DA accused of cynicism and dishonesty in row over Employment Equity Act

John Steenhuisen. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency (ANA)

John Steenhuisen. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency (ANA)

Published May 23, 2023


Cape Town - The DA leadership has been accused of being “cynical and dishonest” and of using “divide and rule” tactics in its interpretation of the draft Employment Equity Act (EEA) regulations that President Cyril Ramaphosa signed into law last month.

This follows DA leader John Steenhuisen’s launch of a “defiance campaign” during a rally in KwaZulu-Natal over the weekend.

Steenhuisen said the regulations set out racial employment quotas that would affect every part of the South African economy and would sideline Indian, coloured and white workers.

He said: “While the ANC tries to call these quotas ‘targets’, we know that they are, in fact, forced quotas. Because if companies don’t comply, they are severely punished.”

Steenhuisen’s remarks were echoed by DA Western Cape Provincial leader Tertuis Simmers, who said it was a “racist law, which has painful echoes of the apartheid-era Group Areas Act by seeking to confine groups of people to specific areas and jobs”.

DA Western Cape Provincial leader Tertuis Simmers. Picture: Courtney Africa/African News Agency (ANA)

Trade union Solidarity is heading to court over the EEA and Freedom Front Plus labour spokesperson Heloïse Denner said they would follow suit.

Denner said it was racially driven legislation that would only exacerbate unemployment.

National Employers’ Association of South Africa (Neasa) chief executive Gerhard Papenfus said: “It is our considered view that these ‘targets’ are ill-conceived, unconstitutional and practically impossible to attain.”

However, GOOD Party secretary-general Brett Herron said the EEA had been “wilfully and wrongly weaponised by reactionaries who play wedge politics using race as the wedge”.

Herron said the DA was playing a cynical and dishonest political game using the race card and “swart gevaar”. He said the regulations propose that the targets are set proportionally to the demographics of the economic active population.

Herron said targets for employment equity are based on the economically active population in that province, where the business operates provincially, or nationally where the business operates nationally.

“In 2014 Helen Zille, then leader of the DA, argued for the use of regional or provincial demographics to set employment equity targets. That is exactly what these proposed regulations do,” added Herron.

He said it was clear that the government had failed to adequately communicate on the intention and impact of the regulations.

Helen Zille Picture: Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA)

On May 12, Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi published a gazette, calling for comments on the EEA targets. Companies have been given 30 days to offer their input.

The amended bill empowers the Minister to set EEA targets for industries as well as regions where transformation is lacking, and regulate criteria for issuing compliance certificates in order to do business with government.

Employment and Labour Department spokesperson Teboho Thejane said: “The department is perturbed by the way the DA has maliciously interpreted the proposed sector EE targets published for public comment.

“It appears as though the DA is using the same tactics of ‘divide and rule’ adopted during the apartheid regime, particularly in order to divide the black people of South Africa.”

Thejane said the purpose of the EE Act, as amended, was to achieve equity in the workplace. This would be done by promoting equal opportunities and fair treatment in employment through the elimination of unfair discrimination. He said the implementation of affirmative action measures would redress disadvantages in employment experienced by designated groups.

He said these groups were black people, women and people with disabilities to ensure their equitable representation in all occupational levels.

At the same time, Parliament’s portfolio committee on employment and labour has also come out in support of the amended Employment Equity Act.

Committee chairperson MaryAnn Lindelwa Dunjwa (ANC) said the amendments were a positive step towards ensuring that workplaces in South Africa reflected the national and provincial demographics of the economically active population.

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Cape Argus