“It may be nuanced differently than the crude characterisation at the height of apartheid.
“It may be expressed in clever words like lack of experience and other such terms, but in the end those at the coalface feel the racism and exclusion they thought the country got rid of when the new dispensation was agreed on.”
She was addressing the second Employment Equity and Transformation Indaba.
Earlier this year, the labour department published employment equity regulations for public comment.
The regulations give effect to the Employment Equity Amendment Act, providing practical guidelines on how to implement employment equity law in the workplace.
Oliphant said 20 years of freedom in South Africa had not been enough to fully address the legacy of apartheid.
“How is it possible that more than 300 years of discrimination can be reversed in such a short period,” she said.
The pace of transformation in society and labour remained very slow. The recently published regulations sought to expedite this process.
The regulations highlighted the revised definition of designated groups, criteria and methodology for assessing work of equal value, guidelines for assessing compliance, and enforcement mechanisms.
Oliphant said the regulations in no way intended to disadvantage any of the designated groups, particularly Indians and coloureds.
“Anyone who says so is telling a blue lie and even in an election period, lies should not and cannot be acceptable.”
Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille branded the regulations “absurd” last Wednesday.
Zille said the department’s approach amounted to “race-based social engineering” and would entrench racial divisions rather than help overcome apartheid’s legacy.
Oliphant said South Africa’s diversity had not been harnessed as a strategic business advantage.
“This has serious implications for the economic viability and efficiency of South Africa, which in turn undermines its development and sustained competitiveness in the global market.”
She also pointed out that designated employers were meant to consider both the national and regional demographics of the economically active population when setting employment equity and transformation numerical goals and targets.
“We will not be dissuaded when some among us are being discriminated [against] on the pretext of skills or experience. Experience is the result of being given a chance to prove yourself.”
Oliphant said there were no immediate plans for a sunset clause on employment equity.
“We wish to put to those calling for a sunset clause, a lot of work still needs to be done.
“There is still a long road ahead in moving South Africa forward,” Oliphant said.
“Let us join our hands together… To make sure South Africa is a non-racial, non-sexist country, a prosperous country.”