Cape Town is seen to be hostile to black people, while white people are still being appointed and promoted at rates suggesting "positive discrimination" in their favour, a damning new study has found.
Commissioned by the Employment Equity Programme and conducted by Sabie Surtee and Martin Hall, the report examined 13 Western Cape businesses that together employed about 60 000 people in management positions. It suggested transformation in the Cape was "at best stalled, and perhaps in reverse".
"In all companies participating in this study, African people are under-represented (in management positions) in comparison to their overall contribution to the South African workforce," the researchers wrote. They found black people to almost always be less successful than white people in moving up their career paths, creating what they called an "ebony ceiling".
Looking at employment equity, the companies were losing ground in junior and middle management levels, and this deteriorating equity situation led black people to favour living and working conditions in Gauteng.
This made it more difficult for Western Cape companies to achieve employment equity.
"Bluntly put, it is difficult to see how the participating companies from sectors such as the retail and financial services sectors, who employ large numbers of skilled people, can survive as national businesses if they continue to increase their reliance on white people who themselves constitute less than 10 percent of the South African population," Surtee and Hall wrote.
The study was based on data from interviews with mainly black employees from companies in a variety of sectors including retail, financial services and petro-chemicals. The focus was on management.
In the five retail companies surveyed, 65 percent of top and senior management appointments or promotions went to whites in 2008, but only 10 percent went to black people. At junior management level, 27 percent of the opportunities went to white people and 36 percent to black. Similar patterns were found in the other sectors.
In employee interviews, the researchers found "a broad consensus that Cape Town is hostile to African people" particularly when compared to Johannesburg.
"It's like I have moved 10 or 20 years back," one of the employees said. "Joburg is like so far and Cape Town is so very backward. What I always ask myself, where do the black people work in the Western Cape? I don't see them. You walk in the malls, you walk in the store. It's either coloured or white people. Where are the black people? How do they pay their bills, what are they eating?".
Surtee and Hall reported "marked antagonism" toward coloured employees. "Rather than finding common cause with those who were also victims of discrimination ... many African people interviewed feel that coloured people are their competitors by virtue of race."
Cape Town was "isolating" to those without family or established networks, employees said.
"I would like to hang out with more Capetonians, but they are funny characters. They live in an environment that is peaceful that allows you to be on your own ... It's just Table Mountain and the sea. Joburg has ubuntu," said one.
The situation was worse for black women, the researchers said. "African women are always doubly disadvantaged, having to contend with both race and gender discrimination in their career tracks."
According to Guy Lundy, chief executive of the business think-tank Accelerate Cape Town: "Cape Town has a perception problem. People think it's slow and not good for furthering their careers. It's across race groups, but it's exacerbated if you're black and you're not going anywhere."
Martin Pike, chief of operations at the executive recruitment firm Odgers and Berndtson, said it was difficult to convince black professionals to take up and keep positions in Cape Town: "The main issue is the perception that it's not black-friendly."