Constitution, equity Act under the spotlight
The country’s Constitution and its Employment Equity Act were pitted against each other on Wednesday in a case involving a police captain who claims to have been overlooked for a position because she is white.
Testifying under cross-examination in the Labour Court in Johannesburg, Captain Renate Barnard said it was unfair for the South African Police Service (SAPS) to redress injustices of the past at a “disadvantage to others”.
This after advocate William Mokhare put it to her that the equity guidelines were put in place to give “the section of the population that was discriminated against in the past equal opportunities”.
“I am aware [of the Employment Equity Act] but also aware that there’s a Constitution. According to the Constitution, the police have to provide equal opportunities to its officers.
“Two wrongs don’t make a right ... not at a disadvantage of others,” said Barnard, who later broke down and cried.
Barnard, represented by advocate John Grogan SC on behalf of trade union Solidarity, took the SAPS to the Labour Court after she was twice overlooked for a superintendent position.
She first applied for the senior post within a division that deals with grievances from members of the public in 2005 and again in 2006 but on both occasions, she was not appointed.
This despite the interview panel having indicated that she was more suited to the post than the two other candidates she was recommended with.
When recommendations of three officers, with Barnard’s name at the top were sent to then National Commissioner Jackie Selebi’s office, he decided not to appoint anyone to the position.
His reasons were that Barnard’s appointment was not representative of the police’s employment equity goals, said Senior Superintendent Johannes Phetolo Ramothoka while giving evidence on Monday and Tuesday.
“He [Selebi] wanted to ensure that all units adhered to the Employment Equity Act, in line with the equity plans of the South African Police Service.
“The appointment of the candidate [Barnard] was not going to be in line with equity guidelines. White females were already over-represented by five at salary level nine so her appointment would have meant an over representivity white females on that level,” Ramothoka said.
Ramothoka is based at the SAPS career management unit in Pretoria.
But Barnard feels it is discriminatory for the SAPS to overlook competence and commitment based on people’s skin colour.
“I want to ask management, what must I do more to get a promotion? I sacrificed my family to do my job properly ... I am a top performer,” an emotional Barnard said.
She said she had been captain for close to eight years when she applied for the position in 2006 and felt it was unfair for the SAPS to keep promoting people who joined the police force after her while overlooking her because she was white.
“People who joined the police in 2004 and 2005 are now superintendents and senior superintendents while I’m sitting there for 20 years. I’m not a racist but an officer committed to serving the community,” she said, wiping away tears streaming down her cheeks.
She said her promotion would have enhanced services rendered to community members who felt their cases were being investigated as she knew what went on at station level and had worked with members of the public for a number of years.
“I had practical experience of what happens at detective units. I knew I’d be able to make an impact with regard to what happens at ground level ... I fitted the job description,” she said.
Mokhare and Grogan are expected to present their closing arguments before Judge Pretorius on Thursday morning.—Sapa