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Reviewed by:
  • The Colour of Business: Managing Diversity in South Africa
  • Gerhard Maré (bio)
Kanya Adam (2000) The Colour of Business: managing diversity in South Africa. Basel: P Schlettwein Publishing

A large number of publications dealing with restructuring the workplace within a democratic South Africa have appeared during the 1990s, and continue to appear on a regular basis. They cover the field from books on 'how to … (implement the Employment Equity Act, achieve a larger market share, manage diversity, and benefit from African cultural traditions in the quest for profits)', to a few more theoretically-informed articles discussing issues such as diversity in the workplace, affirmative action and workplace participation. The majority of these publications, pot-boilers of the first degree, emanate from the publisher Knowledge Resources (see Maré 2001 for a review of some of this literature). Recently from this stable, released with media fanfare, is Phinda Madi's (2000) (South African Airways sponsored) Leadership Lessons from Emperor Shaka Zulu the Great.

It, therefore, came as a surprise to find a much more thorough and serious book, from a totally unknown, at least to this South African reader, publisher (P Schlettwein in Basel, Switzerland) sent for review. Kanya Adam's (2000) The Colour of Business: managing diversity in South Africa is based on her PhD thesis completed at Oxford University (supervised by Stanley Trapido). Examining 'the politics of redress in South Africa's private sector, in the area of senior management, and the implication of race based affirmative action for a society in the throes of national reconciliation' (2000:xi), Adam tackles many of the philosophical, economic and political, usually unstated, underpinnings of affirmative action policies and the arguments for such forms of redress. She specifically confronts the possible effects of affirmative action policies on a sample of beneficiaries, the class and race implications of the policy as it is being implemented in South Africa, employer motivation [End Page 138] for implementing affirmative action (located in 'economic considerations rather than moral concerns about past neglect'), and draws on comparative studies to clarify the similarities and differences of the South African case with some other countries. An additional point she investigates, examined through one of the case studies she undertook, is whether affirmative action carries stigmatisation for beneficiaries —a factor refuted by the specific group she studied.

Despite a rather hyperbolic introductory claim that 'racial affirmative action policies … have emerged as one of the most controversial and divisive issues in post-apartheid South Africa' (2000:1), Adam seriously deals with the issues that inform, or that need to be taken into account, in the implementation of affirmative action. The 'managing diversity' in her title is confusing, and may have come from a desire of the publisher to draw in a wider readership through this device. Even if unintentionally, the link between diversity management and race-based affirmative action does appeal to the common sense connection that exists between race and cultural diversity, so that 'diversity management' is perceived as an equivalent to 'race relations'. This is not to say that Adam holds such a view.

The legal requirements for implementation of affirmative action in the South African workplace are contained in the Employment Equity Act (EEA). This Act existed as a Bill at the time that Adam was completing her doctorate and the book, but its activation would not change her conclusions and suggestions. In fact it would probably strengthen her case to see how the implementation of the Act is taking place. The EEA gives effect to the Constitutional exception to the rule prohibiting a range of discriminations —allowing for discrimination, also on the basis of 'race', if 'it is established that the discrimination is fair'. Here lies the crux of Adam's concerns and argument.

A central focus in Adam's discussion of the philosophical underpinnings of affirmative action is that of liberalism and the tension between the recognition of individual and group claims and rights and obligations. While Adam discusses liberalism as though unproblematically relevant to the South African situation, this is certainly not so. A constitutional commitment to the nation state, to the individual citizen and his or her democratic and private property rights, and a...


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pp. 138-144
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