Transformation not about numbersComment on this story
Being black or being a woman is not enough proof that a person is a “transformation” candidate, says Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya.
Pretoria - There is a popular but fictitious narrative about what constitutes transformation. In many instances, purveyors of this new fallacy look at the race and skin colour composition of the organisations they criticise as proof of their being or not being “transformed”.
For example, someone will count the number of black players in the rugby or cricket teams and pronounce whether they are transformed. The same applies to the management teams of business organisations.
I suspect this is a deliberate and concerted effort to conflate transforming society, including the workplace and the sports fields and making them fairly reflect all the people of South Africa.
The country needs transformation as much as it needs race and gender redress.
But either of the two being in place does not mean the other has also happened. An organisation can be transformed without having the exact numbers as required by statute and policymakers. An organisation can also tick every box of applicable employment-equity laws without necessarily being transformed.
It would seem too obvious a thing to need saying but clearly it is not, so it will have to be said: there is nothing inherently “transformational” about being a woman or about being black.
Having the right number of black people, women and people with disabilities is necessary and morally defensible given South Africa’s historical realities.
The country has a history of institutionalised racism and sexism that has ensured the exclusion of black people and women from many areas of life.
This racism and sexism that has put an unfair cap on the potential of some South Africans is true in sport, business, academe and in the corporate sector.
We must, however, not confuse the need for redress and correcting historical wrongs with transformation.
Being black or being a woman is not enough proof that a person is a “transformation” candidate.
We must call things by their proper names otherwise we end up fooling ourselves about how far we have come towards transforming South Africa.
We should call such appointments what they are: employment equity candidates even though there are some who incorrectly believe that this is synonymous with being an “inferior” candidate.
If we want to establish whether someone is “transformed” or a “transformation” candidate we must go beyond things they could not have done anything about, such as being born black or white, male or female or even the date of their birth.
None of us chose to be the colours of skin we live in or what sex we are. Despite the self-righteous noises of modern-day Pharisees, nobody chooses to be born straight or gay.
We, however, choose our associations and moral decisions we get to make at some point or another in our lives.
In the US and other countries, for example, candidates for appointment to the Supreme Court are brought under intense scrutiny reading every word of judgments they have written, marches they have partaken in and petitions they have signed and so on.
The contested appointment of Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng came close to employing this kind of scrutiny on an individual.
Whatever one makes of the motives and the decision to appoint Mogoeng, we were left with a better impression about what we, as a public, were getting.
This is not the case with many other appointments. For example if Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Senzeni Zokwana’s record had been probed with a keener eye, we could have known earlier that he is not exactly the go-to-guy for restoring the dignity of the rural poor he publicly claims to defend.
His being black, rural with personal relations to peasants will not help if his mindset is just like that of other farmers, who treat their employees as an extension of the livestock they own.
It is just as pointless having a black woman at the helm of an organisation if she is trapped in the mindset of the narratives she has inherited. For example, the belief that only some people’s realities are valid and everyone else who argues differently is out there to rock the boat.
Transformation that is not about mindset and people’s conviction is simply ticking boxes for equity purposes.
It is not a bad thing in itself but we must not fool ourselves that it goes far enough.
The presence of more black people, women, rural and other people hitherto absent from policy and culture-making processes in organisations can only be deemed transformative if it alters old and ushers in new thinking that is in the greater good of the organisation and its members.
Unless we realise this, we will remain trapped in the basis of apartheid thinking and perpetuate that our best or worst instincts are embedded in attributes we were born with or other accidents of nature.
* Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya is an executive editor at the Pretoria News. Follow him on Twitter @fikelelom