Eskom & Racial Discrimination

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There’s currently an interesting dispute over Eskom’s affirmative action programme. One of their coloured employees claims that Eskom offered him a promotion and then rescinded it because he was “too white”. (According to the employee, Eskom argued that “coloured South Africans did not have to carry pass books and blacks therefore had to enjoy precedence over them in affirmative action”.) Eskom claims they never offered him the job in the first place; beyond that, they’re keeping quiet.

It seems evident that one of two things is true: either Eskom has an overtly racist advancement policy, or this employee is trying to take advantage of the employment equity programme to cast doubt on his competitor and get a promotion he didn’t deserve. Either way, this is the natural outcome of making race the decisive factor in choosing who to promote, or deciding who gets what: you’re always going to get people who try to game the system by claiming a greater or lesser degree of racial purity than others. (I’m reminded of a chapter from Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, in which he describes the absurd legal spectacle of defending an Indian man who had been incorrectly classified as black.)

The real question, of course, is why Eskom is awarding a position like “project engineering specialist” on the basis of race at all. This question is all the more pertinent when one considers Eskom’s inability to fulfil their core mission of providing power for the country. Affirmative action may well be a necessary evil: I’m open to the idea that, in a broader sense, the stability of our society and our economic system requires that we redistribute resources between racial groups, and affirmitive action is part of that. But necessary or not, it is still an evil, as the absurdity of this dispute demonstrates.