FW de Klerk. Photo: Chris Collingridge

Cape Town - The main inequality divide in SA was no longer between black and white but between unionised, employed workers and those who did not have jobs, former president FW de Klerk said on Thursday night.

This divide lay at the heart of the inequality challenge facing the country – but Cosatu was “determined to defend it” by opposing changes to labour law, he told an audience in Cape Town.

De Klerk was delivering the Barry Streek memorial lecture that, each year, honours the memory of the political correspondent and social activist who died six years ago.

The killing of striking mineworkers at Marikana last month had been held up as a manifestation of inequality in SA, De Klerk said.

However the issue was not the vast – and unacceptable – gap between Lonmin workers’ salaries and the company’s London-based chairman, but that the mineworkers had incomes that were “20 times higher” than their unemployed neighbours in Marikana.

“This fact lies at the heart of the inequality problem that we face,” De Klerk said.

“It is not the salaries those properly and formally employed get, it is the high percentage of unemployed people who are suffering… and against whom stumbling blocks are thrown up from time to time.

“It is our failure to create jobs, to have a more flexible employment system,” he said.

De Klerk said the government’s affirmative action and black empowerment policies had failed in that it failed to assist the majority.

What he called “unbalanced affirmative action” had led to the collapse of service delivery in municipalities and in key government departments.

While white people were still mostly privileged in terms of education and income, this was changing.

“We must stop looking at the colour of the disadvantaged person and must start applying a test, [asking] is this individual, whether coloured, black, Indian or white, disadvantaged and [do they] deserve or require special treatment,” De Klerk said.

His suggestions for promoting equality in SA included:

* Fixing the education system, which was “catastrophically failing” black children

* Create jobs by establishing a “far more flexible” labour dispensation especially for first-time job seekers and give small business incentives to employ people

* Abandon “race-based and divisive ideologies”

* Take effective steps to root out corruption “which is eviscerating our ability to provide services to all” by re-establishing the Scorpions and “cleaning up” the National Prosecuting Authority

* Make reducing income inequality a national priority

“It sounds impossible, but if we cast our minds back to 1994, we South Africans should remember – we specialise in the impossible,” De Klerk said.

Political Bureau