Pik Botha condemns affirmative action

While Alec Erwin fails to defend it.

On Saturday The Weekender reported that former National Party cabinet minister, Pik Botha, had strongly condemned the African National Congress's current racial policies. Botha, who joined the ANC in March 2000, made his remarks at a meeting organised by the Solidarity trade union where a new book on affirmative action was discussed.

Botha said the ANC were, like the NP of old, driven by "a fatal obsession. With the NP it was apartheid, with the ANC it is an obsession with quotas based on demographic racial representation."

Earlier this year another former NP cabinet minister (and ANC joiner), Roelf Meyer, claimed that the NP had agreed to racial transformation during the negotiations. He estimated that the policy would have to run for at least another fifteen years. "We must accept" he said, "that the process of transformation is incomplete and must continue."

Botha disputed this idea, stating: "To think that we would have agreed that children who were at school in 1994, say, could not apply for jobs on an equal footing, is simply ridiculous....The NP would not have been party to a negotiated settlement which brought about a constitutional dispensation in SA if the ANC had insisted that affirmative action legislation - and particularly the way it is currently being implemented - be enshrined in the constitution."

Botha was supported in this claim by former president FW de Klerk who told Rapport that the current application of "affirmative action" was in conflict with that agreed to during the constitutional negotiations.

Meanwhile, Beeld reported on Friday that in reply to a question from an audience in London about how important affirmative action still was for the ANC government the Public Enterprises Minister, Alec Erwin, said it was "dead in many respects, not as far as policy is concerned, but as a requirement [during job interviews]". It is questionable whether any weight should be placed on these remarks.

For one thing, Beeld said that Erwin "mentioned medical appointments in the Western Cape as an example, saying most of the doctors appointed in that province were white." Yet, according to the ANC's own (disputed) version whites are only considered for such appointments if no black candidates with the minimum qualifications can be found. (See here for the Sunday Times's alternative account.)

For another, there is no sign that the ANC is preparing to relent in its pursuit of ‘demographic representivity' across all spheres of society. Indeed, quite the opposite seems to be the case.

For instance, the Minister of Agriculture and Land Affairs, Lulu Xingwana, was recently asked in parliament whether ‘land reform' would be dropped as policy of her department after all restitution claims had been settled, and the target of transferring 30% of white-owned commercial farms into black hands had been accomplished. The minister replied: "No". Racial land redistribution would, she said, continue "until land ownership in the country reflects its demographics in terms of race and gender."

The most significant thing about Erwin's comments is that he chose not to promote or defend this policy before a foreign audience, even though the ANC continues to regard it as sacrosanct.