Stop racism at Dis-Chem – IRR

Organisation says company’s policy fits Minister Nxesi’s design perfectly, but it is unconstitutional, undignified, and unwise

Stop racism at Dis-Chem 

17 October 2022

According to an internal letter that was leaked and verified last week, Dis-Chem CEO Ivan Saltzman demanded a “moratorium” on “the appointment of white individuals”. Saltzman added that these “harsh measures” were necessary to avoid a potential fine of 10% of turnover, which would roughly be R2 billion.

Since March, when the IRR launched its campaign to “Stop New Nationwide Race Quotas”, it warned that employment policies like Dis-Chem’s “moratorium” would become institutionalised if Minister of Employment and Labour Thulas Nxesi gets his way.

In July 2021 Minister Nxesi called for “more aggressive” race-laws while tabling the Employment Equity Amendment Bill (EEB), which aims to allow him to set hard race quotas, under the guise of “targets”, by region, sector, sub-sector and occupational level. If implemented, the EEB would allow Minister Nxesi to practically set the race quota for Dis-Chem’s middle management in North West Province, for example, so long as the same quota also applies to Clicks.

President Cyril Ramaphosa should heed the call of thousands who signed the IRR’s petition to effectively veto the EEB due to its unconstitutionality, but he could sign it into law any day. In the meantime, Minister Nxesi has pursued “more aggressive” BEE by ramping up “Employment Equity” audits, reported to have increased by 60% in April, and consequent fines. Since 2013 the maximum fine set for violating the government’s Employment Equity rules was set at 10%.

The IRR specifically warned that Minister Nxesi aims to force public sector race quotas into the private sector. According to the principle established in the case of police officer Renate Barnard – that not promoting her to the position of superintendent on the grounds of her race constituted fair discrimination in terms of section 9 of the Constitution and section 6 of the Employment Equity Act – it may be legal to block a person from appointment or promotion exclusively because of their race, in the public sector. Specifically the “Barnard principle” holds that “harm” done to individuals who are barred from employment or promotion exclusively on the basis of race is legally acceptable.

The Barnard principle has been explicitly used against white and coloured people, but could be used against anyone. Public sector underperformance indicates that putting race over merit disincentivises delivery, ricocheting harm from those barred by race to those who depend on service delivery across the country. This has harmed the poorest and the unemployed most harshly.

Said IRR Head of Campaigns Gabriel Crouse: “Understand the legal context in order to understand what needs to be tackled. Dis-Chem’s racist hiring policy is just a fraction of the problem. The big problem here is that the government is making ‘more aggressive’ race laws. The solution is to fight those laws, as the IRR’s supporters do, not to bend the knee to race-law. Dis-Chem needs to stand up and become part of the solution.”

In 2020 the IRR commissioned an independent expert to conduct a nationwide, demographically representative, statistically significant survey of South Africans’ divergent opinions. Almost 15% of white respondents supported a Dis-Chem-style policy of hiring “only blacks”.

By contrast 80% of black respondents preferred “appointment on merit”. At least 80% of respondents within each race group preferred the merit principle, a ratio which climbs even higher when people are asked about highly visible roles like national sports teams and highly significant roles like teaching one’s children.

Dis-Chem’s policy fits Minister Nxesi’s design perfectly, but it is unconstitutional, undignified, and unwise. Boycotting Dis-Chem is unlikely to help a company that already has reasonable fears for its financial future due to Minister Nxesi’s looming aggression.

Members of the public are encouraged to sign this petition calling on Dis-Chem to abandon the Barnard principle and replace it with the merit principle instead. It is the South African thing to do.

Issued by Gabriel Crouse, IRR Head of Campaigns, 17 October 2022