/ 8 August 2008

The great white women debate

Black Management Forum president Jimmy Manyi has said white women should not benefit from affirmative action. Thembelihle Tshabalala and Nosimilo Ndlovu report.

Carrie Shelver of People Opposing Women Abuse:
Affirmative action is not achieving the desired effect because it is not addressing black women’s needs. This policy allows black women to be excluded from the workplace in many ways.
Black women were definitely more disadvantaged than white women and the fact that affirmative action includes white women makes it easy for companies to implement racism in their appointments. For instance, an employer could hire a lot of white women and fewer black women and seem like they are meeting quotas while, in essence, black women still haven’t received equal opportunities.

Theresa Oakley, CEO of Absolute Ndaba, a human resource company:
I have never understood why white women were placed in BEE in the first place because white women were not disenfranchised by apartheid. They may have had tough times, but they are not previously disadvantaged. In many companies white women are used as a front and this prevents black people from benefiting from this law.

I have discussed this with a lot of white women and there seems to be a lot of resentment of the suggestion made by Manyi, but I say that we were lucky to have affirmative action for that long anyway.

Zohra Dawood, executive director of The Open Society Foundation for South Africa:
I think that we ought to identify the range of beneficiaries with due regard being paid to black women. Black women bore the brunt of discrimination and white women were deprived of many opportunities.
We do, however, need to be pragmatic in confronting the issue of skills shortages and unfortunately the skills shortage is within black women. So the question should be how you draw the line between skills shortage and affirmative action while making sure that the values of the system are not condescending to black women.
The reality is that if you want to get the job done and you have a white woman who has the skills, then you shouldn’t compromise those skills.

Kelebohile Lekoape, consultant for the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research:
Surely affirmative action was meant to provide additional opportunity for the previously disadvantaged. Even though white women were not totally disadvantaged, they had limited opportunities, therefore more opportunities should be opened for them. If affirmative action is applied properly where a black woman doesn’t happen to have the same expertise as a white woman, then the job should be done by the woman with the expertise if it is to be done properly.

Joan Joffe, founder member of Nozala Investments:
I feel that the debate takes second position to what is needed in critical areas of service delivery. As a country we just cannot afford to discriminate against anyone, man or woman, who can do a job well. In the interests of all citizens, we need to appoint the best woman (person) for the job.

Jo Tyler, editorial production manager for the Mail & Guardian:
When I started in the media industry in the late Seventies, white males dominated and they got the promotions, particularly in newspapers. White women edited ”lifestyle” and ”women’s pages”, seldom news. Then things changed for the better and black men got promoted. Things changed again and black men and women got promoted. Many white women were sidelined and overlooked; it was almost like falling into an unseen crack, so I think they should be included in employment equity.

Taskeen Asmal, buyer for retail group Edcon:
I think all women were previously disadvantaged so I don’t think it’s fair to say white women should be excluded entirely. I think as much as it is fair to give black women top priority, women from all races should be included. As an Indian women I would like to be included in employment equity, but the reality is it will not last forever. (Asmal did not want to be photographed.)