Beleaguered Eskom’s ‘equity’ drive is absurd – IRR calls for end to race law
27 January 2023
South Africans have been the victims of rolling blackouts every day of 2023 thus far, in large part due to inadequate maintenance of electricity infrastructure – but Eskom is evidently more interested in the skin colour of its maintenance staff.
Reports that the power utility is seeking to retrench 500 of its maintenance workers because they are white vividly reflects the absurdity of race law in contemporary South Africa.
According to the report, issued by trade union Solidarity, Eskom seeks to retrench 500 white men by 2025 from its maintenance division so the company can comply with its own employment equity plan.
South Africa’s power crisis cannot be resolved while extraneous considerations, such as skin pigmentation, determine important decisions regarding procurement and human resources.
This is not the first time Eskom has sacrificed efficiency and capacity at the altar of compliance with racial ideology.
According to analyst Drikus Greyling of the Daily Investor, Eskom’s staff complement expanded by 4 488 between 2011 and 2013, not due to any significant need for more competent employees, but mainly as an effort for the company to have a workforce reflective of South Africa’s demographic profile.
Bad law no excuse
The Employment Equity Act requires employers to prepare employment equity plans, and while the Act does include guidelines and principles for what these plans are meant to achieve, the detail and specifics of every plan are left to each employer to determine themselves.
‘As it stands now, before new amendments are signed into law, the Employment Equity Act only requires “reasonable progress towards employment equity”,’ says Martin van Staden, Deputy Head of Policy Research at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR). ‘No rational person living in South Africa today, who experiences at least six hours daily without electricity, can call Eskom’s retrenchment of maintenance staff “reasonable”.’
In December 2022, the IRR launched the Index of Race Law (available at racelaw.co.za), which records the many historical and contemporary Acts of Parliament adopted that foreground race or skin colour. The Index provides a roadmap to reform, identifying precisely which laws stand in the way of South Africa achieving the constitutional promise of non-racialism. These include the Employment Equity Act and the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) Act.
Members of the public who wish to add their voices to the call to fight load-shedding by stopping BEE at Eskom are invited to endorse the IRR’s campaign at irr.org.za.
Issued by Martin van Staden, Martin van Staden, IRR Deputy Head of Policy Research, 27 January 2023