The use of rigid racial quotas in hiring was struck down last week by The South African Supreme Court of Appeal.  The Court held that a rigid calculus as to racial demographics, even if intended for the laudable goal of employment equity, nonetheless amounted to a forbidden quota under the Employment Equity Act of 1998.  Section 15 (3) of the Act requires an employer to use “preferential treatment and numerical goals, but exclude quotas.

In the words of the Court, unfair discrimination in the form of quotas may result if “numerical targets and representivity are absolute criteria for appointment.”  In an effort to create a “nonracial society,” said the Court, employing racial classifications “feels like a throw back to the grand apartheid design.”

The Court noted that “to ensure a fully inclusive society” all citizens must be aware that “it will take a continuous and earnest commitment to forge a future that is colour blind. This necessarily includes serious and sustained efforts … in order to build a cohesive and potentially glorious rainbow nation. For now, ironically, in order to redress past imbalances with affirmative action measures, race has to be taken into account (emphasis added).”