What’s racist about Woolworths’ ‘blacks only’ job Ad?

There’s been a lot of noise over the past week or so about Woolworths’ apparent racist job advertisement in which only black people (a part of the other previously disadvantaged group members) would be considered for employment. The noise, expectedly, and a lot of it nogal, was made by none other the so-called right-wingers and Afrikaner civil group, Solidarity.

To Solidarity, Woollies’ well-intentioned strategy is nothing but just racist. Others even call it reverse racism. And this is supported by some studies: that although anti-black racism has decreased over the last 60 years, many white people are convinced that anti-white racism has increased and is now a bigger problem than anti-black racism. But this does differ from one country to another. In an open letter to Woollies, Solidarity deputy secretary, Dirk Hermann, criticised the company for excluding whites and other previously disadvantaged group members (coloured and Indian). He said Woollies’ interpretation of the Employment Equity Act was “both legally and morally wrong”, adding that this therefore constituted unfair (labour) discrimination. 

Hermann further claimed the civil group was of the opinion that Woollies would be found guilty “in the court of public opinion” that its recruitment and selection process was discriminatory. He then threatened to “launch a full scale campaign against Woolworths to mobilise public opinion and pressure in order to ensure that Woolworths adhere to these requests” if its ridiculous open letter was not responded to “favourably” by Woollies. In an unfavourable response to Solidarity’s ridiculous open letter, Woollies’ National Employee Relations Manager, Mark van Buuren defended and stood by the contents of the company’s job advertisement. Although he did not want to address “each and every allegation contained in the letter, he indicated that his response (or lack thereof to Solidarity allegations) should not be “construed as an acceptance of the correctness of any of the allegations contained therein”.

Woollies indicated EEA, which Solidarity and Afri-Forum claimed had breached, placed “certain imperatives on employers to transform their workplace”. This included having an Employment Equity Plan and Recruitment Policy that should and is expected to be in line with the act, said Van Buuren. He further admitted (can you hear that Solidarity?) Woollies’ failure which were not yet in line with the act, hence the job advert.

Coincidentally this saga is followed a few weeks later by the Commission for Employment Equity report released this week by Labour minister Mildred Oliphant that despite the law been in place over the last 14 years there is still an “gross under-representation of black people, women and people with disabilities in key areas of the labour market, for example in management and science and technology-based occupations”. Oliphant said when releasing the 2011/2012 report that employment equity was “not only a moral and human rights imperative” but that “it is a pre-condition for the achievement of sustainable development, economic growth and equality in the country, which should be supported by descent work initiatives”. And it is only through “pro-active measures” by employers like Woollies that inclusive and diverse workforce that is “free from unfair discrimination and is reasonably demographically representative” can be developed and harnessed (emphasis added), said the minister.

The minister last week hailed the company in a statement for its “unwavering effort to genuinely address transformation in the workplace through the implementation of employment equity (EE).” As one of the large number of employers listed on the JSE that were subjected to the Director-General Review process in terms of sections 43 to 45 of the Employment Equity Act, 1998 in 2009, Woollies showed a commitment to “transforming [its] workplace by implementing their Employment Equity Plan as approved by the Director General”, said Oliphant.

Oliphant said last week, when defending Woollies, that: “Interestingly, Woolworths generally progressed well towards achieving race and gender equity at their workplace as per their own EE numerical goals and targets set in their own EE Plan consulted and agreed to with their employees. There are companies that are genuinely addressing transformation in the workplace through the implementation of employment equity and Woolworths is one of such companies. However, there are those that hate to see integration in the workplace and society in general, they seek to find fault with those that genuinely implement employment equity as a means of addressing our painful past and imbalance in our society. As Government of South Africa and those that seek genuine transformation, we shall continue to encourage companies like Woolworths to continue with the transformation and integration of the society”.

This week the labour minister said it was “very clear” that males and white people in particular “are more likely to be recruited and promoted when compared to any other group” and that “progress on the employment of people with disabilities still [remained] rather dismal when compared to the other designated groups.” But Solidarity and Afri-Forum denied this, arguing that whites are actually “underrepresented” in Woollies. The now racist, anti-white and discriminatory job advert which is meant to address “certain areas” failures by the company which should be welcomed and not bashed by Solidarity et al is not seen in this light. To the right-winger this is reverse racism although the company has denied the allegation. That Woollies on its own and without being fined as many big corporations often are for non-compliance realised a mistake that its business was not representative of the South African society within which it operates should be very much appreciated. Or maybe Solidarity should just “chill and get a life” and support Woollies initiative. To want to campaign against Woollies now for the job advert seems ridiculously ill-informed and stupid and it seems these right-wingers’ campaign is already working as there are a number of such campaigns out there on the internet and one such is Mike Smith (see also here) who was apparently the first to pick up the “blacks only” job advert on Woollies’ web site, according to BizCommunity.com web site report.

City Press editor, Ferial Haffajee, also penned a brilliant letter, seemingly criticising those who, like Mike Smith just did, wanted to boycott Woollies for doing what I think is the right thing to do. But Hermann did not see it this way, or at least he seemingly did not understand Haffajee’s point. He accused the editor using the “saga at Woolworths as the setting and stand up for Woolworths’s affirmative action process”, saying the job advert excluded people like Haffajee from applying based on their race.

Herman claimed there’s no difference between Woollies’ approach to affirmative action and that of the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) or the now controversial former government spokesperson Jimmy Manyi’s views. He said everything was based on “absolute representation of the country’s racial demographics”, that “You cannot make South Africa equal by counting everyone by their race”, and added Woollies’ “absolute exclusion [based on race] regarding applications” was “without doubt, not sanctioned by the Employment Equity Act”.

According to Hermann for Haffajee and Pierre de Vos to defend “something that is not legally allowed with the argument that the ends justify the means is very dangerous”. He said: It undermines the rule of law. Everything done under the banner of affirmative action is not right, fair or morally justifiable”. Hermann said one “cannot be a selective democrat and fight for freedom of speech on the one hand, but turn a blind eye when an institution threatens the rule of law”. “If you believe in the supremacy of the Constitution”, insisted Hermann to Haffajee, “you believe in the full authority of the Constitution” and that “If this authority defends the right to dignity and equality for non-designated groups, you should also protect these rights”.

“We cannot allow practice to determine the law. We are a constitutional state in which transformation must happen, not a transformational state in which the constitution must function. As an activist who defends our liberal, democratic constitution, you should join us in the fight against Woolworths. It is not a fight against affirmative action, but for the rule of law so people like you can also apply for any post at Woolworths and that disadvantaged people’s right to dignity and equality are protected,” claimed Hermann.

Like Haffajee, De Vos saw nothing wrong with Woollies’ strategy except that it “is neither illegal nor unconstitutional”. He said “If only all those South Africans now expressing outrage at Woolworths for implementing an employment equity plan in terms of the Employment Equity Act had been similarly outraged at racial discrimination during Apartheid. If only they had taken part in boycotts of the South African Police Force and Defence Force and had boycotted all the companies who helped to prop up the Apartheid state.” De Vos said Woollies was acting within the law and there’s nothing wrong that it had done when it decided to do what it was doing: excluding other racial groups like Coloured, Asians and whiles because this is only meant to rectify the racial mistakes of the past (emphasis).

Or do you think Woollies’ strategy is nothing but just playing reverse racism as Solidarity and Afri-Forum insinuate?

3 thoughts on “What’s racist about Woolworths’ ‘blacks only’ job Ad?

  1. Pingback: » What's racist about Woolworths' 'blacks only' job Ad? – Akanyang Africa

  2. Woolworths are synonymous with quality I hope those black people they do employ will not mess up like they do all over. Health care, customer service, transport systems is a joke because of giving unqualified unprofessional blacks the job. More indians and coloured people should be considered for positions.

  3. Pingback: Woolworths: A Follow Up « My Conflicted Self

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