Solidarity, government sharpen battle axes at UN over apartheid racial classification


A big fight between the government and Solidarity is coming from tomorrow at the United Nations (UN) over South Africa’s racial policy.

The fight already started in 2016 during the previous session of the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

According to dr. Dirk Hermann, managing director of Solidarity, the government is starting the fight on the back foot.

He explains that the government must explain at the UN this week why it still uses apartheid racial classification – something about which the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination already expressed its concern in 2016.

“The paradox is that the ANC played a major role in establishing this convention in its fight against apartheid. Now the ANC is in the dock because of its apartheid racial classification,” says Hermann.

This recommendation follows after Solidarity argued in a submission to CERD in 2016 that the government’s obsession with racial representation is a violation of the convention for the elimination of racial discrimination.

Solidarity took the fight further locally and in a petition to the South African Human Rights Commission (SAMRK) also argued that the government was violating international standards. The SAMRC is by law the watchdog over international human rights conventions.

The SAMRC found in an equality report that South Africa does indeed not comply with the international convention for the elimination of racial discrimination.

If a country has ratified a convention, local legislation must comply with it. The SAMRC recommended that the government should amend the Fair Employment Act within six months.

“The government ignored the recommendations and this led to Solidarity lodging a substantive complaint against the government’s rigid racial policy with the UN’s International Labor Organization. The process led to a historic settlement between Solidarity and the government which placed restrictions on racial representation.

“The settlement was a major breakthrough, but the battle is not over. There is no way South Africa can afford legislation that enforces racial representation. The country must focus on the best skills, black or white. Our race price was too expensive, it left us in the dark. We are going to ask for racial laws to stop and we say the time is now,” says Hermann.

The government must report to CERD every four years on its compliance with the convention. The last time the convention met was in 2016. Civil society organizations can demonstrate in a shadow report that a government does not meet requirements.

“Besides the international diplomatic pressure, recommendations can also be used in local litigation,” says Hermann.