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Title: The politics of redress : affirmative action in South Africa's private sector
Author: Adam, Kanya
ISNI:       0000 0001 3393 6786
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 1998
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This study examines the politics of redress in South Africa's private sector and the implication of race based affirmative action for a society in the throes of national reconciliation. Renewed racial classifications to eliminate the legacy of past racism seem to contradict the official state ideology of colour-blind nonracialism. Resentment among some whites on whose skills and loyalty a growing economy also relies, makes affirmative action a most divisive issue. Unlike most other countries in which minorities are targeted, in South Africa a previously disenfranchised majority is the beneficiary of preferential labour policies. Quite distinct from North American quotas for minorities, South African unions aim at transforming the workplace of the undertrained majority, which contrasts with business visions characterised by black advancement in management and ethnic diversity on company boards. However, even this initial window-dressing exercise for political expediency encounters resistance among a colonial establishment that still equates promotion of the previously disadvantaged with lowering standards. The changing discourse about affirmative action is probed through written surveys among two hundred business executives, focus groups, more in-depth personal interviews, and participant observation at selected companies in South Africa between 1992-97. An increased readiness to broaden the recruitment pool emerged among white male executives and would seem to have been triggered by the changed political power relations. This "anticipatory compliance" to potential legislation is justified with different motivations but is still driven by economic considerations rather than moral concerns about past neglect. Keeping up with the "black image" of competitors in securing government contracts or penetrating a township market with higher purchasing power spurs even traditionally conservative firms to vie for black managers. They are poached and head-hunted with generous inducements, at the expense of training the broader spectrum of black workers at a lower level. The unique current South African debate about redress is compared with its historical precedents of Afrikaner job reservation and "civilized labour policies", as well as the international experience with preferential hiring in the US, Canada, India and Malaysia. The recent backlash against affirmative action in the US, together with the assertion of counter-productive effects on beneficiaries, is evaluated against the South African case. The literature is divided as to what extent recipients of affirmative action experience self-doubt and low self-esteem. The label "affirmative action beneficiary" is said to stigmatize minorities not considered as having achieved status on merit. However, the vast majority of recipients of affirmative action probed in this research did not consider themselves passive recipients of company largesse, but instead perceived themselves as having rightly earned their place in the accelerated business training program. Far from victimising themselves by claiming compensatory preferential treatment, the respondents in this sample of black management students proudly insist on their past individual achievements as entitlement to their career. This finding contradicts the conventional wisdom among critics, that appointees on merit differ from affirmative action appointees in their approach to work. While a new rapidly growing black elite who least needs affirmative action, nonetheless benefits most from racial preference policies in senior management, the majority of impoverished and unemployed are not affected by these policies at all. To avoid the danger of racialised competition, a policy of non-racial, class-based affirmative action is suggested as the most feasible way to facilitate reconciliation.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Race relations; Equality