This Lady’s for Turning

Anthea Jeffery says the DA is u-turning on race-based employment law. She thinks that while they’re at it…

The Democratic Alliance (DA) now says it voted for the Employment Equity Amendment Bill of 2012 (the Bill) in the National Assembly last month even though it opposed virtually all the key changes introduced by the Bill.

But if the party had so many reservations about the Bill, why then did its use its clout as the official ‘opposition’ to endorse it?

The essence of the Bill is that it:

• strips away key defences for businesses battling to meet unrealistic racial quotas;

• more than trebles current fines;

• cuts short the enforcement process so that prosecutions become easier and huge fines can more readily be imposed.

The Bill also has another key weakness the DA fails adequately to note. The Bill itself still allows employers in the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal to apply regional demographics in setting their racial targets. But this is not the end of the matter, as the DA seems to think, for the Bill also empowers the minister of labour to limit reference to regional demographics by means of regulation.

More fundamentally still, the EE Bill betrays the principle of non-racialism. It encourages the racial bean-counting the DA claims to oppose and will inevitably harm the poor black majority by choking off investment, growth, and jobs.

The DA now also says that ‘a growing economy with increasing employment is the surest and most sustainable way to redress the legacy of apartheid’. That, of course, is correct. But how then could the party endorse a measure likely to see firms fined into bankruptcy and the economy yet further hobbled? How could it sacrifice the interests of the poor to the supposed benefit of a relative elite?

The party now plans to oppose the EE Bill in the National Council of Provinces. That is an important step towards the growth path. But it is also not enough.

The DA needs to do a similar about-turn on the damaging Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Bill of 2012, which it endorsed in the National Assembly in June 2013. This racial law will similarly choke off investment and jobs by threatening business with equally large fines – plus jail terms of up to ten years – for ‘fronting’, as very broadly defined.

If DA claims to have better alternatives are to be taken seriously, the party must also oppose these amendments when they come to the vote in the National Council of Provinces.
The DA must decide whether it stands for 8% growth or for racial redistribution. It cannot have its cake and try to eat it too.

– Jeffery is special research head at the SA Institute of Race Relations (this article was first published in Politicsweb on 4 November 2013).

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