A Retrospective Evaluation of Affirmative Action – Taking Stock After Twenty Years

Author ME Tenza

ISSN: 2411-7870
Affiliations: LLB LLM LLD (UNISA). Senior lecturer, School of Law, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg
Source: Fundamina, Volume 28 Issue 1, p. 104-139


Affirmative action measures were included in the Employment Equity Act 55 of 1998 as a vehicle to drive the process of transformation in employment. South Africa has had affirmative action measures for more than twenty years, with the expectation that their implementation would bring equality in employment. The question that arises is whether designated and other employers are making progress in achieving the goals of the Employment Equity Act through the implementation of affirmative action measures in their workplaces. The Employment Equity Report of 2020–2021 states that there is an improvement in the employment of people from designated groups, despite some barriers. This shows that the country is slowly making progress towards achieving the goal of equality in employment. Despite the reports by the Commission for Employment Equity, this contribution argues that the implementation of affirmative action is very slow. Like other programmes designed to change the status quo, the implementation of affirmative action measures has not been without challenges. Factors, such as the unwillingness on the part of designated employers to implement affirmative action measures; lack of appropriate implementation plans in many workplaces; and fear or resistance to change by people occupying senior positions in employment, all contribute to the slow progress in implementing affirmative action measures. In addition, the contribution argues that the limited definition of designated groups is not in line with the Constitution and with international law obligations implied by the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). The contribution recommends that the Employment Equity Act be amended to comply with the Constitution and ICERD to accelerate the process of change in employment. As a step in the right direction, the Employment Equity Amendment Bill of 2020 empowers the minister to set numerical targets for certain sectors.