Indian-origin South Africans have lashed out at a proposed legislation that will effectively curtail their employment opportunities as a minority community in the country.
The draft employment equity bill released by the labour minister proposes that companies with more than 150 employees must hire their senior management and professional staff on the basis of national demographics of population groups.
In the province of KwaZulu-Natal, where the majority of South Africa's 1.4 million Indian-origin citizens reside, business and community leaders decried the proposal, which would effectively reduce the number of jobs available to Indians as the national demographic population figure would be overwhelmingly black.
A similar objection was raised by the Coloured (mixed race) community for the Western Cape Province, where the majority of this community live.
Even Indian members of the ruling African National Congress objected to the proposal.
Ravi Pillay, provincial minister for Human Settlements and Public Works in the KwaZulu-Natal provincial government, said in a submission to the Minister of Labour that regional and not national demographic figures had to be used to ensure equity because while Indians were 2.5 per cent of the population nationally, in KwaZulu-Natal they made up seven per cent.
"Our concentration in KwaZulu-Natal is due to the vagaries of history," Pillay wrote in a reference to the fact that most Indians first arrived in that province from 1860 onwards as indentured labourers for the sugar cane plantations before moving to other areas of the country.
Pillay said among the prominent ANC members who supported his objection were national Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and a former mayor of the city of Durban, Logie Naidoo.
An Indian businessman based in KwaZulu-Natal, Vivian Reddy said Indians were unfairly and unjustly being prejudiced by the proposed law.
Reddy said he would take the matter up with the Minister of Labour and even President Jacob Zuma if necessary.
While the provincial business sector generally reacted angrily to the proposal, South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Neren Rau was more cautious in condemning the bill, indicating that more clarity was needed on whether the bill was unintended to be compulsory for implementation by the sector or just a recommendation.
Ebrahim Patel, director of the mainly Indian Muslim business organisation Minara Chamber of Commerce said while it agreed that transformation was necessary to address the inequalities of the apartheid era when many jobs were reserved for the ruling white community, such change had to be done without rendering some groups effectively unemployable.