Solidarity CE Dr Dirk Hermann has written an open letter to two Sasol directors, on the eve of the union’s lawsuit to seek approval for a Section 77 application at the High Court, which will enable all the union’s members nationwide to strike along with those members employed at Sasol, who have embarked on a strike.
White Solidarity members employed by Sasol have been on strike since last week over Sasol’s empowerment scheme Khanyisa’s Phase 2, which excludes white employees from gaining ownership shares.
Hermann feels the issue affects all 180 000 of its members in various industries.
“During the past week, a historical event played itself out at your plants and mines. Thousands of white workers went on strike and marched because of exclusion based on race.
“International broadcasters and news agencies such as the British Broadcasting Corporation, Agence France Presse, Russia Today, Fox News, Reuters, Bloomberg and others carried this voice to the four corners of the world. This is a voice that has not been heard for a long time,” Hermann stated in the letter.
He added that no democracy or employer should allow a part of its society or its workforce to become alienated to such an extent.
“The true test of democracy is whether it protects its minorities too.
“What we have witnessed at your plants is democracy in action and democracy in the making. It was a historical moment but also a historical occasion. If this is ignored, then we have denied democracy an opportunity for development.
The voice coming from the white workers is a voice calling for balance. It is not a vote against restoring imbalance, but one in favour of restoring balance,” Hermann explained.
He said that, if simplistic exclusion in the future is Sasol’s answer to the exclusion of the past, then it puts South Africa on a shaky moral basis as far as the future is concerned.
“Even an interim intervention has to be morally justifiable. Temporary scaffolding that has to act as support for the road to equality but that is in itself morally shaky, can so easily become the norm, which then becomes normal later on. However, it would not be sustainable. Then South Africa’s future could become a form of normal that is immoral.”
Even affirmative action and transformation projects have a moral bed from which it should take shape. It is not without boundaries. Transformation must take place within the framework of the Constitution, and the Constitution should not happen within the framework of transformation, he added.
Hermann also referred to the report of the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) on equality published earlier this year. This report was drafted within the context of guidelines for affirmative action programmes as provided by the United Nations’ Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
These guidelines include the following: race may not be the only criterion used with regard to affirmative action; needs must also be taken into account; affirmative action must be context sensitive; it may not be rigid; and it may not lead to racial quotas.
“Sasol’s lazy solution to simply exclude white workers contravenes each one of those guidelines,” Hermann wrote.
A white member of Solidarity, who has been working for Sasol for 30 years, will get no shares, but a black employee who has only been with Sasol for three weeks will receive shares worth R500 000.
Hermann also pointed out that Sasol has awarded share options worth R106-million to its top executive team, which has white members and, therefore, according to Hermann, raises the moral question of why the same principle for the workers does not apply to the top executive level.
“Sasol can decide not to listen to this voice and it can carry on with the scheme. However, the workers’ strike showed up the fault line in the argument.
“The moral fault line is not that you want to empower your black workers but the easy way out in which you want to do it through racial exclusion. The moral solution asks for more nuanced answers such as the SAHRC recommends,” Hermann stated.