Tony Jackman
Tony Jackman

Job reservation and egg on my blackface

Job reservation, which ensured jobs for white Afrikaners, especially in the civil service, was always one of the more insidious aspects of grand apartheid, but even something as foul as this can have its funny side. Flip forward a few decades to the new brand of job reservation — “whites, especially males, need not apply”, or PC adspeak to that effect — and there, in the classified columns of a Cape Town daily this week, was an advertisement that had me incensed.

“Only black singers need apply.”

I was outraged and said as much to Di. “Look at this!” I said, choking on my ciabatta. “This has got to stop.”

She looked at me patiently. “Tones, it IS Porgy and Bess.”

We looked at each other, threw our heads back and the tears of laughter rolled.

Yet many other ads in the same issue did indeed advertise posts for which, if you were white and male, frankly there would be little point in applying. Anybody who writes off this very large group of South Africans is heartless. The most apt rejoinder would be simple: How would you feel if you were told you were not eligible for a job because of the colour of your skin? A struggle was waged for many years to fight just this kind of racism. And I am not prepared to call it by any other name.

It seems that some of those we presumed were activists against racism per se back in the Eighties were only activists against apartheid. Racism in other forms, apparently, is OK. I wish I’d known that then.

To be opposed to something that you believe is wrong means having a moral and ethical problem with it, making it worth standing against. So, if I was against the loathsome empowerment of whites during the apartheid years, I must, logically, be opposed to the loathsome empowerment of blacks by the regime that has replaced a system that advanced whites and disempowered blacks with a system that advances blacks and disempowers whites. To argue against this is to argue against logic.

Many moons have risen and waned since the playing field was supposedly levelled, yet still there are players given more advantage than others. Must this trudge on indefinitely? Will some of us die before we finally see the equitable country we have dreamed of?

Let’s state it even more plainly: let us oppose racism, period, and not only as applied to a particular race group. Let right-thinking people oppose affirmative action as much as we have ever been morally opposed to that brand of racism associated with apartheid. They are the same thing.

All of the arguments to the contrary must be dismissed on the simple and logical grounds that to advance any group because of its racial characteristics can only be wrong. Therefore, to argue that affirmative action is necessary to correct the imbalance caused by apartheid is only an argument. Yes, it is based on a worthy principle, that wrongs must be set right. But it is wrong to set one thing right by creating yet another wrong. I have always believed this, though there have been times when I have been swayed by argument, impinged by conscience. Many of us are ashamed of what apartheid did to the oppressed masses. We carry a collective guilt, if we are white, even if we know that we always were morally against it.

It comes down to the simplest of questions: Are you for racism, or against it? A proponent of it, or its enemy?

Would it not be true to argue that if you can say, and believe, that it is OK to oppress one group of people in order that you might thereby advance another, you are as much of a racist as a Verwoerd or a Hitler? That you might as well slap a swastika on your sleeve right now, or learn the words of an AWB anthem? Is it not high time this was stated clearly and without equivocation?

A free, fair and equitable South Africa would be, or will be, one in which we all have equal status and an equal chance of making our way in life; a South Africa in which, legally and constitutionally, every citizen is equal to every other citizen. It is something to strive for; not something we yet have.

To oppose a wrong is to oppose it no matter who is benefited or victimised by it, black or white. You simply cannot have it both ways. If you’re against it, you’re against it. I was against the nasty old racism of the apartheid government, and I sure as hell am against the racist practices of what some commentators are calling the new oppressors, although I stop short of this as I do believe the present government’s intentions are good.

Apartheid, because of its inherent evil and unfairness, created huge distress and consequently mistrust and resentment on the part of those oppressed by that regime and its laws and practices. The newly disadvantaged group is resentful and mistrustful of the present government for precisely the same reasons.

Everybody keeps asking what is wrong with this country and what do we have to do to heal. The answer is simple. Eradicate all laws and practices that cause distress to any racial group. Let us all have a clean, even playing field on which we can all have an equal shot at making a life.

It’s called equal opportunity. And we do not yet have it.

Now excuse me while I apply blackface and join the auditions queue at ArtsCape.