There are few contexts where people are not confronted by difference in the work¬place, in organisations and public spaces, and as an aspect of the general body politic. The challenge therefore is how to value what different groups may bring to the collective while, at the same time, maintaining cohesive societies. For organisations, the challenges cluster around such issues as how to create environments that can bring into play the strengths of difference to promote organisational goals, while at the same time enabling employees to reach their full potential, to have their contribution valued and to feel recognised and respected. Contemporary South Africa is no exception in facing realities such as these, although the specific contours that the challenges take are obviously shaped by South Africa’s history, its socio-economic capacities and the particular demographics that form its population. Both in society as a whole and in the workplace specifically, widespread legislative reform has attempted to redress stratification along a number of axes of difference. Employment equity measures such as affirmative action, which were conceptualised in countries like the USA, were designed to introduce a representative number from minority groups into relatively homogenous organisations. The changes envisioned for South African organisations are of a different order: in this country, the majority demographic has to be brought into the centre, politically, economically and organisationally – a fundamental transformation in processes, structures, identities and relationships. Conventional thinking around change management also struggles to address the profound shifts in class structure that post-apartheid South Africa has experienced. The case studies that are presented here are a reminder of this sometimes volatile transformation of South African life, where new opportunities and challenges often come into conflict with old mindsets and practices.
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