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What the corporate world can learn from South Africa’s post-apartheid struggles

Protesters demonstrate in Pretoria, South Africa on June 5.
Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko
Protesters demonstrate in Pretoria, South Africa.

For many South Africans, the images of Black Lives Matter protests displayed across their TV screens have evoked memories of the anti-racism activism that consumed the country in the 1970s and 1980s. The anti-apartheid movement, which called for the freedom and liberty of Black people and equal rights for all South Africans, would eventually spread across the world. Decades of toil and blood resulted in South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994 and a fragile national experiment built on the concept of “non-racialism” and presented to the world as the “Rainbow Nation.”

The Black Lives Matter movement might signal the expiry of that ideal.

Almost three decades of pained discussions, affirmative action quotas, and weak diversity programs have failed to shift stark imbalances in the country’s economy and industries. Despite Black people making up 80% of the population, they comprise only 10% of CEOs of companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, according to a 2019 report by PricewaterhouseCoopers. Income inequality has worsened, with white people still more likely to find work and earn more than other population groups. These disparities manifest in living conditions, with many Black South Africans still confined to townships on the outskirts of core centres of productivity.

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