DA’s ‘black caucus’ faces stormy debate
Differences over race-based affirmative action to be aired at conference
A BID by the so-called “black caucus” in the DA to persuade delegates at a policy conference this weekend to support racebased affirmative action looks set to fall on stony ground.
A Green Paper on economic inclusion prepared for the conference, of which Weekend Argus has seen a copy, makes the party’s distaste for racebased redress clear.
While it voices support for measures to “expand opportunity and to empower economic outsiders, and specifically previously disadvantaged citizens”, it calls for the removal of race as a criterion in empowerment measures.
“Our approach to empowerment will help overcome the legacy of race-based exclusion without entrenching ‘race’ as the determining factor of our future as we build an open, opportunity society for all,” the document says.
It puts forward four pillars of the party’s approach to “eco- nomic inclusion and redress”: expanding opportunity, empowering South Africans for participation, redress in its plan for growth and jobs and incentivising business contributions to redress.
But in its discussion of the scorecard for Broad- Based Black Economic Empowerment and the Codes of Good Practice flowing from the legislation, the Green Paper says these must be “deliberately reshaped to broaden the scope of empowerment… and must move away from an exclusive focus on racial targets and race-based redress”.
Elsewhere, the document says the DA “does not support quantitative racial targets for employment equity, and especially not the ethnic breakdown of racial targets into categories of previously disadvantaged people as pro- posed in the current amendments to the Codes of Good Practice”.
This stands in contrast to comments by DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko and Khayelitsha MP Masizole Mnqasela, among others, who have said there is a role for race in affirmative action policy.
Mazibuko said recently “restitution is a necessity and part of it is race-based”.
Mnqasela would argue for the DA to support BEE and affirmative action policies, but set a 20-year cut-off date, the Mail & Guardian reported yesterday.
Alternatively, he would ask that MPs be allowed to vote independently of the party line.
Wilmot James, the party’s federal chairman and policy guru, said its position would be up for debate at the conference, which opens today at the City Hall and ends tomorrow.
He said the party had been reviewing all its policies through a consultative process going back at least eight months. Its position on employment equity had been thrown into relief when the proposed legislation came up in Parliament.
Party leader Helen Zille said it had “dropped the ball” in supporting the Employment Equity Amendment Bill, which she claimed would introduce “rigid racial quotas”.
The furore had helped the party to refine its position.
“So we are presenting an approach we’ve been working on for a while, but it’s certainly something that has evolved into something that I think better answers the question of the DA’s approach to redress, and the place of race in that,” James said.
Delegates would be able to change the policy if they could convince the federal council, in a special sitting, “to go one way or the other”.
“It will probably be one of the most significant discus- sions we will have,” James said.
Speaking for himself, he said: “We can’t pretend that non-racialism means we are blind to race.”
However, he said he favoured a “creative” approach that didn’t advantage anyone to the exclusion of others, over a “mechanical” method that predicted outcomes.
James Selfe, chairman of the DA federal executive, said while the 120-plus delegates to the conference could propose amendments, the process was already “fairly far advanced by the time we get to this stage”.
The conference favoured consensus and seldom put policy questions to a vote.
“Obviously there might be issues over which there are sharp disagreements and it’s unable to arrive at agreement and then one might put a thing to the vote, but it’s very unusual in my experience,” Selfe said.
Delegates were drawn from DA representatives in all spheres of government, as well as the rank and file.
This means most will come from the Western Cape and Gauteng, where the DA received 989 132 and 924 211 votes in the 2009 national elections respectively.
Next came KwaZulu-Natal, with 364 518 votes.
DA Western Cape leader Ivan Meyer said the province had not adopted a position on employment equity and, while it had discussed the issue, did not have a consolidated set of proposals on any of the 20 policy areas up for review.
Gauteng leader John Moodey said the province had appointed a facilitator to steer discussions on policy from con- stituency level upwards.
This had culminated in a meeting on Wednesday of representatives from the regions, chaired by the facilitator.
This group had a mandate to set out the province’s stance.
But Moodey said it had not settled on a position on employment equity.
He said he had personal experience of how “Verwoerdian” affirmative action policy could frustrate individual progress and, on the other hand, in the case of his daughter, how hard it was for new graduates to get work in their preferred field without experience.
However, he did not believe in punitive measures, such as contained in the Employment Equity Amendment Bill.
“The fining and the threat of a fine, whacking them in the pocket to force industry to comply, that’s not an incentive.”
James was confident the DA could come out of the conference speaking with one voice.
HOPEFUL: Wilmot James