Prisons staff cry racism

26 April 2013 - 02:20 By QUINTON MTYALA
Image: Gallo Images/Thinkstock

Geo-nita Baartman had worked for the Department of Correctional Services for 13 years when an interview panel recommended her as the best candidate for a position she had applied for.

But because she is coloured she lost the job to the second-best candidate, who is black.

The black woman never took the position, opting for another post. But still Baartman was overlooked; correctional services insisted that the third-best candidate be recommended for the position.

Now Baartman and nine coloured and white colleagues have taken the Department of Correctional Services to the Labour Court, charging that its application of employment equity is racist.

They are being assisted by the FW de Klerk Foundation and the Solidarity trade union after their own union, Popcru, indicated that it supported the department's policy on employment equity.

Along with Baartman in court is Linda-Jean Fortuin, a coloured woman, who has worked for correctional services for 26 years. Fortuin has applied for three posts but been overlooked each time.

In June 2011, the Department of Correctional Services had issued a circular spelling out its employment equity plan, saying it would apply national, instead of regional, demographics when it came to employment and promotions.

This meant that in the Western Cape blacks would comprise 79.5% of staff, whites 9%, coloureds 9% and Indians 2.5%.

Testifying for the applicants, Western Cape deputy commissioner Fred Engelbrecht said the policy change had been made without consulting senior managers in the Western Cape.

He said that as deputy provincial commissioner he had submitted 30 applications for deviation from the quota policy, but only four were approved.

Advocate Marumo Moerane SC, for the department, challenged Engelbrecht, saying that as of February less than 50% of correctional services staff in the Western Cape were black

But Engelbrecht said the number of black people in senior positions was disproportionate to the economically active population of black people in the province.

The case continues today.