The African National Congress (ANC) in the Western Cape says the court case involving several coloured employees at the Department of Correctional Services is "stirring up racial antagonism between Africans and coloureds".
Trade union Solidarity, on behalf of 10 coloured employees of the department, has approached the Cape Town Labour Court to challenge the department’s employment equity plan. The case could be groundbreaking and could well result in the revision of employment equity policies.
The department’s employee targets have been set at 79% African, 9% white, 2.5% Indian and about 9% coloured, in line with national demographics.
The Solidarity trade union says it is "irrational" to apply national demographics in the Western Cape since coloureds constitute about 51% of the province’s economically active population.
ANC provincial secretary Songezo Mjongile said on Monday the department’s interpretation of the law on national versus provincial demographics is mechanical as it pits coloureds against Africans in the labour market.
"This has led to a group of coloured employees taking the department to court and is stirring up racial antagonism between Africans and coloureds ," Mr Mjongile said.
"The ANC condemns the DA (Democratic Alliance) and Solidarity for their attack on employment equity and for fostering racial antagonism," he said.
"In the first instance, the intention of the law is to empower the historically disadvantaged groups, therefore both (Africans and coloureds) qualify for affirmative action. Secondly, the Employment Equity Act is very clear that both national and provincial demographics must be considered in setting employment equity targets.
"The provincial executive committee is unequivocal, calling on the ministry of correctional services not to be hoodwinked by officials who are advancing narrow sectarian interests at the expense of building nonracialism and unity of the oppressed."
On Monday, Solidarity launched a campaign aimed at highlighting alternative ideas over affirmative action in South Africa. The union, whose members are mostly white, said various court cases challenging the government’s approach to affirmative action were planned for the year.
The campaign would be conducted under the banner "Stop Race-firmative Action" and would entail the sending of thousands of messages by e-mail, SMSes, as well as putting information on a dedicated web page and in the social media.
"With this campaign we want to challenge the government’s affirmative action ideas and show that the government’s implementation of affirmative action is not only contrary to the letter and spirit of the constitution … but detrimental to all South Africans," said Dirk Hermann, deputy general secretary of Solidarity.
He also said the government’s affirmative action targets were not attainable, largely because of the country’s "failing" education system. "‘They do not want to acknowledge that; they would rather implement an unfeasible idea more aggressively through stricter legislation," he said.