Adv Jacques du Preez, FW de Klerk Foundation
In August last year, the South African Airways (SAA) lifted a ban on all applications from white males for its Cadet Pilot Development Programme. When the matter initially came to light Kabelo Ledwaba – then spokesperson for SAA – stated that the Cadet Programme was advertised as an initiative to bring the demographics of SAA’s pilots in line with the demographics of South Africa.
SAA has now stated that the final 40 candidates for the 2013 intake fall under the category of previously disadvantaged individuals as defined in the Employment Equity Act – and that not a single white man has been selected for the cadet programme. The group reportedly consists of 10 black men, four black women, nine coloured men, one coloured woman, seven Indian men, two Indian women and seven white women.
In essence, it would appear that the ban on the employment of white male trainee pilots has not been lifted in practice.
According to SAA spokesman Tlali Tlali, “it is important to note this in the context of the current reality and measures that need to be taken”. Tlali further stated that “the cadet programme is the airline’s effort to transform not only its own but also the country’s flight deck community, which is nowhere close to reflecting the country’s demographics”.
We may assume that as a state-owned enterprise, the SAA’s management believes that it should apply the basic values and principles governing public administration in section 195 of the Constitution. In terms of sub-section 195 (1)(i) “Public administration must be broadly representative of the South African people, with employment and personnel practices based on ability, objectivity, fairness and the need to redress the imbalances of the past to achieve broad representation.”
It is understandable that SAA should want to progress towards a situation in which its flight decks are more broadly representatives of the demographics of the country. However, in doing so it should bear the following factors in mind:
- It must ensure that ‘ability’ (as required in section 195 (1)(i) of the Constitution) is given sufficient weighting in its employment decisions. The relative aptitude, ability and qualifications of applicants must play a central role in SAA’s employment decisions – regardless of race or gender. Its first requirement must be the appointment of excellent pilots irrespective of their race; the second requirement is to promote demographic representation.
- SAA must also bear in mind the need for ‘fairness’ – also listed in sub-section 195 (1)(i). It must consider the prohibition against unfair discrimination, inter alia on the grounds of race and gender in section 9(4) of the Constitution and the requirement to prove, in terms of section 9(5), that each instance of discrimination is fair.
- The airline must also consider section 16(4) of the Employment Equity Act which states that designated employers “are not required to take any decision concerning employment policy or practice that would establish an absolute barrier to the prospective or continued employment of people whether or not they are from designated groups” – or as Solidarity puts it, they should not be perceived to be “an absolute barrier carrier”.
- Finally, and purely from a marketing and public relations point of view, SAA would also do well to remember that white males are demographically over-represented among its loyal customers and ticket-buying passengers.
South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity, regardless of our race or gender. In our understandable and necessary efforts to promote equality and more representative public institutions we should not forget the foundational value of non-racialism.