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Why I am against affirmative action

I am against affirmative action because it is premised on a fallacy. Race is a misleading political and socially loaded concept that has no real or biological basis. The justification for the continued use of these crude categories is a political programme that will not do what it claims to — that is, uplift the masses. In fact, such a program cannot lift up the masses for a variety of reasons.

I do not think that any race-based policy should exist. There are other, better ways to strive for equality and historic redress. Affirmative action clearly benefits a small number of people and the main beneficiaries of it are those who have already benefited from the transformation of society.

If a scholarship is premised on race than someone who attends an elite private school, does not go to bed hungry, has all the middle class benefits of society already at hand, will undoubtedly out compete a poor kid from a slum. Such a scholarship merely replicates class inequality and entrenches a sense of entitlement to those who already have all the benefits of society at hand.

By merely using class as the criteria for a scholarship will, by default, help those deemed to be “black” as they are the largest group of poor. If it also helps a few white kids get out of a slum (there are some) can we begrudge them that? I hope not.

Job reservation was an apartheid relic that was used to give poor whites access to jobs and wealth and to be able to out-compete Africans of similar skill levels. Now it appears that there is as much job exclusion in practice than affirmative action. Here I refer to the refusal to even interview white people for jobs or to freeze or re-advertise posts when no suitable black candidate can be found.

Affirmative action at a professional level — where it is practiced most — is absurd. When does someone with a professional qualification no longer be treated as slightly incompetent or incapable of being involved in a fair competition?

The real issue is that it is not causing a massive adjustment in society but instead maintains a backward looking view that maintains the current status quo. Just keep everyone looking back as the ANC runs the country into the ground, fails to uplift the majority and entrenches their own wealth at the expense of the majority. The most virulent supporters of affirmative action are those that directly benefit and they seem to have a real issue with bringing any class-based analysis to the situation.

The original title of this blog was going to be “Why I am for and against affirmative action” as I do favour the fixing of societal imbalances and woes that are very much racially divided.

However, I think that AA is not the right tool or process. It would be far more useful to put money into township and deep rural schools, create support for trades and skills training in poor communities. All that AA can do is entrench racial divisions already far too prevalent in society. Instead of denying apartheid it reaffirms the very categories that need to be abolished.


  • Michael Francis

    I have returned to South Africa. I now teach Economic History and Development Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. I am happy to be back after a couple years away. I had been teaching anthropology at a Canadian University, but Africa called and I returned.