Tuesday, June 12, 2007

"History's Importance for the Future"

For, he who desires to build a future dare not neglect the past.
Seek, therefore, all that is good and beautiful in the past,
built on it your ideal, and strive to realize that ideal for the future.

President Paul Kruger’s last message to his people

As a black South African, I believe there is a compelling case for affirmative action to prevail in South Africa. Sadly, not every person is of this view. Opponents of affirmative action often argue that it is not a necessary and effective policy intervention as it leads to reverse racism, and hence the incidence of fronting. Thus far evidence indicates that affirmative action has not really crowded out white South Africans in the area of employment in particular.

In retrospect, the 1926 Mine and Workers Act or the Colour Bar Act, which lasted until late eighties, served to prevent blacks from taking up skilled employment. The objective of the Colour Bar Act was to make skilled employment the exclusive preserve of whites in South Africa. Therefore, it would be appropriate to view affirmative action as an antidote to the anomalies stemming from the Colour Bar Act.

Hamilton Naki, a black man without formal training in the medical sciences, is recorded as someone who contributed in making it possible for Chris Barnard to perform the first heart transplant in the world. The Sunday Times article (5 June 2007), states that Hamilton Naki also participated in the training of students who went on to become professors in surgery. Some of his students actually became heads of university departments’ in countries like Japan and the US.
Hamilton Naki’s story highlights the need for affirmative action in South Africa. Unfortunately, there have been incidents that display the opposite of what is intended by the policy of affirmative action. In my view for affirmative action to have more weight, it has to be driven by meritocracy. Moreover, mentoring of those from the disadvantaged background holds potential to enhance affirmative action. If one takes the case of Tito Mboweni, the current governor of the South African Reserve Bank, his success in bringing down the rate of inflation from double to single digit and bringing about the lowest rates of interest in many years could perhaps be attributed in part to effective mentoring from the previous governor, Dr Chris Stals. This is because at one stage Tito Mboweni served as deputy to Dr Chris Stals before assuming the position of governor of the Reserve Bank.


Susan Arthur said...

Thanks Bruce for this interesting blog post

Ijeoma Uche-Okeke said...

Bruce, you make a very interesting case here for the merits of mentorships. In the present imbalanced situation faced by corporate South Africa, it is indeed very important that strong mentorship programmes continue to be developed and sustained.

Thomas Blaser said...

This is a tough one. As usual, the devil is in the detail. While the aim of AA is necessary and morally sound, the practicalities are messy. I am doing research on the subject and I feel it is awkward. In the final analysis, I believe race, ethnicity and language, etc. should not play a role in applying for a job. I think one should rather base AA on wealth, income and class. Poor people, no matter their race and culture, are always disadvantaged.

Adam N. Mukendi said...

That's true Bruce.
Mentorship is very important. However TITO M. is doing well today because he had exposure and has been in contact with his today's duty long ago. I think it is irrational to ask someone to deliver in a short time if we don't give him chance to learn first. On this point I do think also that jugement on three month internship is irrational. I really believe that since your interview- they (campany-directors) have the hability to tell you that they will employ you if they have desided to mentor and give you the exposure you need.


Valentin said...

Bruce, I agree with Thomas.
While AA is necessary and it is a justifiable action, it does create some problems in South Africa (to some extent).
As Thomas said, anybody should be employed, no matter what race, culture, religion or ethnicity.
Certainly, privilege should be given to the previously disdvantaged people (the black people in South Africa).
Nevertheless, young white people should also have access to the job market as much (of course qualified people, people with skills).
Isn't that democracy in its real meaning and implementation?

Bruce said...

People remember Affirmative Action is something that's not going to last for ever. In my view the more employers become wholeheartedly committed to AA, its life span will be reduced. But reality thus far indicates that the necessary commitment is not there. Instead fronting seems to be something acceptible to many employers.

I do agree that class should be taken into account when grappling with the issue of AA. Because I have seen blacks in and outside of SOWETO, for instance, who enjoy a high standard of living. If this state of affairs is ignored AA may not achieve its objectives.