Govt settles in affirmative action test case

Four white police officials, who were denied promotions on the basis of their skin colour, were offered a lucrative settlement before an important test case for affirmative action could be heard in the Labour Court.

The South African Police Service (SAPS) has offered them the promotions with full benefits, backdated to December 2004, according to a court order handed down in the Labour Court in Johannesburg on Monday.

The SAPS insisted that a confidentiality clause be added to the settlement, but the court order is a public document, Beeld reported on Wednesday.

“The content is confidential and I am not allowed to make it public,” said Solidarity deputy head Dirk Hermann, whose union took the case on behalf of four of its members.

“But, what I can say is that Solidarity has already started preparing another case in which these principles would be tested,” he told the South African Press Association.

The SAPS ended the services of the state lawyer in this case and instead hired one of the biggest law firms in the country, Bowman Gilfillan.

Beeld reported that the settlement by the SAPS in effect prevented a court order that would have set a legal precedent for affirmative action.

If the Labour Court had ruled in favour of the four police officials, it would have meant that white candidates should be offered jobs if there were no qualified affirmative action candidates available to fill the positions.

“We accepted the settlement because it was in the interest of our members,” said Hermann.

In this specific case, the four police officials—Lionel de Jager, Corlett van Ham, Hannes Geustyn and H Ueckerman—were refused promotion on the grounds of affirmative action.

The four were highly qualified forensic experts and applied for four vacancies in the police’s forensic department in November 2004.

The four white cops were the only candidates qualified to do the jobs.

The SAPS decided to leave the four posts vacant, saying it could not appoint white people in the positions in terms of its affirmative action policy.

The case has been dragging on since 2004 and one of the applicants has since emigrated.

De Jager and Van Ham are both still chemical analysts in the SAPS, both with post-graduate qualifications in chemistry.

The two were promoted from inspectors to captains last September, but will now receive the full benefits of captains backdated to December 2004, as will Geustyn, who is currently a forensic investigator in the police.

Ueckermann, a mineralogist with a master’s degree in chemistry, has emigrated.—Sapa

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