/ 29 July 2013

W Cape affirmative action case sparks protests

Desiree Merkeur
Desiree Merkeur, Deidre Jordaan, Theresa Abrahams, Derick Wehr and Jan Kotze at the Cape Town Labour court on April 24 2013. (Gallo)

Not white enough before 1994 and not black enough afterwards was the message delivered by a group of angry coloured protesters in front of Cape Town's Labour Court at lunch time on Monday.

Inside the building, Judge Hilary Rabkin-Naicker presided over the resumption of an affirmative action case, brought by trade union Solidarity, against the Western Cape's correctional services department.

Outside, in Loop Street, a group of about 30 protesters called loudly for people to be employed on the basis of merit, not colour.

They held up posters with the messages "Employment Equity is Racism", "Staan Saam Bruin Mense" (Stand together, brown people), and "Job Reservation is Apartheid".

Many of the protesters wore orange, sleeveless safety vests, of the type worn by construction workers.

Written on the front were the words "Post 94, Not Black Enough", and on the back, "Pre 94, Not White Enough".

The court case, which started on April 24, was postponed on May 3 to allow time for both parties to reach agreement on the matter involving nine of the department's employees and one job applicant.

Solidarity brought the matter to court on behalf of the 10.

The union maintains that the department is pursuing a "blatant policy of absolute racial representation" when it comes to appointing job applicants to positions.

It claims this is "unfair, irrational and unlawful".

Rejection on the base of colour
Martin Brassey SC, for Solidarity, told the court on Monday attempts to reach an agreement in the interim had "proved unfruitful".

The case resumed with evidence from correctional services official Teresa Abrahams, who was the "strongly recommended" candidate for a post in the department's Breede River management area, after an interview in 2011.

Responding to questions, she told the court she had heard that she had not been appointed because of the department's application of employment equity targets.

Marumo Moerane SC, for the department, told her: "You were not appointed because the post was abolished."

Abrahams responded: "They reject us … because we are coloured."

Later, South African Police Service employee Desiree Merkeur told the court she had applied for a job as a secretary in September, 2011, and was "strongly recommended for the post", but had not heard a word since then.

Moerane told her: "Once again, that post was abolished."

He also explained, in detail, the provision of the Employment Equity Act which divides job applicants into four categories on the basis of race – black, coloured, Indian, and white – and further subdivides these on the basis of gender.

Merkeur said she did not understand why the department would shortlist her, invite her to two interviews and strongly recommend her for the position while knowing that level of post was "over-represented for coloured people".

Evidence by three other applicants is to be heard later on Monday.

Opposed to discrimination
​Outside, chairperson of the United People's Alliance Frank Smith said his organisation was opposed to any discrimination in any form.

"We thought that after 1994 there would be no more discrimination; now there's more than before," he said.

Employment equity, Smith said, was racism in reverse.

Protester Envor Barros said people had to be employed on the basis of merit.

"Coloured people must be given a fair share of the pie," he said. In a statement on Monday afternoon, Solidarity said government was contradicting itself regarding the concept of absolute racial representation.

"While this concept is one of the keystones of the [department's] case, the Commission for Employment Equity (CEE) indicated that racial representation does not have to be applied rigidly.

"Dr Loyiso Mbabane, chairperson of the CEE, said during an interview there is no law that requires the composition of an employer's workforce to be an absolute reflection of the demographics of any area."

By implication, this meant that racial demographics did not have to be applied nationally or regionally.

Solidarity is representing Abrahams and Merkeur, and Linda-Jean Fortuin, Christopher February, Andre Jonkers, Geo-nita Baartman, Pieter Davids, Derick Wehr, Jan Kotze, and Deidre Jordaan.

The union said that in all cases "the persons concerned had been identified as the best candidates for the positions they had applied for, and their skin colour was the only reason why they were not appointed".

The case continues with the testimony of so-called "expert witnesses" expected to be heard later this week. – Sapa