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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2000, Vol. 3 No. 2 .

The Colour of Business: Managing Diversity in South Africa
Kanya Adam

Basel, P. Schlettwein, 2000
215 pp. Index. Bibl. NPI. ISBN 3-908193-05-2

Because of its extraordinary past, its key but very special position in Africa, and its peacefully negotiated transition from white-minority rule to a parliamentary democracy, South Africa is of great interest and relevance to the management of race and ethnic relations well beyond its borders. Kanya Adam's meticulous pioneer study of "affirmative action" in South African business is exceptionally illuminating, timely, and full of lessons for countless multi-racial and multicultural societies such as the USA, Canada, India, Malaysia, Fiji, and many others.

In South Africa, the majority-black ANC government is still officially committed to universalistic, colour-blind policies, but white-controlled business eagerly engages in a window-dressing exercise of racially diversifying management while keeping the structure of capitalism intact. Even conservative firms eagerly vie for black managers, at salaries bloated by mutual poaching. This produces a tiny black elite that combines with the new ANC political elite and the old white professional, managerial and capitalist elite to form the new ruling class of neo-liberal, multiracial, "democratic" South Africa. The result, predictably, is that the lot of the vast majority of black South Africans is unimproved, and that much the same sort of economic chasm between rich and poor persists, as existed under Apartheid. The only difference is that, now, a few of the rich are black. In 2000, blacks still made up only 7 percent of top business management in a population which is 76 percent black.

Adam, however, is keenly aware that officializing and radicalizing black preference policies is not the solution either, as such policies would still advantage the better educated, middle-class blacks, leave the capitalist class structure of South Africa unaffected, and, in effect, re-racialize the country under a system of reverse Apartheid, quotas, and job reservation. This would be a sure recipe for renewed racial conflict, as suggested by Adam's review of ascriptively-based affirmative action in the U.S., Malaysia, India and Canada. Adam advocates class-based affirmative action. One can only wish she would be listened to, in South Africa and elsewhere.

Pierre L. van den Berghe, University of Washington

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