n South African Journal on Human Rights - Affirmative action : who, how and how long?

Volume 24, Issue 3
  • ISSN : 0258-7203



This article addresses three pertinent questions in the area of affirmative action in employment, namely who should benefit from affirmative action measures, how these benefits should be allocated, and when the allocation of benefits should end. In respect of the first question, it is argued that disadvantage and inequality take on particularly complex forms in South Africa, and that current redress strategy, by placing society into two (or four) simplified camps, denies this complexity. In addition, it perpetuates race consciousness, which has implications for the goal of creating a non-racial society. It therefore recommends a more nuanced approach to affirmative action. In respect of the second question, the article recommends an approach to the implementation of affirmative action measures that weakens, rather than reinforces, stereotypical and prejudicial views. Finally, in respect of the third question, it is widely acknowledged that affirmative action is a temporary measure with a specified goal or goals. Once these are achieved, the case for affirmative action is correspondingly weakened and continued efforts in the interest of affirmative action might well be regarded as discriminatory. In the employment context, the goal is expressed as 'equitable representation'. Does this mean that once the workplace is more representative, affirmative action should end? The article suggests that - in contrast to the position adopted in the United States - affirmative action should be used not only to representivity, but also to it. This may mean a supporting rather than a leading role for affirmative action, but a continued role nonetheless.

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