Here in South Africa a lot has been made of Affirmative Action (AA). In fact, here it is called Black Economic Empowerment (BEE). To the ANC and its cohorts, this is the solution to all South Africa’s problems. However, after 18 years of being in power, the ANC still hasn’t made much headway concerning the poverty of the masses.
One of the major problems with this government, is that it is severely inept when dealing with the problems of this country. For instance, the Department of Education (DOE) battles to deliver textbooks to schools on time almost every single year. The South African school year runs from mid-January to the beginning of December. The stark reality of education in South Africa is that the DOE is still trying to get textbooks to many schools, more than halfway through the year. Clearly, AA has not benefited any of these children that must face end-of-year exams with a major backlog. The fact that many of these children are poor, is not what holds them back, but the very government that promises them the moon and the stars every election cycle. If only these people who run these government departments will stop looking for excuses, and produce what they are supposed to produce. In the case of the DOE, educated children!
But, of course, AA is easier, since people don’t have to work so hard to move ahead in this system. At least for the already wealthy, that is!
So-called “inequality” has existed from the beginning of time, and there simply is no quick fix. Temporary programs simply cannot fix a problem that has existed from the beginning of time. Like Thomas Sowell writes:
Temporary programs “to eliminate a centuries-old condition is almost a contradiction in terms. Equality of opportunity might be achieved within some feasible span of time, but that is wholly different from eliminating inequalities of results.” (Affirmative Action Around the World: An Empirical Study, Yale University Press, New Haven & London, 2004, p6)
The problem with the kind of AA that the ANC and its cohorts are aiming at is not just equality of opportunity, but equality of results. That means that a certain quota must be accomplished among hired individuals, pushing out better candidates for jobs, sport, etc., because these candidates are not from the preferred groups.
Of course, people will always look for ways and means to get past inhibiting laws. In many countries with AA laws, and it is no different in South Africa, members from the preferred groups have been used as fronts for people from the non-preferred groups. Here in South Africa we speak of “token” managers, or owners from the preferred group.
One of the many problems with AA is highlighted by Sowell:
“Insofar as affirmative action policies are aimed particularly at offsetting existing economic disadvantages, their rationale is undermined when the benefits of these policies go disproportionately to those individuals within the designated groups who are the least disadvantaged—or perhaps are in more favorable positions than members of the country’s general population.” (Sowell, p12)
We can clearly see this in South Africa. While the majority of blacks (the preferred group) wallow in poverty, those in this group that are already millionaires and billionaires, keep on reaping the benefits of AA policies without really benefiting those that are genuinely at a disadvantage. That will include men like Patrice Motsepe, Cyril Ramaphosa and others. The problem with AA is that the truly destitute simply don’t have easy access to programs created under its policies. It usually is the rich or well-off that have the right contacts who hear of these programs and then make use of it.
Another problem with AA is that members from both the preferred and non-preferred groups slacken their drive to achieve. On the side of the preferred group, why should a member of this group work to achieve anything, since entitlements are available to him simply because of the group that he is part of. On the other hand, members from the non-preferred group may also lose the drive for achievement, since all his effort will be wasted when a member from the preferred group will be advanced anyhow. South Africa have lost many skilled people due to AA policies, and also crime. In many areas we have a lack of expertise because many people from non-preferred groups have left the country in search of better futures in countries such s the U.S.A., Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand.
The point is that AA is not a cure all for society’s problems. Neither will it bring equality, since equality is not a matter of law, it is a matter of human dignity, and when people are advanced without earning their advancement, they do not have inner dignity anyhow. To aim for equal opportunity should be the goal, not equal results, because with equal results, we simply cook the books, with no dignity.