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Employment Equity Act violates key constitutional value of non-racialism, says DA

  • The DA is calling on all South Africans to reject the Employment Equity Act, which has been published for comment.
  • The party says the act violates the critical constitutional value of non-racialism and will have an impact on all race groups should it be passed.
  • As such, the party, as a last resort, has not ruled out challenging the act in court.

The DA has alleged that the amended Employment Equity Act violates a key constitutional value enshrined in the Constitution that says South Africa belongs to all who live in it.

This was according to DA leader John Steenhuisen who, along with other party leaders, held a discussion on Wednesday to unpack the implications of what the party termed “the ANC’s race quota act.”

Last month, President Cyril Ramaphosa signed the Employment Equity Amendment Bill of 2020 into law. The act empowers the Department of Labour to set new transformation targets for industries, including regional ones, while also sparing many smaller businesses from the need to report annually.

Steenhuisen said while his party supported the advancement of opportunities to South Africans who have been disadvantaged, the DA did not support this through means that violate the Constitution.

“It violates one of the key foundational principles of the DA, which is non-racialism; this is also a key constitutional value enshrined in our Constitution that says SA belongs to all who live in it united in our diversity.

“Let me be clear; the DA fundamentally supports advancement and opportunities for people in SA, particularly those previously disadvantaged by the devastation of race-based policies. This is what underpins the DA’s economic justice policy, and it’s also a key factor in the new economic policy, which we will be launching in a few weeks,” said the DA leader.

READ | New EE targets may force 600 000 people out of jobs, DA claims – but govt says ‘nothing changed’

He added that attempting to use “race quotas” to address inequality did not work and masks the symptoms.

“What we are seeing here is the ANC desperately going into an election with the only thing that they have left at their disposal, and that is the ability to divide South Africans by race, and let us be very clear, these so-called targets are not targets, they are race quotas, they are significant financial penalties for businesses that do not comply, including up to 10% of their businesses’ annual turnover,” said Steenhuisen.

The DA leader said the act, should it be passed into law, would “fundamentally constrain” businesses’ ability for a company to expand and the country’s attempts at reducing the skyrocketing unemployment crisis.

Echoing similar sentiments, the DA’s labour law expert Michael Bagraim, said the fact that the act exempted businesses with less than 50 employees was evidence that the governing party knew that the proposed changes were detrimental and not progressive.

“They [government] are saying that if the business is under 50 employees, they will get exemptions. But by saying that, they are saying that they know that the legislation is negative in the first place because why give small businesses exemptions if they don’t acknowledge that it’s bad for the company?

“The other thing is if that small business wants to do business with the government, they may have to subject themselves anyway to the race-based quotas that have been set up.

“The bottom line is this is social engineering of the worst kind, and we are going to go back to where the National Party was at the height of race-based legislation. I didn’t think I would see the day that this would happen, but here we are right now,” said Bagraim.

The DA said it estimates that 600 000 South Africans would lose their jobs should the act be enacted into law.

Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi scoffed at this suggestion, saying there was no evidence to support this claim.

In a written response to a parliamentary question on the matter, Nxesi said: “It is important to highlight that thus far, there is no empirical evidence to indicate that the employment equity amendments concerning the regulation of sector EE targets might have unintended consequences on employment or in encouraging employers to change their operations to pursue restructuring or computerised and mechanise operations.

READ | ‘He would be appalled’: Kathrada foundation accuses Steenhuisen of using struggle icon as currency

“Noteworthy is that investors and all employers operating within the Republic are required to comply with national labour laws,” Nxesi said.

Meanwhile, the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation has accused Steenhuisen of using the struggle icon’s history as currency to campaign for his party, adding that the DA didn’t appreciate Kathrada when he was alive and missed his funeral.

The foundation was responding to Steenhuisen’s address in Chatsworth, a Durban suburb predominantly populated by the Indian community, last weekend, where he led the party’s “defiance campaign against ANC race quotas.”

Steenhuisen used his campaign in Chatsworth on Saturday to criticise the act.

“Nearly 100 years ago, a man was born in the small town of Schweizer-Reneke in today’s North West province. He was the fourth of six children, with family roots going back to the Indian state of Gujarat. His name was Ahmed Kathrada,” Steenhuisen said.

“Uncle Kathy, as many would later call him, went on to play a seminal role in the fight against racial segregation. In fact, even as a teenager, Mr Kathrada fought against the so-called ‘Indian Ghetto Act’, which sought to restrict where Indian South Africans could live, trade, and own land.

“He was jailed for his defiance campaign before he was even 20 years old. Many years later, he was imprisoned for life as part of the Rivonia Trial. He spent 18 years on Robben Island. I’m sharing this story with you because I’d like everyone here to consider what Uncle Kathy would say about the ANC’s new racial quota law.”

READ| ANC rejects DA’s claims that Employment Equity Amendment Act excludes certain races

He added that should the act be promulgated into law, the number of Indian people working in skilled positions would be reduced.

“Right here in KZN, the ANC wants to limit the share of Indian people working in skilled positions at every company in the retail industry in this province to 3.6% for men and 3.1% for women.

“Now tell me, how many people in this room know of a business in Chatsworth where more than 3.6% of the workforce is of Indian descent?” Steenhuisen asked.

The DA leader, therefore, called for a defiance campaign that would see communities reject the act.

“Let us launch a new defiance campaign that sweeps away the ANC and its new Group Areas Act. On Wednesday, let’s begin a new wave that will sweep the DA into the Union Buildings in 2024,” he said.

As a last resort, the DA had not ruled out challenging the act in court.

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