SUNDAY TIMES - Inequality: how can we face our children?
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Sunday Times Opinion By Samantha Enslin-Payne, 2017-05-14 00:00:00.0

Inequality: how can we face our children?

A few weeks ago, while we were driving around town, a young family member asked me if only black people were allowed to be security guards.

It was a great question, I told him, before attempting to explain how apartheid and colonialism had destroyed opportunities for millions of people and their children, and their children's children.

And as a result, most South Africans have no choice but to take low-paying jobs if they can get them.

As we talked about democracy and what had changed since 1994, he said: "So black people are catching up?" I knew what he meant: that opportunities were now open to everyone.

But I mumbled a clumsy response as the evidence doesn't back this up. I didn't quite know how to explain to a young child that, in some respects, things haven't changed and for many people the chasm is just too wide to breach.

This week, the release of the Commission for Employment Equity annual report for 2016-2017 showed once again how slow progress is in creating an equitable society.

Tabea Kabinde, chairwoman of the Commission for Employment Equity, said in the report: "With this analysis, the true reality of our country is evident. Black people, women and persons with disabilities, who were disadvantaged by the previous dispensation, remain disadvantaged, 22 years into democracy and 18 years after the enactment of the Employment Equity Act."

Whites, despite constituting only 9.5% of the economically active population, still took the lion's share of top management positions in the private sector, and it was still white men who dominated.

Kabinde said: "It is not an exaggeration to say that not much has changed."

Africans, who constituted 78% of the economically active population, accounted for 10.7% of management positions in the private sector compared with 72% among whites.

The same trend is evident among senior management positions in the private sector. In the professionally qualified category, there was evidence of a shift in some sectors of the economy, but overall whites still have the economic power that comes with getting the best-paid jobs.

The report is an analysis of data from employment equity reports submitted by companies, government and education institutions as required by the Employment Equity Act.

It covers a little more than seven million employees.

All this makes me struggle to understand what Solidarity - which this week lodged complaints with the International Labour Organisation and the UN over employment equity, BEE and hate speech - means when it says ordinary white South Africans have no power.

Perhaps some of us have forgotten that not so long ago better-paying jobs were designated only for whites, and the effects of that are still hurting people today.

Another report, released this week by the Institute of Race Relations, also underlines the persistent inequality in terms of race. On just about every measure, whites come out tops.

The expanded unemployment rate in 2016 among whites was 8.6%. For Africans, it was 40.9%, coloureds 28% and Indians 16.6%.

The IRR report says: "A significant point to note is that white people are at least four times less likely to be unemployed than Africans."

The IRR report shows that when it comes to household spending of R10000 or more a month, only 8.1% of African households can spend this amount.

In the one measure in which whites did not come out tops - households using electricity for cooking - it is suspected that this was because high-net worth households are switching to gas.

If I feel demoralised, I can't imagine the desperation of those who bear the brunt of this and see no way for their children to get ahead.

If a child can see inequality playing out over and over again in almost every aspect of his life, can we as adults not do better?

Enslin-Payne is deputy editor of Business Times