Not long ago Alwyn Strauss, a geotechnical engineer and employer in Windhoek, made headlines across the country for allegedly refusing to supervise a female trainee engineer on the basis of her colour (being a black woman) holding fast to his view that the government has introduced anti-white policies.
The trainee engineer, Ankita Ndakukamo, initially approached Strauss, the only soil engineer in the country who is qualified to supervise trainees in the field. However, her dream was dashed after Strauss refused to assist.
Geotechnical engineering is the branch of civil engineering concerned with the engineering behaviour of earth materials.
Strauss’ reason: “Because you are a black person. You are a black lady,” and because the empowerment policies, such as the proposed New Equitable Economic Empowerment Framework, are meant to drive whites out of Namibia.
The recording of the telephonic conversation between Strauss and Ndakukamo soon found itself in the hands of the media, who promptly reported on it.
Namibian Employment Equity Commission Commissioner Vilbard Usiku has expressed shock over Strauss’ actions, saying some white employers are still stuck with the apartheid mindset 26 years after independence.
“When I read this in the media, the first thing that came into my mind is that such a person is like a dinosaur that continues to exist in a wrong era.
“In other words, this is a person that believes that a white person can still discriminate against blacks with absolute impunity. He forgets that Namibia is a free and independent country and the philosophy of apartheid can no longer be tolerated. So, if he feels he doesn’t like black, it is better he pack and go where there are no black people,” an angry Uusiku said.
The Commission was established in 1998 to monitor employment equity at workplaces through the application of the Affirmative Action Act of 1998. The affirmative action legislation was introduced to address the racial and gender imbalances in the workplace.
As Commissioner, Uusiku is tasked to ensure that employers put in place and practice programmes that promote equal opportunities.
“The Employment Equity Commission was established to oversee the implementation of the affirmative action legislation, as well as to give advice to relevant employers on how to design and implement affirmative action programmes effectively,” he said.
He further said since the introduction of Affirmative Action policies, some progress has been made in terms of gender equity and equality, although men still dominate at management level.
“Based on the statistical data from affirmative action reports received from Namibian employers the desired level of equity, especially at the top three occupational levels, is still far from being achieved,” he said.
According to Usiku, it is imperative that employers and businesses are constantly reminded of the importance of promoting the ideal of a diverse and racially representative workforce that reflects on the national demographics at all levels.
“The goal of equal employment opportunities is not likely to be attained unless designated employers move a step further to address gender equity, as well as create a working environment free from racial stereotypes and any form of prejudice,” he said.
Usiku revealed that during 2015/2016 financial year the Commission received a number of complaints about discrimination in terms of remuneration and employment opportunities, while persons with disabilities have also lodged a number of complaints citing unfair discrimination.
“The Affirmative Employment Act requires employers to provide training to designated groups to assist them to acquire the required skills, so that they stand a chance of promotion.
“Of course, there are companies and employers who are investing heavily in gender equity programmes and training of designated groups to make sure they have equal opportunities to get a job,” he said.
The Commission, he said, is aware of the perception and negative mindset of some employers that perceive women as incompetent and/or lacking the required skills.
“The fact that women are the majority of graduates at institutions of higher learning is an indication that they more educated and are competent enough to compete with men in all spheres of life. Therefore, the argument that women lack skills does not hold water. I believe those are just misconceptions created by men to discriminate.
“Competence is not about gender, but about individuals in the sense that you might find men that are competent and some that are not and the same applies to women,” he said.
Usiku pointed out that women are employed at all levels of industry, including management level in the public sector, parastatals and retailers. He said although women also make up the majority in the finance sector, very few make it to the management level.
Although the Affirmative Action Act was amended in 2006, the Employment Equity Commission notes that there is a need to further amend it to plug existing loopholes.
“We’ve not made a proposal to the line ministry yet, but we’re busy analysing the Act tin order to find out which clauses need to be re-addressed,” he said.
A Windhoek based engineering company, Aurecon Namibia Engineering Consultants, have since taken in Ndakukamo as a trainee engineer. Ndakukamo will accompany the company’s geotechnical engineers on projects and compile reports.
– The Southern Times.