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Law Shapes S. Africa Workforce Mix

August 21, 1998

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ The work forces of large and medium-sized companies will reflect the diversity of South Africa’s population under legislation passed Friday by the National Assembly.

A tumultuous debate preceding the vote underscored the sensitivity of the issue _ with fear among whites of losing privileges enjoyed under apartheid clashing with aspirations of blacks who, four years after the end of white rule, represent a disproportionate share of the nation’s unemployed.

Under the Employment Equity Bill, companies with more than 50 employees must draw up plans on how they will make their work forces representative of South Africa’s racial and gender mix.

The bill, which now goes to the upper house of parliament where it almost certainly be approved, does not call for a quota system.

Instead, companies will send their plans to the Labor Department, which will approve them or recommend changes on a case-by-case basis. Companies that don’t comply will be subject to fines.

President Nelson Mandela’s spokesman said the bill will ``help eliminate decades, even centuries, of racism.″

``One of the hallmarks of apartheid and white domination has been the accumulation of wealth by the minority community based on the exploitation of cheap black labor,″ spokesman Parks Mankahlana said in a telephone interview. ``This legislation goes a long way in addressing one of these historic imbalances and injustices.″

Members of four opposition parties with mostly white constituencies voted against the bill in the powerful lower house of parliament in Cape Town.

Pieter Groenewald, a member of the conservative Freedom Front, branded Labor Minister Shepherd Mdladlana a racist if he supported the measure.

A lawmaker from the ruling African National Congress asked Groenewald to withdraw the word ``racist.″ After he refused, Groenewald was ejected from the chamber to the applause of ANC members.

Freedom Front leader Constand Viljoen then walked out with his fellow party members.

The leader of the National Party, which ruled during apartheid, charged that the bill represents reverse discrimination.

``The bill itself makes provision for preferential treatment,″ Marthinus van Schalkwyk said in remarks carried by the media. ``Our society is moving from the equal opportunity approach to one of preferential treatment based on skin color.″

ANC lawmaker Godfrey Oliphant tried to soothe worries that the bill would be used as a weapon against Afrikaners _ the descendants of Dutch settlers _ and other whites.

``I want to stress ... that no white Afrikaner will be excluded by the bill,″ Oliphant said.

Non-whites have gained a political voice since white rule ended, but their share of the economic pie remains thin.

Whites account for 15 percent of the population, while blacks account for about 80 percent. Yet of South Africa’s unemployed, 87 percent are black and only 3 percent are white.

About 92 percent of executive or senior managers are white, according to the Breakwater Monitor, a private survey group.

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