NOW that the furore over the governance of municipalities has died down, should we not do some soul-searching on affirmative action? It could be one of the causes of the problem. The policy cannot be abandoned. After all, just this Monday, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande told a breakfast meeting that 55% of blacks who graduated from Stellenbosch University were unlikely to get a job in the first year after graduation, while the figure for whites is 12%. For Wits University, 29% of its black graduates had a slim chance of getting a job a year after leaving university, while the figure for white graduates was 7%.
These figures provide just a glimmer of the reality that racism has simply gone underground.
We simply cannot scrap affirmative action, but it certainly needs major surgery.
The review must be led by the Black Business Council (BBC), whose brief is to make sure that the outcomes of affirmative action are the intended ones.
This is critical, as civil rights group AfriForum has launched a full-scale attack on affirmative action in court case after court case.
The BBC has to stop AfriForum in its tracks by taking charge of the review of affirmative action and close the loopholes because what could come out of our courts could take us several years backwards.
Fortunately, BBC president Ndaba Ntsele wants to see black economic empowerment and affirmative action that creates new value. He also believes that current formulas need reviewing. After all, affirmative action has had varying results. The positive results have seen the numbers of blacks in management increase, while the negative results are visible in our municipalities.
Blacks and whites have abused affirmative action for various reasons: corruption, fronting or sheer incompetence. A few years ago, an Afrikaner colleague told me that his friend, the chief financial officer of a big municipality, was asked to make way for a black professional. He obliged. Nine months later, he got an SOS and was asked to help his successor. According to the council, the successor was a "bit inexperienced" and needed some hand-holding. A "bit inexperienced" is the misnomer of the century: the person was out of his depth. He was appointed to a key position because he was black. Competence and experience were simply not factored in.
This is the story of affirmative action in many instances. Worse still, it became a springboard for cash-for-free schemes, as seen in the fly-by-night contractors who were given contracts worth millions of rands to build RDP houses.
As these people were chancers, riding on the waves of affirmative procurement, their workmanship was simply hair-raising. The houses they built are uninhabitable.
The same can be said of cadre deployment.
I know of instances in which the black candidate was fourth in terms of scoring and he would still get the job. In some cases, women were appointed to jobs because the gender ratio had to be right, and the skills were lacking.
This, in my book, is a gross insult to women.
I support cadre deployment because the bureaucrats who were implementing policies that did not accommodate the black view of life would not be able to change overnight. They would simply pigeonhole us into their view of life or the dominant orthodoxy, dubbed best practice. Thus, we needed to have new bureaucrats who would bring fresh thinking to the public service.
Unfortunately, a few decided to put their snouts in the trough, but this was a minority.
Nonetheless, cadre deployment, done correctly, achieves a lot in terms of transformation and infusing an inclusive indigenously South African culture into our governance structures.
Getting back to the point, many have rightly blamed corruption for part of the rot in the municipalities. However, affirmative action has also facilitated some of the shenanigans. It is time to clean up the backyard. Let Ntsele take action.
• Mazwai is director of the Centre for Small Business Development at the University of Johannesburg.
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