Affirmative action: Privilege in an â€œIrish coffee societyâ€
Last week the Constitutional Court ruled in favour of the South African Police Service (SAPS) in the case concerning Renate Barnard, a white police officer who was denied a promotion because she did â€œnotÂ meet theÂ requirements of representivityâ€.
In his ruling, Justice JohanÂ Van der Westhuizen quoted former American president John F. Kennedy, saying: â€œIt is the fate of this generationâ€‰â€¦â€‰to live with a struggle we did not start, in a world we did not make.â€
Many young South Africans today are grappling with unemployment and the inherited disadvantages of the past. RAâ€™EESA PATHER asked young people in Cape Town how they define privilege in present-day South Africa, and whether affirmative action inspires hope.
Tsholo Phaho, 20, student, Rondebosch
Privilege is being born into something, having certain predetermined advantages in life that you donâ€™t really get for yourself, it was given to you. The past will always have an effect on how things go in the future. I donâ€™t think itâ€™s always fair; sometimes the past influences certain people in one way and other people get the short end of the stick. Affirmative action has the potential to be effective, but I donâ€™t think itâ€™s been too effective yet. I donâ€™t know which politician made this statement, but it was a very nice statement: he called us an â€œIrish coffee societyâ€, where itâ€™s black on the bottom, white on top, with a few chocolate sprinkles.
Candice James, 18, student, Mitchellâ€™s Plain
I think privilege is when people have money and a lot of things going for them. I think we need to know about the past so we can move forward, but not rely on apartheid for things that we donâ€™t have, especially those who are disadvantaged. Itâ€™s not just white people in todayâ€™s time that are privileged, itâ€™s not bound to race. I think itâ€™s good that affirmative action was implemented, some of us are disadvantaged and we need opportunities to be successful, so I think itâ€™s good, but I donâ€™t think we should rely on it all the time.
Fawaaz Moose, 22, student, Newfields
Privilege means having access to equal opportunity. I come from an affluent background, so I might not feel the plight of the less fortunate in that way, nor do I feel the maximum privileges of the former white regime. Iâ€™m basically stuck in between. Affirmative action hasnâ€™t been effective at all. It has its pros and its cons; some people will benefit greatly and others not. I feel that itâ€™s just one-sided in terms of BEE and not actual affirmative action. Iâ€™m not an expert in the field, but according to what Iâ€™ve observed itâ€™s probably that black people are benefiting more than coloured or Indian people.
Onele Madikiza, 25, student, Athlone
I understand privilege as an opportunity thatâ€™s out of your means, that you canâ€™t afford. I donâ€™t think kids should be involved in the past, because they were not there when this apartheid thing happened. We shouldnâ€™t base privileges on what has happened in the past, whatâ€™s happened has happened, it wonâ€™t change. The most important thing we can work on now is equality, where everyone gets a privilege regardless of their race. I think BEE is there to bring balance, because there still is an imbalance with regards to race when in it comes to employment. At the same time itâ€™s not fair because there are people out there who are not black and who need work. So I think there is an upside and a downside.
Jade Marx, 20, student, Plumstead
Privilege is the opportunity to do things that probably come at a cost. So going to middle class schools, living in elaborate areas such as Constantia, and the stigmas that are attached to that. I will look at a certain school symbol and immediately attach privilege to that student without knowing who they are. I think after 20 years of democracy it should come to an end soon so that I as a white person donâ€™t feel like I donâ€™t have any opportunities in the future. A lot of white people tend to emmigrate because of affirmative action and because our opportunities in life have been taken away. I do understand that they were trying to balance out the previously disadvantaged, but as a 20-year-old I donâ€™t feel positive about my future.
* Vox pops have been edited for brevity and clarity.