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Anthea Jeffery and the Institute of Race Relations don’t understand the demands of justice


Chrispin Phiri is spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice and Correctional Services.

A misdirected argument that misunderstands the constitutional basis for amendments to the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act cannot be left unchallenged.

In a debate in this publication between Professor Pierre de Vos and Dr Anthea Jeffery on the proposed amendments to the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act (Pepuda), it becomes patently clear that Jeffery and her ilk at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) do not understand the historical roots of the Constitution, and how it should be implemented. 

Jeffery (no relation to Deputy Justice Minister John Jeffery) is attached to the IRR, which styles itself as an advocacy organisation that fights for your right to make decisions about your life, family, and business — free from unnecessary government, political, and bureaucratic interference. It has been fighting this libertarian fight for over 90 years. Jeffery and the IRR have a prolific record of contributing in various forms to national policy debates. Their ahistorical views cannot be left unchallenged. 

According to the IRR and Jeffery in particular, the “simplistic tenets of critical race theory” would have us believe that all whites are supposedly beneficiaries of the pervasive legacy of apartheid. Although not expressly stated, she insinuates that notions such as white privilege are unfounded.

In response to De Vos, she concedes that there are structural or systemic barriers to upward mobility in South Africa, especially for 11.4 million people who are unemployed. She effectively chooses the colour-blind route in her argument. But in a country underpinned by centuries of racial oppression, race cannot be disentangled from economic development.

Jeffery believes that the structural and systemic barriers in our society are not necessarily stubborn legacies of our past, but are direct consequences of 27 years of democracy. In the past 27 years, the African National Congress and its alliance partner the South African Communist Party have been “determined to pursue the National Democratic Revolution”. Jeffery develops this view with some “Fight Back” and swart gevaar finesse, when she says “the bill that De Vos welcomes and endorses is yet another vital NDR intervention aimed at weakening the private sector and bringing the country closer to a socialised economy”.

However, the Pepuda Amendment Bill does three important things:

First, it implements the equality jurisprudence of the Constitutional Court by updating statutory language to reflect, affirm and promote the concept of substantive equality. Why would anyone be offended by this move?

Second, it redefines discrimination and clarifies that intention is not a requirement to establish discrimination.

Third, it places an obligation not only on the state and public bodies, but also on private bodies to promote equality and prohibit unfair discrimination. The state will have to commit its budget towards these ideals. The private sector will have to uphold various sectoral codes which promote equality and seek to eliminate unfair discrimination. No one serious about justice and equality should oppose this project.

Yet, according to Jeffery, these three objectives are linked to the NDR and will have the effect of crippling the capitalist economy in South Africa.

Given that brute capitalism in South Africa generated racialised economic injustices, it is puzzling that Jeffery would want to maintain an economic status quo rooted in racist market fundamentalism that reduces black economic agency to cheap and exploited labour. Contrary to Jeffery’s misunderstanding of the NDR, it is the NDR that recognises the problem with capitalism and develops a vision for socio-economic justice. The following portion of the NDR illustrates this emphatically:

“The struggle for national democracy is also an expression of the class contradiction between the black and democratic forces on the one hand, and the monopoly capitalists on the other. The stranglehold of a small number of white monopoly capitalists over the great bulk of our country’s wealth and resources is based on colonial dispossession and promotes racial oppression.

“This concentration of wealth and power perpetuates the super-exploitation of millions of black workers. It perpetuates the separate plight of millions of the landless rural poor. And it blocks the advance of black business and other sectors of the oppressed.” This reality, therefore, forms the basis of the anti-monopoly content of the national democratic programme.

The NDR is a direct response to an unjust society facilitated by capitalism and colonisation of a special type. Although we have held six national elections in the constitutional era, the edifice of apartheid is still deeply entrenched. Our Constitution is an expression of the NDR — it is not inimical to it.

Many reports detail the sordid inequality that is pronounced across the board in the private sector both in terms of race and gender. For instance, the PWC’s Executive directors report 2020 details the following across the Johannesburg Stock Exchange: female executive directors are paid on average 74.5% of what their male counterparts earn.

Statistics South Africa also found that female workers earn about 30% less, on average, than male workers. The report reveals that males are more likely to be employed and have relatively better-paying jobs compared to females.

The earnings distributions starkly depict the heavily racialised inequality in the South African labour market. In addition to having the worst employment outcomes, black Africans also earn the lowest wages when they are employed. Whites, by contrast, earn substantially higher wages than all the other population groups. To put things into perspective, the mean real earnings between 2011 and 2015 among employed black Africans was R6,899 (real earnings) per month. For coloureds and Indians/Asians, the corresponding figures are R9,339 and R14,235 per month, respectively. Among whites, it was R24,646 per month, or more than three times as high as it was among black Africans.

The South African labour market is heavily racialised and gendered.

The Pepuda Amendment Bill, though not a panacea, can go a long way to ensuring that these types of injustices and unfair discrimination do not continue into perpetuity.

In spite of the aspirations of the Constitution, we cannot wish away the past or pretend that we are rebuilding South Africa on a new foundation.

As former Constitutional Court Justice, Kate O’Regan found in the matter of President of the Republic of South Africa v Hugo [1997] ZACC 4; 1997 (4) SALR 1 (CC), “although the long-term goal of our constitutional order is equal treatment, insisting upon equal treatment in circumstances of established inequality may well result in the entrenchment of that inequality”.

The preamble of the Constitution enjoins us all to recognise the injustices of the past. We cannot recognise these injustices rhetorically only. We must prioritise redress practically. Dr Mamphela Ramphele writes, in her contribution in the book Beyond Racism, “One cannot redress inequity on a sustainable basis without actively promoting equity at every step along the way. It is in this context that issues of race, class and gender have to be dealt with in an integrated way to minimise the emergence of, as well as the enhancement of, islands of privilege.”

The amendment bill facilitates a mechanism that will ensure that government, the private sector and civil society organisations will enable South Africans to evaluate progress on the measures to address the structural imbalances in society.

Unfair discrimination and structural inequalities have no place in a constitutional democracy. It cannot be left purely to the state to dismantle structural inequality — business and the private sector too must do their bit. The pending legislative changes that Jeffery complains about will help us get to where we need to get. Of course, Jeffery and her IRR colleagues might be more committed to holding on to patterns of racialised privileges because equality might require reckoning with the unfair advantages they have inherited. The rest of us should insist on eliminating racism from the economy. That is what the NDR envisions. That is what the Constitution demands. Do not fall for the misdirection of right-wing think tanks. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Miles Japhet says:

    Wonderful theoretical sociology economic views rooted in a scapegoat mentality.
    Firstly take responsibility for the economic mayhem the ANC has wrought on SA. Destruction of the administration of the State, widespread corruption and most importantly a significant deterioration of the education system. If not for the private sector, SA would be in meltdown.
    The only monopolies are state ones. The large businesses are the result of many years of hard work, innovation and investment and this is not unique to South Africa.
    The obsession with large business deflects from the fact that the majority of jobs are created in SME’s and the barriers to entry here are as high for anyone regardless of colour. Education and a culture of innovation, risk taking and hard work are the prerequisites for success.
    The total lack of understanding of how wealth is created results in the raft of legislation the ANC has introduced which is the single biggest reason for the ongoing loss of jobs.
    The Ministry could do well to examine the economic policies of those African countries where the poor’s standard of living has improved. None of them will have arisen out of the socialist/ communist polices the NDR espouses.

  • Derrick Kourie says:

    No one would reasonably contest that “[u]nfair discrimination and structural inequalities have no place in a constitutional democracy.” The argument is about how to best achieve this.

    The state has dismally neglected the most potent path towards structural equality: education. Employing and retaining well educated competent people — irrespective of class or gender — is a winning strategy for competitive business. Education is also the best starting point for creating creative and competitive entrepreneurs. ​The Nats recognised this and ensured that Afrikaners in the old SA had top class education. By way of contrast, the ANC has misdirected its energy towards the top-down elimination of structural inequalities
    through BEE mechanisms and cadre deployment — the principle source of corruption and mediocrity in SA.

  • James Stephen Stephen says:

    I have some sympathy for the author’s thinking around the plight of the poor. However, should he not rather have put more emphasis on the terrible state of education in this country, which leaves many people of colour unemployable? Many simply do not have the skills, especially trade skills, that a modern economy demands. Successful nations have highly educated and motivated people. They did not get there by claiming entitlement to scarce resources. They created those resources and the post Vietnam War economies of 90% of Far East countries are prime examples. They worked hard instead of bemoaning their collective fates.

    Like it or not, modern economies depend firstly on expertise and then on capital and a capitalist system to function. Instead of blaming “monopoly capital” ( there has never been a monopoly on capital, just limited supply), rather make upliftment and upskilling of the entire population the national priority. Not just the uplifting of ANC cadres, and especially not by ramming colour based legislation down private enterprise’s collective throat. If you lock enterprising white people out of the economy by legislation they have no option but to leave and they take very many potential jobs with them. We will not get to where the country needs to go via yet more BEE regulation.

  • James Stephen Stephen says:

    The other point worth making is that of all the Eastern countries, India and Indonesia especially were colonized for centuries. Yet look how well their economies are doing. Vietnam has recovered from French colonization and a devastating war. Look at how Ruanda has recovered from colonization and a devastating civil war. It all depends on how motivated people are to get out there and improve their lives as to how well they overcome a previously disadvantaged heritage.

    • John Strydom says:

      Absolutely. Finger-pointing and entitlement to privileges without earning them is the call of the day.
      Of course discrimination is iniquitous and should be opposed on all fronts.
      But reverse discrimination has been regarded as the cure for all ills for a quarter of a century by the ANC government and look at its devastating results.
      There are some edifying comments here that are well worth serious consideration.

  • John Cartwright says:

    To be fair, it’s only since the 80s that the (SA)IRR has gone the corporate libertarian route. Previously it was not only a research organisation but had a vigorous individual membership engaging in a range of branch-based anti-apartheid and education project activities. These inconvenient activities were deliberately brought to a halt under the Directorship of John Kane-Berman, with the Western Cape branch being the last holdout.

  • Gerrit Marais says:

    The old equal outcome drivel. Working hands are far more productive than finger pointing ones.

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