The Institute of Race Relations (IRR), founded in 1929, has espoused non-racialism for decades, a principled position it hasn’t always benefited from.

Since Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) was implemented by the African National Congress (ANC), particularly in the form of Broad-Based Black Economic empowerment (B-BBEE), some corporate donors have insisted on an affirmative action audit as a condition of their donating.

We have never agreed to do such an audit, even at the risk of losing sponsors, which has actually happened. It is completely antithetical to the non-racialism that is at the core of the IRR’s values.

The issue of the race nationalism of the ANC has received increasing attention in the media recently. Notwithstanding the dire state of our economy, the state intends doubling down on the implementation of B-BBEE by the private sector.

According to editor of Politicsweb James Myburgh, as quoted by William Saunderson-Meyer: ‘One of the characteristics of the ANC is that it demands moral compliance with its racial project. Every institution in society has to formulate a little “race law” of its own, setting out how it expects to achieve the racial goals the ANC has set for employment, and then submit an annual report in this regard to the Department of Labour. In 2019 the department received 58 of these reports from national government, 133 from provincial government, 184 from local government, 133 from State-owned enterprises, 298 from educational institutions, 566 from non-profit organisations, and 26 113 from the private sector.’ 

Little, if anything

The Democratic Alliance (DA) recently formally adopted non-racialism as its guiding principle, including for any programme that seeks to uplift poor people and improve their access to opportunities. The DA realises that race as a determinant for upliftment has done little, if anything, for the vast majority of the poor.

The DA was excoriated by most of the mainstream media, which support the Constitution’s non-racialism but are blind to the idea that ‘affirmative action’ can take any form other than BEE and B-BBEE as devised by the ANC. Many in the mainstream media criticise BEE often, yet the ANC’s version of it appears sacrosanct.

It is farcical that determination of race is reliant on ‘self-identification’. Yet if a public sector panjandrum believes you are not the race you purport to be, you may be charged criminally for fraud. The ANC considers its definition of race to be supported by a hierarchy of suffering – black first, coloured second, Indian/Asian third – with the whites as the victimiser.


Glen Snyman,an Oudtshoorn teacher, faced a disciplinary hearing (the charge was later withdrawn) by the Western Cape Department of Education for ‘fraudulently’ self-identifying as ‘African’ rather than a ‘coloured’, in an unsuccessful job application in 2017.

As colleague Marius Roodt wrote in the Daily Friend: ‘Snyman is apparently also something of an activist, being the founder of an organisation called People Against Race Classification. In a 2015 interview, Snyman said that race classification created ‘division, stereotyping and hatred among people’ and that South Africa should not classify people as it had during apartheid. He had also previously started a campaign to encourage coloured, Indian, and white South Africans to state they were ‘Black Africans’ when filling in forms requiring demographic data.’

Public officials are using informal and random criteria to make a determination in a way that is remarkably similar to that of the apartheid government: ‘Black’ hair? Origins? Accent? Home language? There is no law in South Africa today that sets out criteria to determine the race of a person; legislated race classification died with the demise of apartheid.

Obscenity of apartheid

The foundation of the obscenity of apartheid was the Population Registration Act, 1950. As Dougie Oates wrote in the Cape Times in 2016, ‘… it was created to provide definitions of “race” based on physical appearance, as well as general acceptance and “repute”… Its implementation ushered in the era … in which some fair-skinned members of families deserted their darker-skinned kin to gain what was seen as a precious white identity document.’

An Office for Race Classification was set up to oversee the classification process. It defined a ‘white person’ as one who ‘in appearance is obviously a white person who is generally not accepted as a coloured person; or is generally accepted as a white person and is not in appearance obviously a white person’. The following criteria were used for separating coloureds from the whites:

•            Characteristics of the person’s head hair (the infamous ‘pencil test’);

•            Characteristics of the person’s ‘other hair’;

•            Skin colour;

•            Facial features;

•            Home language, especially knowledge of Afrikaans;

•            Area where the person lives, friends and acquaintances;

•            Employment;

•            Socioeconomic status;

•            Eating and drinking habits.

In 2020, there are few who wouldn’t find this law repulsive and utterly demeaning, with its echoes of Nazism. Monty Python’s Flying Circus could have done something with this.

‘New cottage industry’

Yet, Roodt notes: ‘Some in the new cottage industry of B-BBEE verification have suggested that, when a dispute arises, technology such as “genetic testing” could be used in “determining” race. The question would then be: what percentage is required before you can declare yourself black? But do we want to be a society so dystopian that we use genetic testing to determine the race of individuals before they can benefit from government policies?’

Last week, financial services group Momentum Metropolitan Holdings (MMH) said it intended implementing a broad-based BEE trust that would hold 3% of its issued share capital, worth about R641m.

The iSabelo Trust will acquire about 44.9-million shares. Allocation of units in terms of the scheme will be structured such that ‘at least 85% of the economic benefits will accrue to black employees and at least 55% to black women employees’.

‘Broad-based employee ownership allows MMH to represent the demographics of the clients it serves and also develops an ethos in employees that is aligned to shareholder and client expectations,’ Momentum said.

Initial tranche

The initial tranche will see 80% of the shares issued to eligible employees, with 20% of them reserved for subsequent new eligible employees.

Thus, a benefit is being granted to all African, coloured and Indian/Asian – but not white – employees of Momentum, with an allocation being made even for black employees who don’t yet exist.

White employees contribute equally to the company’s success. Probably, many of Momentum’s employees were very young children when apartheid ended and some weren’t even born yet.

There are two questions for Momentum: How can this proposal not amount to plain racial discrimination? And is this proposal anything but a sop to government and compliant companies to allow Momentum more access to business opportunities?

[Picture: Alexandr Ivanov from Pixabay]

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