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Let’s get back to the values of the constitution

The ANC’s distortion of the race issue is causing harm to the most vulnerable citizens

29 October 2019 – 15:13 Paul Hoffman

The constitution. Picture: CONSTITUTION HILL

How, in a society founded on nonracialism, is it possible to make the race of job seekers relevant to their appointment? What empirical evidence is there to suggest that race can be used as a surrogate for disadvantage a quarter of a century into supposed nonracialism? Why are cadre deployment, “representivity” and race-based affirmative action allowed at all in SA today?

Political parties, parliament and civil society have grappled with these questions within the framework of a supreme law that spells out that laws and conduct inconsistent with the constitution are invalid. Yet the ANC, in its core strategy and tactics, does not really set much store by the values of the constitution. It prefers the tenets of its national democratic revolution, in terms of which it seeks to attain hegemonic control of all the levers of power in society.

Loyal cadres of this national democratic revolution are deployed in all manner of unelected positions in government, the public administration and state-owned enterprises (SOEs), as well as in any position of power in society at large. The idea is that a political party with fewer than 1-million members should rule the roost in all aspects of life in SA, irrespective of what the Bill of Rights guarantees or what the constitution allows.

Due to the dominance of the ANC, it has been possible to pass laws concerning employment equity that have reintroduced apartheid-era race classification for the purpose of creating a “representative” workforce in SA. This approach has been allowed to trump merit-based human resource management despite its illegality and its unconstitutional premise.

It is true that gender and race must be considered when appointing judges, and that the public administration must be broadly representative of the society it serves. But these provisions do not detract from the value the new SA constitution attaches to nonracialism and nonsexism.

When asked how these values are to be achieved, the cadres resort to mechanical bean-counting exercises aimed at matching national demographics with the complexion of the workforce, the bench and the public service. Actually, nonracial societies are colour-blind; they judge citizens on the quality of their character, not the colour of their skins.

Not unlike the social engineering of the architects of apartheid — where there was separation of the races there was no development, and where there was development there was no separation — the cadres of the ANC have learnt to their cost that where there is race-based affirmation, there is no economic action, and where action is evident, there is no race-based affirmation.

The failure of Eskom to deal appropriately with its inability to keep the lights on is a case study in getting rid of competent technicians of the wrong race to replace them with thieving incompetents of the right race. Sound human resource management practices are conspicuously absent wherever the ANC seeks to promote its cadres in the workplace. Loyalty to the national democratic revolution is allowed to replace competence and merit as the yardsticks for appointments. In the public administration and SOEs, accountability and sound human resource management practices are constitutionally required to be the order of the day. What we have are twisted caricatures of these guiding values.

The cadre deployment committees at Luthuli House are alive to the fact that cadre deployment is illegal. They dress up their input as mere recommendations to slyly bypass those who wish to object to the unfairness and unconstitutional nature of cadre deployment and race-based employment practices. That recommendations are invariably accepted gives the lie to the modus operandi. Within its own structure and with the choice of its public representatives the ANC is free to deploy its cadres; elsewhere, and in particular in SOEs, this practice is constitutionally proscribed.

The way in which the Gini coefficient has ballooned in the new SA is empirical evidence that the promotion of the achievement of equality is just not working. Affirmative action for the genuinely disadvantaged is conspicuously absent, the grinding poverty and deprivation experienced by about half the population continues unabated, worsened by the manner in which the new order — the joy of freedom for all — has been implemented since 1994.

Where there is affirmative action, those least disadvantaged are the most spectacularly affirmed. Those who remain mired in rural poverty, gender-based violence, joblessness and no prospect of improvement must wonder what is in it for them. They remain as unaffirmed in the new SA as the supposed beneficiaries of the Estina dairy project.

A return to the values of the constitution and a better appreciation of the fact that disadvantage, not political connectivity, is the sole legal criterion for affirmative action, is urgently required. The perversion of our founding values is strangling the life out of SA.

• Hoffman, an advocate, is director of Accountability Now

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