Democratic Alliance (DA) leader John Steenhuisen said on Wednesday that government’s proposed “Race Quota Act” is a regressive step and needs to be stopped as it violates the DA's principles of non-racialism, a key constitutional value.
On May 12, Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi published a gazette, calling for comments on the Employment Equity Amendment sectoral targets.
Companies have been given 30 days to offer input.
The Department of Employment and Labour will prescribe sectoral employment demographic targets in each province for companies with more than 50 employees.
In a media briefing on Wednesday, Steenhuisen said his party fundamentally supported advancement opportunities for people in South Africa, particularly those who have been previously disadvantaged by the devastation of race-based policies.
"This is what underpins our economic justice policy that is all a key factor in the new economic policy which we will be launching in a few weeks’ time. But race quotas do not address inequality because they mask the symptoms and what we are seeing here is the African National Congress (ANC) desperately going into an election with the only thing that they have left at their disposal, and that is the ability to divide South Africans by race," he said.
He said these “so-called targets” were actually race quotas with significant financial penalties for businesses that do not comply, including up to 10% of their particular annual turnover.
The DA argues that the race quotas are unconstitutional and will keep businesses small and further cost thousands of jobs and entrench more race tensions in the country.
Steenhuisen warned that this would constrain the ability of business to expand in an already struggling labour environment and it would add to the burdens of loadshedding and many other costs that are inhibiting economic growth in South Africa.
"We believe that the fundamental economic growth needed to resolve inequality and create more opportunities is [achievable] through creating equality of opportunity rather than trying to mask quality of outcome at the end of the process," he explained.
He accused the ANC of failing to create opportunities that would address inequality in South Africa while referencing the recent Progress in International Reading Literacy Study which revealed that 81% of Grade 4 learners could not read for meaning in any language.
Steenhuisen warned that layering race-based quotas over the scars caused by race-based policies was going to make the situation worse.
He said such quotas would also affect black South Africans and their employment prospects in a variety of provinces around the country.
"It is an ill-considered dog's breakfast that Minister Nxesi has sucked out of his thumb. It discriminates against minorities and even black South Africans and it needs to be stopped,“ said Steenhuisen.
DA deputy federal chairperson Solly Malatsi said that the move was a way for the ANC to be seen as if they were fighting for marginalised communities as the country prepared for the 2024 general elections.
He said employers would be forced to play a wait-and-see game and warned that other employers would leave the country and seek better business prospects in other countries.