Targets for ‘equitable representation’ sustain racist folly - Businesslive

21 November 2021 - You have only to contemplate for a moment the scale of the impact of dysfunctional education in SA to recognise how pathetically misdirected, as a transformative tool, are the newly expanded ministerial powers to set numerical targets for the “equitable representation” of people from “designated groups” across the economy.

Michael Morris

You have only to contemplate for a moment the scale of the impact of dysfunctional education in SA to recognise how pathetically misdirected, as a transformative tool, are the newly expanded ministerial powers to set numerical targets for the “equitable representation” of people from “designated groups” across the economy.

Unless, of course, the objective is something other than creating the conditions for the flourishing society SA could become and deserves to be. Who could possibly be persuaded that demographic representivity by fiat could be a credible objective when, as economist Thabi Leoka was recently quoted as saying, the country’s matric certificate is “not worth the paper it’s written on”.

In his recent Financial Mail cover story, Bruce Whitfield described biscuit entrepreneur Simon Mantell’s “frustration at how much harder it has become, over the 25 years of running his business, to find people with even basic cognitive skills to work in his factory” (“Inside SA’s education apocalypse, and the players trying to turn the tide”, October 14).

Mantell was quoted as saying, “Most people I see looking for jobs don’t have the basic skills I need.” Equity regulations based on what they look like aren’t going to help them. In a stagnant economy numerical targets will, at great cost and minimal benefit, merely compel businesses and institutions to embrace what the Cape Chamber of Commerce & Industry has called “racial and ideological insanity”.

And the cost, as is now routinely true of hare-brained policy in SA, will be paid chiefly by the millions of economic outsiders who, I don’t doubt, are less and less deceived into believing that, by design, the benefit will be theirs.

Were the vast resources now squandered on racial accounting and all that goes with it to be invested in actually giving millions of black people the skills whose absence is the only thing standing in the way of them soaring, they and the rest of the country could experience unimagined change. (In a thriving economy, any enterprise turning away skills on the grounds of reactionary superstitions about gender or skin colour would founder.)

As Whitfield’s comprehensive report bears out, there are many alternatives and many smart people getting them off the ground. But the hard truth is that the scale of their impact will be limited as long as society tolerates a conception of “equity” that is doomed to exclude the greater sum of the people.

Making money

The very rationale of the Employment Equity Amendment Bill passed last week by the National Assembly — and now to go before the National Council of Provinces — is confirmation that the dogged reliance on apartheid-era racial categories as the foundation of policy since the 1990s has demonstrably failed in its supposed intention of producing nonracial outcomes.

It is pity that the principle of it is not placed front and centre of the public conversation about what is misleadingly called “transformation” — too many people are willing to just go along with it (and it is shocking that so many are making money out of it, too).

Ordering society on the grounds of what people looked like was, of course, brutally effective in SA before 1994. How the ANC gets away with cynically justifying using the same principle is mystifying.

I’m reminded of the late Eugene Terreblanche’s almost comically transparent defence of the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging’s adoption of the raised-hand salute. “It is an old German method of greeting which meant ‘I come in peace’,” he said. “How can I help it if Hitler also used it?”

• Morris is head of media at the SA Institute of Race Relations.

https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/opinion/columnists/2021-11-21-michael-morris-targets-for-equitable-representation-sustain-racist-folly/

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