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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Towards a Socialist Economy - 4

BHEKI LANGA stresses the need for affirmative action which Is guided by a loss perspective

Affirmative action

A democratic state will have to implement programmes to ensure that blacks, and especially black workers and black women, are Given real opportunities to advance in all levels of the economy

During the present period of transition to a new democratic order the SACP more than ever is required to play its vital and special role - that is, in ensuring that the interests of the working class dominate this process. The current phase of change is fraught with various perspectives of change. It is vital that the Party advances and popularises its own perspectives. The distinguishing character and main content of these perspectives must be defined by the fundamental interests of the working people, particularly black workers.

We must advance a perspective of change that goes beyond the transfer of political power to the majority. Change must be seen as a thorough-going transformation of the material and spiritual conditions of the most oppressed and exploited section of our society, namely of black and particularly African workers. We must reject a conception of change based on the narrow interests of the ruling and other proper-tied classes.

Amongst other things, this means that the Party must be committed to a programme of affirmative action that goes beyond the promotion of blacks in the areas that are usually mentioned, like education and training, business enterprise and skills development. Given the serious historic imbalances created by apartheid, affirmative action in these areas remains ohe of the principal tasks of the national democratic revolution. But this is not enough. The Party must consistently highlight the class content of affirmative action, that is, it must go beyond positive discrimination in favour of the black community as a whole)to a deliberate bias in favour of the most disadvantaged sections of this community.

We must avoid repeating the rather narrowly defined "Africanisation" processes that have characterised post-independence Africa. "Africanisation" typically saw the replacement of white colonial administrations by black neo-colonial (and mostly corrupt) regimes. Today, decades after independence, because of the limited social programmes of most of these emergent governments, the social conditions of the urban and rural masses have hardly changed. In fact, they have generally deteriorated. Transformation or change has been limited to the upper classes and layers of African society. Abject poverty, disease, unemployment, homelessness remains the fate of the vast majority of the population.

The Party's approach to affirmative action must also high-light the condition of women in our society. We must he committed to effecting a radical programme of empowerment of women in all spheres.

It is crucial, also, that the Party promotes a particular approach to the form of affirmative action. The only way a meaningful programme of affirmative action can succeed is if there is a genuine democratisation of the political and economic processes in this country. The nature of the state and its role will he most important in effecting the necessary democratic transformation in the economy.

In other words, our perspective of a democratic state and its affirmative action policies must differ fundamentally from that of a "welfare state", in which the people are the mere consumers of state welfare goods and services. This kind of welfarism generates dependency and complacency and it has serious negative effects on the economy.

The Party must instead ensure that the people participate directly in state structures and exercise democratic control over the social welfare delivery system and genuinely shape the economic life of the country.

Of course, as most people acknowledge affirmative action must address the central issue of developing human resources (skills training and education). Human resource development should form a crucial element of industrial and economic policy. But again, in this regard, we need to be be guided by qualitative rather than quantitative considerations.

The solution of the education crisis and the shortage of skills is not just a matter of building more schools and increasing access of blacks into educational and technical training institutions. This is necessary but not sufficient. The restructuring process must include a serious re-examination of the nature, content and quality of the curricula of these institutions.

These curricula should answer the demands of the economy and the needs of society at various stages of development. For the immediate period there must be a shift from purely academic and degree-oriented university education to technical skills-oriented education.

Finally, these technical training programmes must themselves be linked to a wider programme of economic reconstruction, including, crucially, job creation. The training must be based on a realistic assessment of employment opportunities on the labour market and also on the growth potential of the economy.

We are inheriting huge racial inequalities, this is the legacy of apartheid. As part of an integral programme of reconstruction a democratic state will have to implement affirmative action programmes to ensure that blacks, and especially black workers and black women are given real opportunities to advance in all levels of the economy. *

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.