Johannesburg - The latest census results has debunked the claim that South Africa’s white men are being disadvantaged by a system that favours blacks.
Census 2011 showed that white men were still in the most privileged space – with the highest education, the best jobs and the highest salaries.
Only 0.6 percent of white males had no schooling and less than 2 percent of them completed only primary school. Just under 40 percent of white males matriculated and then went on to get a higher education qualification.
They were prone to inhabit the field of business, commerce or management science and engineering or engineering technology.
While the levels of illiteracy among black men halved to 20 percent by last year, 8 percent of black men aged 20 years and older had no schooling.
Of the 28 percent of black males completing high school, only 8 percent of black men had a higher education qualification.
And while black-headed households had an average annual income of R60 000, white-headed households had the highest average household income across the country of R365 000 per annum.
Safiyya Patel, broad-based black economic empowerment expert at Webber Wentzel law firm, says the statistics clearly showed white men were still in positions of power.
The rhetoric generally, says Patel, was that the opportunities for them were becoming less than they were previously. This rhetoric was particularly prevalent when the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Act was promulgated and was still prevalent when employment equity was being discussed.
It was, however, unfounded, she says. “The rhetoric is still around, although it is less stated than 10 years ago,” explains Patel.
What the census results indicated, adds Patel, was that the country still had a long way to go for effective transformation to take place and for black people and women to earn the salaries that white men were earning.
It also showed that white men were still the most skilled. While it was important not to lose their skills, there needed to be support to black people and women to get onto the same level.
Empowerdex CEO Vuyo Jack says that complaints from white men entering the job market that they were negatively affected were valid, but that the positions of chief executives, chief financial officers and chairmen of corporate boards were still largely populated by white males.
While there were jobs where white people were explicitly told they were not allowed to apply, Jack says there was a trend that young white males were taking the entrepreneurial routes rather than being employed.
“All affirmative action has done is unleash white people’s entrepreneurial drive. But that has not dented their economic visibility or power,” says Jack.
He says that many males had become consultants where they could benefit from preferential procurement.
“However, in terms of economic power, they are not worse off,” says Jack.
BEE expert Paul Janisch says there are still opportunities for white men in South Africa, especially the skilled ones.
He says that even empowerment equity legislation that called for 90 percent black-owned companies meant that there was still 10 percent opportunity for white.
“Statistically, if you are a white male, you should be okay in terms of the affirmative action policies. In the private sector if you are skilled, capable, willing to work and the cost of labour is cheaper, you should be able to get a job,” he says.
He says BEE had taught white males to be more competitive.
But Janisch says where white males were disadvantaged was when they left school as there was little they could do to differentiate themselves and, therefore, often came up short.
Interestingly, what the census statistics show is that these were the young white men leaving the country.
According to the statistics, the white population dropped from 9.6 percent to 8.9 percent.
Statistician-General Pali Lehohla says: “They are migrating to the UK, the United States, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. We are picking them up in the census counts in those countries.”
Lehohla says StatsSA was waiting for the UK census count of 2011.
While the countries are not specific about the occupations or ages of the South African migrants, Lehohla believes the move was linked to economic opportunities and mostly involved young school-leavers.