Apartheid might be off the statute books but workers at Iscor and Highveld Steel still believe that there is racism and discrimination on the factory floor.
This is according to interviews done by Swiss documentary filmmaker, Irene Loebell. She spoke to ten workers each from Highveld Steel and Iscor, half were still employed, the other half had been retrenched after 1994 and most had never been re-employed.
While a few felt there was now transparency on wages, the majority still believe that whites earn better wages despite doing the same jobs. Moreover, given a choice, a white worker is promoted rather than a black worker.
Much of this lack of promotion is because black workers during apartheid never had the opportunity to finish their education and the limited education that they did receive, was “˜bantu education’ which now holds them back from advancing.
Loebell questions how much of the conflict between a black and white person is racism and how much is just a conflict of interest. She found older workers that had had a lifelong experience of discrimination and apartheid, more likely to see the conflict as racial conflict and as something that could not be changed, “it was just a fact that some apartheid behaviour is continuing to exist at the workplace”.
Workers spoke of how individual white workers continued to call black workers “˜kaffirs’. However, now they would do it in a “tricky way” on a one to one basis where there was no other witness present making it difficult to take on the white worker.
Despite this, two of her younger respondents, felt that after 1994, it is now possible to challenge racist and discriminatory actions like this on the factory floor.
Moving on to people’s hopes and expectations in the new dispensation, she found many disillusioned with the unemployment situation and who experienced “considerable fear that they or a close family member might lose their job.”
While some retrenched workers at Iscor direct their anger at Numsa for not defending their jobs enough, others lay the blame at government’s door.
One worker even went so far as to say that retrenchments were carried out deliberately by white-owned companies so that blacks would vote for them again because “during apartheid no (black) person would sit at home, everybody had a job …. but nowadays we are free, but there are no jobs.”
When questioned, the majority of retrenched workers denied that anyone in their families had a job. But when probed further, they admitted that someone was “˜washing cars’ or “˜selling vegetables’. However, none of the respondents regarded these activities as “˜jobs’.
The lucky retrenched workers are supported by partners or children who have “˜real jobs’. And although some of the retrenched men felt that “I should have been the head who is feeding the family, the 1994 democracy” accepted the situation where the woman was the main breadwinner.
Even so, some of the men expressed disappointment that the power that they once held over the family has been diluted by these new laws which allow equality between men and women.
Loebell finds that although the new democracy now acknowledges people as “human beings” this is being “heavily undermined by the painful experiences of the big number of retrenched or dismissed workers” who now find themselves of no “economic use” in the post-apartheid society.
Moreover she finds the evidence of racism on the factory floor disturbing and urges the Union to take up a campaign on the issue.
Ask yourselves:Loebell and Mashaba both highlight the problems in the new South Africa.
How do you see the “new South Africa” – is it helping or hindering you?
Should we take up a campaign around racism on the factory floor?
Write to Numsa News and tell us your views.