The Evolution of Human Resource Management in South Africa

Change, Change, and More Change. Perhaps the greatest competitive challenge businesses face is adjusting to-indeed, embracing-nonstop change. (Ulrich, 1998). Previously, HR profession began with HR professionals focusing on terms and conditions of work so that employees would feel fairly treated. Now, the business world faces enormous change, and HR professionals must do more than manage employee terms and conditions. Human Resource Management (HRM) is defined as a strategic and articulate approach to the management of an organization’s most treasured assets – the people working there who independently and cooperatively contributing to the achievement of its objectives

In this paper, I will discuss the evolution of Human Resource Management (HRM) in South Africa, with particular reference to the impact of Apartheid.

Through literacy reviews like articles, journal and online websites was used to obtain a helicopter over view of the topic. I will consider its various evolutionary phases outlining the specific characteristics of each phase and the contributions of these characteristics in shaping the development of Human Resource Management in South Africa.

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Brief historical background

South Africa is culturally diverse society with about 11 official languages. Black people (Africans, Coloured people and Indians) comprise over 75% of the population. Since its establishment as a trading post by the Dutch in 1652, SA had foreign governments from Britain and the Dutch (Afrikaaner) settlers. Racial inequality and wars for control over territories and land were a feature of SA‟s history for over two centuries. Apartheid was formally instituted as a political system by the Nationalist party in 1948, and abandoned in 1994 with the country’s first democratic election, after decades of a continuing political struggle by the African majority and its representative parties such as the African National Congress.

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The latter and other opposition groups had been banned from the 1960‟s until the release from prison of Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners in 1990.

Evolution phases of Human Resource Management in South Africa

Phase 2: Industrial Era and Birth of Personnel Management (1850s – 1947)

Industrialization of South Africa began with the discovery of gold and diamonds at the end of the 19th century. Skilled and managerial work was given to white workers, who were given trade union and collective bargaining rights by the Industrial Conciliation Act (1924). Black workers were excluded from these rights until 1980. Admission to training and skilled work was denied to Africans. The legacy of institutionalized workplace discrimination has meant that organizations now have to develop a skilled and productive work force which was underutilized, poorly trained and alienated from performance improvement and competitiveness goals. This is a vital test for human resource management today.

Phase 3: Apartheid and Growth of Personnel Management (1948 – 1989)

The introduction of the Apartheid policy where a racial segmentation of the labour market in respect of access to higher-level technological was created . Where racial preference was instituted to benefit a certain racial group. South African human resource practices under apartheid focused on personnel administration and industrial relations. The establishment of the Bantu Education Act, 47 of 1953, in 1953 created even more educational inequalities and amplified the already existing gaps in education for different racial groups.

Phase 4: Political Transformation and Transformation of Personnel Management (PM) to Human Resource Management (HRM) (1990 – 1993)

In the forefront of all political and economic transformation is the trade union movement. Mass mobilization of the unions during this period has significantly contributed to the transformation of human rights in South Africa and human resource management.

Phase 5: Post-Apartheid and Era of Maturity and Specialization (1994 – Present)

With the end of the apartheid era in South Africa there were still social inequalities rooted and reflected in all spheres of social life, as a product of the complete segregation. Since 1994 when South Africa held its first democratic elections, there has been a systematic removal of apartheid legislation and the introduction of legislation designed to create equal opportunity throughout society. In the workplace change was made up of six core statutes—the National Economic Development and Labor Council (NEDLAC) Act of 1994, the Labor Relations Act of 1995 (LRA), the Basic Conditions of Employment Act of 1997 (BCEA), the Skills Development Act of 1998, the Employment Equity Act of 1998, and the Social Plan Act of 1998.

The Labour Relations Act, which was introduced on 11 November 1996, intends to bring labour law into conformity with the Constitution and with the international law. The purpose of this Labour Relations Act* was to advance economic development, social justice, labour peace and the democratization of the workplace by fulfilling the primary objects of the Act. The Labour Relations Act seeks to promote employee participation in decision making through workplace committees and employee consultation and joint decision making on certain issues. It provides for simple measures for the resolution of labour disputes through statutory conciliation and arbitration, and through independent alternative dispute resolution services

Basic Conditions of Employment (1997)

The Basic Conditions of Employment Act (1997) however, provides for establishing minimum standards of employment. These circumstances cover areas from the designation of working hours to termination regulations and have been extended to farm and domestic workers.

Employment Equity (1998)

The Employment Equity Act of 1998, this legislation, which came into effect on 9 August 1999, prohibited unfair discrimination on grounds of race, gender, sex, pregnancy and marital status, among other things.Employment Equity is often viewed as a long-term process to ensure that all employees have a fair chance in the workplace. Challenges of inequality are evident in the male dominated workplace and a society that has internalized a culture of segregation and discrimination owing to dark forces of the past, Employment Equity will only be achieved when no person is denied employment opportunities or benefits for reasons that are not related to their abilities (Thomas, 2002, Toumishey, 2001).

Affirmative Action (1998)

Affirmative action was introduced through the Employment Equality Act, 55 in 1998, 4 years after the end of apartheid. This act was passed to promote the constitutional right of equality and exercise true democracy.Human, (1996) saw Affirmative Action as the process whereby equal employment rights were created, cutting across all Human Resource (HR) practices such as selection, recruitment, induction, development, and many others.According to Thomas, (1997) diversity management is a planned, systematic and comprehensive managerial process for developing an organizational environment in which all employees, with their similarities and differences, could contribute to the strategic and competitive advantage of the organization, and where no one was excluded on the basis of factors unrelated to productivity. The main issue in equality is ensuring fair treatment for all.

Skills Development (1998)

Apartheid education and skills legislation created a relatively unique basis for skills and therefore earnings equalities. Black access to trades and skilled work was legislatively prohibited by job reservation in favour of white employees, for example in Section 66 of the then Industrial Conciliation Act (1956) and the Mines and Works Act. The introduction of the Skills Development Act and the later addition of the Skills Levy Act 1999 are used as mechanism to counter the effects caused by apartheid. The levy grant scheme, legislated through the Skills Development Levies Act, 1999, serves to fund the skills development initiative in the country. The intention is to encourage a planned and structured approach to learning, and to increase employment prospects for work seekers.

Broad-based Black Economic Empowerment (BBB EE) – (2003)

BBBEE is a method aimed at tactically changing the South African economy by inter alia spreading fairness to incorporate previously disadvantaged South Africans, re-organizing management structures and ensuring greater contribution of the majority in the economy to achieve economic justice (Osode, 2004).


South Africa has undergone a triple transition: a transition to a globally competitive economy, attempting to consolidate democracy and remove the legacy of apartheid (von Holdt, 2002). The economic transition is leading to pressures to restructure work. Central to the second transition: the consolidation of democracy—is the idea of social citizenship. The third transition: the removal of apartheid structures and practices—is central to the changes taking place in the workplace and society. Legislation changes has assisted South Africa to be able to transform the labour market. Legislation allowed the Human Resource Profession to evolve from a more administrative approach but to a strategic approach with the introduction of Employment Equity and BEE. Scientific Management approach, Human Relations approach, Human Resource approach are the evolution of Human Resource Management as a whole but in the context of South Africa the evolution of Human Resource Management is unique.

Updated: Feb 02, 2024
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The Evolution of Human Resource Management in South Africa. (2024, Feb 02). Retrieved from

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