S.African mixed race staff accuse state of race prejudice

18th October 2011, Comments 0 comments

Five South African mixed-race senior civil servants plan to take the government to court over alleged discriminatory race-based labour rules that favour blacks for jobs, their lawyer said Tuesday.

The officials want the Department of Correctional Services to stop applying a national equity target in the Western Cape province as mixed race residents -- known locally as coloureds -- and not blacks are the biggest race group in the region.

"We want a declaration from the court to say the policy is invalid and unfair," labour attorney Michael Bagraim told AFP, saying there was a "complete freeze" on coloured promotions.

"The policy is saying that they're going to give demographic preference to the national profile and therefore there are too many coloureds in management and senior positions, and therefore they want to stop the coloured people getting promotions and promote black people."

Black South Africans make up nearly 80 percent of the population but coloureds are the majority in the Western Cape, the only province run by the opposition. Coloureds represent less than 10 percent of the country's 50 million people nationwide.

The group, descended from white settlers, Indonesian slaves and blacks, has always been concentrated around Cape Town, where the first white settlers were based.

The FW de Klerk Foundation, which was approached by affected staff, said the policy aimed to reduce the number of coloured workers from 39 percent to match the population average of nine percent.

"Their rights have been in our view unconstitutionally harmed and we believe that they should claim redress in the courts," Dave Steward, head of the foundation of the former president, told AFP Tuesday.

"What we have here is a concrete policy and it is part of a new racial ideology ... that when jobs are filled, people are not judged according to their merits and experience, but according to their race and we had hoped that we had got away from that."

The group will go to court next month if it does not receive a reply from department, said Bagraim.

Coloured race sensitivities exploded earlier this year when an interview resurfaced of the government's top spokesman Jimmy Manyi -- filmed a year earlier when he headed the labour department -- saying coloureds "should spread in the rest of the country" and "stop this over-concentration" in the Western Cape.

Apartheid's divisive race laws subjected coloureds who largely speak Afrikaans to racist rules such as forced removals and separate housing, but they were allowed more privileges than blacks.

Under democracy they are sometimes seen as "not black enough" to qualify for empowerment measures.

© 2011 AFP

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