Staff Writer | 21 June 2023
Chairperson of the Commission for Employment Equity, Tabea Kabinde, says that 25 years of employment equity in South Africa has failed to produce the desired results – so the government has to take action to ensure that it does.
Commenting on the pushback against the Employment Equity Amendment Act that was recently assented to by President Cyril Ramaphosa, Kabinde said the vitriol and opposition to the new laws was unsurprising.
“Rather than seeing the introduction of sectoral targets as a much-needed catalyst to start fostering sectoral collaboration on the non-competitive aspects of employment equity and in so doing to identify innovative ways to speed up the pace of transformation and economic inclusion in our country, disappointed, there still seems to be a disproportionate focus on pushing back on the process and construct of an Act,” she said.
The new laws empower the labour and employment minister to set sector-specific racial targets that all designated businesses – those that employ 50 or more people – need to meet within five years or face penalties.
While the laws are not yet in effect, the minister has already published the targets, delivering a clutter of over 10,000 data points that make little sense to the layman, littered with errors and irrational reasoning, according to critics, including legal experts.
The laws and the targets face legal challenges, with opposition groups pushing to test the constitutionality of the entire framework.
According to Kabinde, however, the move from the government to take a stricter approach to employment equity should not have come as a surprise.
“25 years on, the impact of the Employment Equity Act has fallen short of its intent. While the Act has put in place mechanisms for monitoring and reporting on employment equity progress, there has been limited progress toward addressing systemic inequalities and achieving truly transformed workplaces,” she said.
“The pace of progress on transformation has been painfully slow, and there continues to be a lack of representation of individuals from previously disadvantaged groups, particularly in senior management positions and in certain industries.
”In short, corporate South Africa is more reflective of the economically privileged population, rather than the economically active population, with boardrooms and senior leadership teams still being predominantly populated with white people and men in particular.”
She said that this left the government and regulators feeling like the only option to ‘rectify’ the situation is to “firm up the regulatory landscape and increase the ‘stick'”. This has led to the implementation of sectoral targets with punitive measures possible for non-compliance.
Kabinde said the EEA is “merely a tool” to enable transformation and social justice. However, she said that businesses and organisations in South Africa have not made use of the tool and have instead looked for every excuse not to – further entrenching inequality.
“Like any tool, it is only as effective as its user. If the user does not want to learn how to use the tool properly or refuses to use the tool at all, it cannot be effective. Unfortunately, within the context of an exceedingly difficult and constrained social, political, and economic environment, the ‘plausible’ narrative, and excuses for not learning to use and leverage this tool are not in short supply,” she said.
“Ultimately, Employment Equity is not a legislative or compliance conversation about numbers, it is a human conversation about human beings. It is a conversation about people who have suffered and continue to suffer the pain of being systematically marginalised, dehumanised, and excluded – forever on the outside looking in.”
‘Disclaimer - The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the BEE CHAMBER’.