I have a friend called Clinton dos Santos. He is a young, middle-class, white South African male. Given what we know about employment in South Africa, Clinton would be better off emigrating than seeking work here. But the odd thing about Clinton is that he is never out of work.
I recently ran a workshop for a group of leaders from a large company. The conversation turned to employment equity and BBBEE and many of them had a great deal to say about the fact that as white, male South Africans they were being excluded from the job market. They failed to see the irony until I pointed it out to them. One of the older guys – a 57 year old white Afrikaans man – then revealed that he had recently put his CV out and within 3 days he had received 10 job offers.
A mythology of white victimhood has grown post 1994 and this manifests in our reactions to employment equity and BBBEE. There is a palpable sense that – as white folk – we have been hard done by.
But my friend Clinton – and so many others like him – prove this to be false. He refuses to fall victim to victimhood.
What differentiates Clinton from other white males is that unemployment is not an option for him. He will make coffee or wait tables. He will do odd jobs or clean streets.
Not for all, but for many white South Africans employment equity and BBBEE has become an excuse. Anyone can sit on a couch and moan. It is much harder to get up and serve food, tend gardens or sweep streets. There is always a job of work to be done – if we are prepared to do it.
But how much of all this is our belief that certain work is beneath us; that it is only for the ‘previously disadvantaged’? In many ways we white South Africans are the ones with the sense of entitlement. If we aren’t living the lifestyle to which our privilege ‘entitles’ us, then we simply turn our sights on employment equity and BBBEE and blame that for our plight.
Black folk are constantly being fingered for blaming apartheid for everything yet we do just the same only in reverse; we blame the demise of apartheid for everything. Let us begin by challenging what we know and by changing the conversations that perpetuate a false narrative.
Only then will we begin to understand that our country is still fundamentally unbalanced – in favour of whites.
This post is dedicated to the memory of 17 year old Anene Booysens: gang raped, mutilated and murdered.