Congress of the People in the Mother City

CAN MERITOCRACY BE FAIR IN SOUTH AFRICA?

In News, Policy on May 14, 2009 at 10:39 pm

Perish the notion that the proud soul of Helen Zille, which sent shock waves across South Africa with her appointment of all men cabinet ministers despite the modern prevailing verve for gender equality, will change her mind because of overwhelming criticism. Madam Zille likes to project herself as a staunch proponent of an open society, but only the kind defined and directed by her ‘better understanding’. The open society, as envisaged by Zille, is the concept of equality before the law, equal and meritocratic access to opportunities, and freedom of choice to participate in the political space among other things. In other words, it is synonymous with the liberal notion of liberty when it falls under what Zille thinks is right for the DA.

It will be interesting to note that at this stage there has been a deafening silence about Zille’s Cabinet from those that are supposed to be the voice of women rights, in particular the women rights groups and other social voices. It feels a bit hypocritical, especially when you consider the fact that AA and EE was diluted or rather was toned to include minorities as PDI’s.

How shall we profile madam Zille’s behaviour in this issue if not by making a historical review to check the role of white women in fight for women rights, or any other rights for human liberation for that matter? Given the racial nature of Apartheid white women were in a better position than their racial counterparts to stage human rights protests for the emancipation of women. History testifies to their apathy on this issue. They preferred the comfort zone, security and privilege.

Zille’s advocacy of open society then is opportunistic; like white women convenient cry of supposedly injustice suffered under Apartheid, to sidetrack and derail the need for African redress. Inclusion of white women in the EE was the progressive thing on its own, but that was consequently abused by the forces of white privilege to frustrate advancement of Black people. Zille represents the section of society that remain greatly hostile to things like BEE, BBBEE and other progressive programs that seek to correct the wrongs of the past. It is in that spirit that the DA chooses to distance itself from the “quota system” and thus positioning itself as the champion of merit and excellence over the quota system.

What the likes of DA do not understand is the fact that there can never be merit where the field is not level. Take the issue of intergenerational wealth for instance. We cannot ignore the systematic and significant manner by which the wealth of children is usually significantly dependent on that of their parents. Basing economic potential only on pure merit is inadequate when you regard this. Pure merit is selfish, because it bias towards those with more resources. It is, for instance, not by accident that more white young people get better medical services, better education, more money for extracurricular activities, his own personal computer, and general exposure to progressive elements of our society. This is about inherited wealth and prestige. As if this was not enough; when they get to working age they’ll have better personal connections available from wealthy/successful parents. This is the bias towards those with resources whose transfer cut across generations, making inequality grow over time. It is unhealthy because it destroys opportunity and competition for all.

Imperatives for meritocracy and open society should not be used in a calculated move to defend and maintain the status quo for the privileged. Transformation left to happen on its own does not happen. Quotas are a necessary evil to address the evils of the past. Should we read from DA’s absolute disregard for gender quotas that white women, even now, still do not really feel disadvantaged? If they were, surely they’d be in similar urgency like other women about representation on every DA structure, including those of governance. I don’t know what to make of the miniscule black women members who insinuate them to white women privileges by their deafening silence on the issue also.

For the rest of us, the understanding is clear, things like gender equality and racial transformation can’t be left on their own to mythical invisible corrective hands. Policies of redress are necessary to ensure that action is taken and enforceable deliverables are in place. We’re aware that quota systems are not immune to shortcomings; sometimes they compromise purpose and quality standards; however given the urgency of the transformation maybe such cost is the price that we all need to be willing to bear. You don’t damn something just because it is open to abuse. As imperfect quota system may be, it is the only the option to enforce transformation.

  1. Quite thought provoking.

  2. this is very interesting as a white south african male student living abroad… very useful

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