from Africa in Transition

South Africa: Inequality at the Top

August 22, 2011

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Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

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South Africa

A mine worker looks on underground in Modderfontein east mine, outside Johannesburg, February 3, 2009. (Siphiwe Sibeko/Courtesy Reuters)

Social change in post-apartheid South Africa has been painfully slow. The cliché is that apartheid South Africa had one of the worst distributions of income in the world. Now, despite the end of apartheid and the coming of Black Enterprise Empowerment, it has the worst. The continued highly privileged position of whites, the enduring poverty of blacks, who are the overwhelming majority of the population, and the slow rate of improvement  fuel the rhetoric of radicals such as African National Congress (ANC) Youth League head Julius Malema, who resurrected the anti-apartheid song "kill the Boer, kill the farmer."

The Commission for Employment Equity (CEE), a part of the Department of Labor, collects employment statistics from small enterprises (every two years) and companies over one-hundred and fifty employees (every year) and breaks out employment participation by race, gender, disabled or not, and province. CEE’s recent 2011 public report (PDF) based on these stat shows that white males continue to dominate top management of enterprises small and large and it concludes that "...they will continue to do so unless we change our recruitment, promotion and skills development trends."

The CEE report shows that white males made up 73.1 percent of the “top management level” (as CEE defines it) in 2010. Further, there has been little change since 2006, when the white percentage was 74.9 percent or since 2008, when it was 72.9 percent. White males are only 6.7 percent of the “economically active population” (EAP), defined as South African citizens fifteen to sixty-four years of age who are employed or unemployed and seeking employment.

A separate study by the respected multi-racial business organization Business Unity South Africa (BUSA) cited by CEE shows that more than 90 percent of the CEO positions at Johannesburg Stock Exchange listed companies were held by white males, and that white women were more likely to be employed at that level than blacks (defined as Africans, coloureds, and Indians).Those enterprises where blacks were moving into the top management level were often state-owned or heavily state-regulated.

Read the report here (PDF).

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