Affirmative Action: The Concept
Written by Goga, Farhana
THE GENERAL understanding of affirmative action is that it is about providing opportunities for previously disadvantaged people, which includes people of colour and women.Although disability and homosexuality continue to be issues of concern, this research does not address these issues. Homosexual staff however, expressed problems of not having their partners recognised and not being given the same rights as partners of heterosexual staff.The questions that arise then, are "what is affirmative action?" and "who should benefit from affirmative action policies?" The definition affects implementation and is very important in assessing its result.1. A Contentious ConceptVarious groupings see affirmative action as a contentious concept, with a variety of meanings. Innes (1993:6) argues that it has two meanings and purposes, namely to: i) Overcome discriminatory obstacles that stand in the way of achieving equality of employment; andii) Introduce preferential policies aimed at promoting one group over others to achieve equality of employment.The implementation of affirmative action depends on the specific emphasis of the company and government, through its policies and laws. 2. Origins of Affirmative ActionAffirmative action originated in the United States in the 1960’s. It was a response to pressure by the civil rights movement; thus, race was instrumental in deciding its beneficiaries (Sikhosana 1996). In the United States, unlike South Africa, its purpose was to uplift the position of oppressed minority groups, rather than that of an oppressed majority. Thus, its application and impact in the US would be different from that in South Africa. Nevertheless, affirmative action is a process of transformation. It is evident that the context of the particular country within which the affirmative action operates is of utmost importance (Schreiner 1996). 3. Definition of Affirmative Action a) General Definition in South Africa The implementation of affirmative action began in South Africa in 1992. It is thus firmly located in the political transition from apartheid to democracy. The South African transition brought with it a strong belief that, in addition to political freedom, blacks must also be provided with access to means and resources to overcome their past economic marginalisation. Unless this occurs, the patterns of economic control, ownership and management produced by the apartheid system will remain unchanged even in a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic South Africa (Nkuhlu 1993). Deracialisation and equalisation of economic opportunity will not automatically occur, with the abolition of apartheid laws (Sikhosana 1993). Redressing the effects of past discrimination via social measures is necessary. In achieving these goals, blacks should receive preferential support, have access to resources and be given the opportunity and space to contribute to the development of the organisation and to the economy of the country. Hence the mindset of both blacks and whites has to be changed (Nkuhlu 1993). Affirmative action is thus conceptualised as a tool to bring about a changing set of social and economic relations, in the transition to democracy. Therefore, in South Africa, affirmative action in general is a… part of transformation away from apartheid, poverty and exploitation, towards a non-racial, non-sexist and democratic nation in which the socio-economic conditions of the majority, that is, black working women and men, are substantially transformed in a manner which is empowering (Schreiner 1996:80).In the early days of political transition, companies implemented affirmative action policies in anticipation of a change in government. They feared that unless they voluntarily changed their policies, blacks would revolt. However, they also acknowledged, and continue to acknowledge, the need to remove obstacles to black advancement. Further, at present, companies...
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