South Africans go to the polls on 8 May, with the African National Congress (ANC) seeking to retain the power it has held since 1994.
In the decades since the end of apartheid, the ANC has sought to provide opportunities for the country’s majority black population to achieve greater economic status and influence.
Black economic empowerment was introduced to address racial inequality in South Africa and takes the form of affirmative action, including preferential employment, skills training and selective procurement of government contracts.
The opposition Democratic Alliance says the policy has been a failure which “has only served to enrich a politically connected elite and to dampen economic growth.”
So, how unequal is the workplace in South Africa and are the numbers changing?
Top management positions in South Africa
% in 2017
A starting point in this highly contested debate is to look at who occupies management positions, using racial categories adopted by the South African government.
Companies are required to report this information to an employment equity commission.
First let’s look at the most senior level – the top managers.
Although black South Africans make up nearly 80% of the economically active population, they hold just 14% of top management jobs.
In comparison, 67% of these top positions are held by white employees – a figure which has declined slightly in the last three years.
White people make up 9% of the economically active population, according to the equity commission.
Indian-South Africans are 2.8% of the economically active population, and hold 9% of the top management jobs.
In the private sector, around 70% of top managers are white, while more than 70% of top managers in government jobs are black.
The equality commission has also found that 77% of top management posts are occupied by men.
“A white, male-dominant organisational culture still prevails,” said South Africa’s labour minister, Mildred Oliphant, commenting on these findings.
Senior management roles – a level down – follow a similar pattern, although the level of non-white participation is slightly higher.
Of these positions, 56% are filled by white South Africans.
Mid-level positions in South Africa
For the third tier defined by the equality commission – those with professional qualifications filling mid-management positions – there’s evidence of a further trend towards greater non-white participation.
Here, non-white workers hold more than half of the positions.
A decade ago, white workers filled the majority of these jobs.
Who controls the largest companies?
Another measure of empowerment is to look not at who works for the country’s leading companies, but who owns them.
According to figures reported to South Africa’s black economic empowerment commission, black ownership of companies on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) in 2017 was 27%.
However, the data for this is only partial. Fewer than half of the companies listed on the JSE provided the information asked for.
The commission itself has expressed frustration at the slow pace of change. Its head, Zodwa Ntuli, says progress towards towards black empowerment has been “insignificant compared to where we should be.”
One more indication of the skewed nature of ownership comes from analysis carried out by the National Empowerment Fund – a body set up by the government to support black business – which looks at companies listed on the JSE.
By this measure, just 3% of the biggest firms are controlled by black South Africans.