South Africans of all races agree that BEE doesn't work for them

Posted 12 April 2016 Written by Ciaran Ryan

It’s about time the government actually listened to the people it claims to represent. A new survey out by the Institute of Race Relations has some rather depressing news for the elites, such as our billionaire deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, who is determined to intensify black economic empowerment (BEE), even though the vast majority of South Africans now recognise these policies favour the politically connected.

According to a recent Institute of Race Relations survey, some 85% of the 2,245 South Africans interviewed said they gained nothing from employment equity, land reform, BEE and the host of other schemes supposed to benefit the disadvantaged. The survey sample matched the country’s racial demographics (some 78% were black). 

Ramaphosa (pictured above) should maybe spend some time talking to ordinary black South Africans that he claims to represent. That’s what the IRR did. He probably won’t like the feedback.

What’s equally surprising from the survey is there is very little difference between the races on the key issues facing the country. Blacks, whites, coloureds and Asians differ by just a few percentage points in their disdain for government BEE policies on affirmative action.

The survey suggests the government is wildly out of touch with the electorate. For this it is likely to pay heavily in the upcoming local elections as two key metropolitan areas stand to fall to the opposition – Joburg and Pretoria. Port Elizabeth is also no longer a safe city for the ANC. This is in addition to the Western Cape, already a Democratic Alliance stronghold.

It’s clear that South Africans of every racial group are tired of the cronyism, the corruption and policies that benefit the elite.

Take a look:

Only 4.6% thought people’s lives could best be improved through “more BEE and affirmative action in employment policies”. A mere 2.2% thought this outcome could be achieved via “more land reform”.

Here’s what South Africans think the government’s priorities should be:

As the report’s author Anthea Jeffery points out, the government is determined to intensify its transformation policies, irrespective of what critics might say: “Since 2013 the government has already ratcheted up its employment equity, black economic empowerment (BEE), and land reform policies in a host of ways. However, as an Institute of Race Relations (IRR) field survey now shows, most South Africans (85%) gain nothing from these policies. In addition, most (87%) strongly endorse the merit principle, while a mere 6% think job appointments should be linked to demographic representivity. By contrast, 78% see better education and more jobs as the keys to reducing inequality.”

The survey results contradict the government’s claims of mass support for its transformation policies. 

The survey results contradict the government’s claims of mass support for its transformation policies. Together with the ANC’s own salient warning (made back in 1994) that affirmative action could "damage the economy", they provide yet more reason to shift away from the current rules to a far more effective system of "economic empowerment for the disadvantaged" or EED, says the report.

There is no gainsaying that affirmative action has helped redress the racial bias inherited from apartheid, but Ramaphosa might be a bit disconcerted by the survey finding that only about half of South Africans agree that affirmative action has helped poor black South Africans find work. That means that roughly half believe otherwise.

Even more troubling was the answer to the question “Is affirmative action helping your community?” Two-thirds of South Africans disagree, including 62,9% of blacks.

The survey drilled down deeper still by asking people if affirmative action in employment had helped them personally. Their answers now shifted further. Whereas 52.8% thought affirmative action of this kind helped poor blacks in general, only 15.1% agreed that such affirmative action had helped them personally. By contrast, 84.8% disagreed. Among black South Africans, 16.6% had personally benefited from affirmative action, whereas 83.3% had not.

More troubling for government is the survey finding among black South Africans that only 7% of them believed they should be given preference in job placements until racial representivity had been achieved.

The survey quotes RW Johnson, a former don at Oxford University and a renowned author and commentator on South African affairs:
“The Employment Equity Act offers very little to unskilled black people working in mines, on farms, or in domestic service, for example. But all these people can see that government efficiency is declining and it is not hard for them to recognise that the replacement of more competent people with less competent people lies at the root of this. One must also never underestimate the work ethic and its corresponding merit ethic among Africans who for decades believed passionately that job reservation on racial lines was wrong and that merit alone should be rewarded. The sight of already privileged Africans receiving ‘unfair’ advantages in the labour market while the poor majority remain stuck at the bottom is clearly not one which working class and unemployed black people find at all attractive.”

While the Guptas and President Zuma’s woes capture the headlines, South Africans of all races are largely in agreement that government policies have failed, and that Ramaphosa is the one who is out of touch. They are likely to express this sentiment via the ballot later this year. 


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