in age and educational levels overlooked by proponents of demography.

Jeffery refers to 1999 when the EEA came into force. Africans comprised 70% of the economically active population (EAP) nationally. EAP was defined as all those between the ages of 15 and 64 who work or wish to work. So the EEA required that as Africans made up 70% of the EAP, Africans should also constitute 70% of managers. However, in 1999 only 25% of Africans fell within the 35-64 age bracket which is generally considered eligible for high level occupations.

Jeffery quotes economist and social philosopher, Thomas Sowell: “A global perspective makes it clear that the even distribution or proportional representation of groups in occupations and institutions remains an intellectual construct defied in society after society.”

The late professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Myron Weiner said “All multi-ethnic societies exhibit a tendency for ethnic groups to engage in different occupations, have different incomes, and occupy a different place in the social hierarchy.”

This does not mean that society and government mustn’t do everything possible to uplift its people. Of course not, but it must not expect it to be achieved in exact proportion (or more) to the black population: the notion is sinister.

Jimmy Manyi’s “overrepresented Coloureds in the Cape” is but the most crass example of governmental advancing-by-numbers. It also threatens growth and stability for the Coloured population that is likely to breed unnecessary resentment and be considered racist. The level of strict and unnatural demographic representivity in the public sector speaks for itself.

The latest furore has been the inevitable outrage over the composition of the Springbok rugby team. There may or may not be a lack of transformation, but there other factors that render national demographics illogical and harmful if they are not taken into account. Almost all national cricketers and rugby players will only reach a professional level if they played sport from primary school onwards.

And not just at any schools but at schools that excel in or specialise in those sports. It may not be equitable and changes may need to be made. But even within the realm of past and present “white privilege”, white boys who didn’t or don’t go to one of these schools are not likely to get anywhere near playing professional sport.

The last word goes to businessman and former ANC treasurer general Mathews Phosa has expressed misgivings about the ability of the current black economic empowerment policy to lead to real broad-based black economic empowerment (BBBEE). Speaking at a conference recently, Phosa said empowerment should be broad and based on education and skills. 'Re-arranging' ownership through legislated processes and codes, as is the current practice, brings no benefits as sustainable jobs are often lost to accommodate a new 'empowerment' partner through paying for the costs associated with the moves, he said.

Sara Gon is a Policy Fellow at the IRR, a think tank that promotes economic and political liberty. Follow the IRR on Twitter @IRR_SouthAfrica.

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