Monday, November 19, 2007

Learning from South Africa?

By Lidija Knuth, Research fellow at the Kirwan Institute

In South Africa after the collapse of Apartheid in 1994, race and class still coincide in very complex ways—reproducing, sustaining, and feeding off of each other because of the structural and systematic barriers and constraints placed in the way of genuine redistribution of resources.(footnote 1) South Africa is strongly influenced by the legacies of colonialism, slavery, and apartheid. The social, economic, and cultural life of current South Africa is marked by this legacy. Racial inequality is reflected in a wide range of areas depicting a growing contrast between fulfilment and deprivation. Many whites acquired positions of power and wealth during apartheid and very few of them are poor. Whites dominate virtually all aspects of higher education, and specifically the area of knowledge production. The structure of separate education systems for different apartheid-defined race groups has resulted in manifest inequalities.

South Africa is an example of a society where structural racism is firmly embedded in an all-encompassing, state-directed approach.(footnote #2) One paper argues that racism lives on even though the society is no longer formally organized on racist principles. This reality is recognized by the government, legislation, and the judiciary. The need for the protection, promotion, and monitoring of the right to equality is outlined in various pieces of legislation, inter alia the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act (footnote#3) and the Employment Equity Act (footnote #4). However, the Equality Act is by far the most comprehensive and the most important piece of legislation prohibiting unfair discrimination after the Constitution. The preamble to the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act of 2000 states, “Although significant progress has been made in restructuring and transforming our society and institutions, systemic inequalities and unfair discrimination remain embedded in our social structures, practices and attitudes.”
The uniqueness of the Equality Act is that it moves beyond the duty to refrain from discriminating to imposing positive duties on government, public and private bodies, the entities, and the South African populace to promote equality. This constitutes an important recognition of the shift from formal to substantive equality. An equally important aim of the equality clause is to redress disadvantage. This means that in addition to merely compensating identified victims, there is a proactive duty to restructure institutions.
In South Africa, much remains to be done to redress the legacy of immense inequalities based on race, but the country is a pioneer regarding the open discussion and attempts to deal with its history.

#1. Fred Henricks, „Racism after Apartheid,“ 2001.
#2. Fred Henricks, „Racism after Apartheid,“ 2001.
#3. Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act, 2000 (Act No. 4 of 2000).
#4. Employment Equity Act (No. 55 of 1998).

1 comment:

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