South Africa’s legacy of apartheid has created massive social and economic inequalities along racial and gender lines, resulting for instance, in the under-representation of Blacks and women in the higher echelons of industry and at decision-making levels in the public service. In order to eradicate historical discriminatory employment policies and practices in the workplace based on race, gender and disability and redress imbalances, in 1998 Parliament enacted the Employment Equity legislation, which describes measures through which organisations should speed up their transformation efforts. These measures are collectively known as affirmative action. Affirmative action was conceived as a vehicle that would improve the employment and promotion opportunities of Blacks, women and the disabled. However, the goal of transforming South African business organisations and public service from discriminatory structures to ones which reflect the demographic composition and values of South African as a whole has not been without controversy. Given the racial construction of privilege and discrimination in South Africa, affirmative action evokes strong emotions from ‘designated group’ and ‘non-designated group’ members’ demographic status, histories of relative deprivation, personal and collective interests and political ideologies leading to a polarisation of attitudes towards affirmative action. While some people view affirmative action as an antidote to past discrimination against Blacks, women and the disabled, others believe affirmative action promotes discrimination against Whites and in particular White males. Social policies that are perceived disproportionately to help Blacks or women, in general, and affirmative action programme, in particular, have emerged as a major socio-political battleground in South Africa. There is a long history of economic and employment discrimination in South Africa, and government-supported interventions, such as affirmative-action programmes, have been designed to increase employment opportunities for Blacks and women in organisational contexts in which they have been historically underrepresented. Although affirmative-action programmes have provided important economic benefits to Blacks and women, public debate about affirmative action programmes have been framed in terms of race and gender. Affirmative action has emerged as one of the most controversial policies in South Africa and is under attack. This study was conducted with employees from the Compensation Fund in Pretoria. Sixteen semi-structured interviews, ranging from between 20 and 30 minutes, were conducted with the aid of an in-depth personal interview schedule, using convenience sampling technique. The interview schedule had four sections in line with the problem statements and contained qualitative type questions. The purpose of the present exploratory study aimed to gain insight into the attitudes, experiences and perceptions of the Compensation Fund employees towards affirmative action. Findings of the study indicate that the dominant perception of the non-designated group (White participants) is that the recruitment, accomplishment and promotion of employees from the designated group is related only to demographic status, rather than qualifications, competences and personal effort as well. Race and gender appear to be operant dimensions along which Whites who could do the job are symbolically set apart from Blacks and women who were supposedly employed in the interest of getting the numbers right. Racial and gender prejudices emerged as the two main themes of the study. The dissertation interprets the participants’ racial and gender prejudice in terms of Blumer’s Group Position Model. The Group Position Model states that when an in-group perceives it’s group position to be threatened it results in racial (gender) hostility towards the out-group. In terms of this research’s findings, the non-designated group (White males) constitute the in-group, while the designated group (Blacks and women) constitute the out-group. The model adequately explains the negativity of the non-designated group towards affirmative action. This study represents a vital step towards a better understanding of the successful implementation of affirmative action and should contribute to more efficient and effective practice of affirmative action in the workplace.
Dissertation (MSocSci)--University of Pretoria, 2008.