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September is quite a memorable month with much great news of Unions realizing the rights of ‘gay and lesbians’ workers and Minister of Labour Mildred Oliphant, pushing for realization of economic empowerment for black people. Nonetheless it is overdue news at least recognition is necessary in the current state of our nation that Minister Oliphant issued a statement on the “gross underrepresentation” of black people, women and people with disabilities in key areas of the labour market. It is about time the ministry spoke to our needs and let’s not forget LGBTI people’s plight in this statement. A proposition to penalize companies that are not playing ball is a great initiative and the again I also wonder how?!
At a tender age of teenage hood South Africa as a democratic state made promises that there would be social and economic justice for the majority of black people and women. For what it’s worth there has been achievement in a few departments of our government that have given the black women and men much access to economic gains-from social grants and employment legislation to promote non-discrimination in the labour market in South Africa. The Employment Equity Act (EEA) was deliberate for tenderly reconciling as a nation from a racist regime of white people who have continued to hold onto the wealth and the few they are getting most of the shares in capital gains in the new South Africa.
Perhaps the government was and has been too lenient in policing EEA without penalising companies who have been taking most black employees for a ride since 1996. The penalizing is welcome but there is concern as to how this would be evaluated given that the current policy has not been fully adopted. How do we measure achievement for change from employees of companies that complied with EEA? I would imagine little change for blacks who continue to suffer in poverty and this is exacerbated by lack of skills development in the companies that only met the EEA quota system to seem ‘nice’. This is because in positions of economic power and influence-mostly white men who have businesses continue to flourish under the new democracy and still reign and control the capital system.
Moreover, most blacks are discriminated in the work place for lack of skills because in the case of black lesbians they drop out of school because of social exclusion. In a recent study that I undertook in Cape Town- the Mother City of Gay tourism, I had anticipated that there were a few cases of discrimination in the work place despite EEA legislation provisions and what I found was worse than I had imagined.. I interviewed a small number [enough to make a generalized assessment] of black lesbians on attitudes for employers on discrimination tastes in Cape Town’s formal and informal work sector. From educational institutes, parastatals, agriculture, NGOs and arts and activism, I found discrimination highly prevalent. People are moved from one depart to the other to avoid homophobic senior management, threats not renew work contracts if sexual favours are not met, and being passed for promotion because the employee’s family structure does not fit into the heterosexual norms. Cases studied in the research reveal discrimination from schools-which limits skills and education capacity of young lesbians who do not finish school which impacts on their capabilities in the labour market. Is this being addressed too within the amendments to benefit future young women in making their dreams come true? An amendment is urgently needed in the education policies to inform this structure that is negating the plight of young women and boys too.
Whilst I welcome the proposed changes to the EEA, what other measures will make the process work such that these young women also find their realities on the side that is greened-better lives? Does the government also consider how LGBTI persons will explicitly be part of this change- desired impacts of social development and environments that are non-heteronormative for inclusiveness of all citizens just like people living with HIV/AIDS and people with disabilities. Whilst the Unions speak out on hate crimes and support for workers’ rights are critical. The resolution which is pending by COSATU affiliates pushing government to fight and support the rights of gays and lesbians is fundamental to making redistribution of wealth in South Africa a necessity. Samwu, Denosa and Numsa’ call is critical and this requires some serious bargaining for lesbians who related in interviews to being discriminated and the difficulty of labour regulations without being Unions.
One concern for LGBTI persons is that they fear being discriminated despite the EEA and labour Act of 1995. In being stringent with companies and making them pay hefty fines-would this change the attitude enough that lesbians can disclose their orientation in order to get spousal benefits that are garnished towards heterosexuals? How do we meet quotas as with the racial implementation of EEA to have so many people of this colour in the case of sexual orientation? Already there are challenges because LGBTI persons are still under threat of harassment and harmful attitudes. Some of my black lesbian respondents that I interviewed said they were scared to come out because they would lose their job. How will a quota system on sexual orientation be implemented with limited success to the effectiveness legislation previously and what will the amendment realize for LGBTI personnel.
With limitations for the majority black person gaining access to the tight grasp of the white men in top positions in the food chain, what will happen to the black women, a lesbian and bread winner in her family. The Commission for Employment Equity’s report is real to the lived lives of black women who are left behind at every turn, more so in the case of sexual orientation. It is time to Stand and demand the pink slip! The amendments to EEA need to be effected sooner than later and sped up for all to realize the dream of a rainbow nation-which is slowly fading away. The promises of the constitution and push by Unions, the minister Oliphant and Patel are working towards progression and hopefully the LGBTI and the rest of the citizens are critically on their minds for equity and equality in South Africa.
Glenda Tambudzai Muzenda is a gender justice and development researcher working on areas of socio-economic transformation in South Africa, currently studying at Institute of Social Studies (ISS). Areas of interest are gender, sexuality and social development focusing on black women, children, men and LGBTI persons. She rights widely issue of interest and is passionate about cats and people.