Papenfus: To Labour Minister Oliphant, what must we do about these Whites?
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Since I am ‘white’, I take note when you talk so boldly about ‘whites’ being the stumbling block in terms of your transformation agenda. I write this letter to you in order to get clarity.
According to your Party’s National Democratic Revolution (NDR), the eventual target of your ‘transformation’ policies is that every facet of the South African society (people in employment, ownership of business, participation in sports teams, shares on the JSE, education, the list goes on and on), must reflect the demographical composition of the South African society – approximately 80 percent Black, 10 percent White, 8 percent Coloured and 2 percent Indian. Hard work and skills are no longer the criteria; just the colour of the skin. Quality is sacrificed in an obsessive pursuit of quotas on the basis of skin colour. Total madness! However, you Minister, and your colleagues are pursuing these ideals, bit by bit, in every area and in every piece of legislation.
Minister, since the NDR envisages a ‘seamless transition’, you have to pursue this destructive path, and the current status and intensity of all transformational legislation is therefore merely an interim arrangement in your attempt to achieve your ideological version of a transformed society. The term ‘seamless transition’ implies that you will never achieve it (even Hitler could not achieve it), but you will not stop trying, turning on the screws as you are failing, while systematically breaking down the economy.
You are obviously frustrated by the lack of progress, measured against your ideas and the ideals of the NDR. Therefore Minister, you need to give us, employers, some clarity as to how you want us to implement your plan, seeing that you have given us six months to rectify the ‘situation’, failing which, according to you, we will ‘face the full might of the law’.
Since the ‘whites’ in our employ has such a ‘tight grip’ on their jobs (according to you), please advise, Minister, how we can get rid of them (should any employer wish to do so). Their rights are entrenched in the constitution of the Republic and the Labour Relations Act. Since you are the custodian of this Act, Minister, you must be aware of the fact that huge penalties await employers if they dismiss employees without good reason, and the penalty is even more severe if dismissal is done for reasons based on the colour of an employee’s skin. So, even if we want to get rid of these ‘whites’ (incidentally, we don’t want to, because they – as in the case of all other employees – are essential for the sustainability of our business), it is not possible within the current legal framework.
These pieces of legislation, which protects minorities against unfair dismissal, must be a source of huge frustration to you Minister, especially against the background of your desire to rid the workplace of these ‘whites’ who so ‘stubbornly’ cling to their jobs.
Should employers decide to rid their workplaces of these stubborn ‘whites’, even unlawfully, they are faced with a moral dilemma, Minister. Where will they go? If your transformation plan is to be implemented to the letter, there would be no place for them to go. The state, parastatals, municipalities and even the corporate private sector are already no-go areas for them for as long as the ‘seamless transition’ applies; and if you could have your wish, since the demographic targets will never be met, they will have nowhere to go. For ever!
Maybe we must just dismiss them unlawfully. Perhaps you would suggest that we suppress our collective conscience, sacrifice our businesses and just ‘fire’ them. Tell them to just go and make a living for themselves somewhere else. Send them to the wilderness of entrepreneurship. But, Minister, in this area your Party has placed a few very hostile hurdles in their path. In order for them to secure any substantial contracts, you demand that this entrepreneur (because of the colour of his skin) must have the minority stake (eventually 10 percent – according to the NDR) in the business he has established. You even interfere (or at least attempt to) in commercial dealings between companies.
All this despite the fact that this entrepreneur has established a business with no state assistance – no funding, subsidies, grants or incentive – which distinguishes this entrepreneur from other entrepreneurs who might be entitled to state assistance, all determined by the ‘colour of the skin’. This makes no sense, Minister! These arrangements are so bizarre that it justifies no further elaboration.
Minister, it is obvious that you have sacrificed economic growth for the sake of your version of transformation. But how do you want to effect meaningful transformation without economic growth? Removing the ‘whites’ out of the workplace, whilst there are millions out there demanding a better life, will not solve your problem; it will in fact make it worse. It will never bring about meaningful national upliftment – but perhaps that is not what you have in mind.
Haven’t you realised, Minister, that it is because of these policies that South Africa’s economy is not growing. We are going in the wrong direction in every aspect of our society. The world is losing interest in us. Your societal re-engineering project will fail, Minister, and the price will be unimaginable. Don’t you care? How is it that you want to give your people an overwhelming stake in a ruined economy? Is this the transformation you want? Or, is it more about revenge than about upliftment? Is your ultimate plan economic annihilation of a particular minority, dragging everything down in pursuit of your ideals and that of the NDR?
Minister, these policies are destined to bring poverty and hardship over the very people it envisages to benefit. Just as in the case of apartheid, this is legalised injustice, which deprives a whole nation of the ability to prosper.
Minister, the eventual outcome of all your ideas, might be the opposite of what you envisage. People prejudiced by these policies often become stronger, not weaker; and the immediate (but very temporary) beneficiaries of these ridiculous policies experience the disappointment of these failed policies later.
Gerhard Papenfus is chief executive of the National Employers’ Association of South Africa.