Affirmative Action in Malaysia and South Africa: Preference for Parity



On February 19th, 2021, CSEAR organised a talk with Hwok-Aun Lee on his latest book: “Affirmative action in Malaysia and South Africa: preference for parity.”

Hwok-Aun Lee is a senior fellow at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute (Singapore). He is a graduate from UBC (BA economics) and subsequently completed its postgraduate and doctoral studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Affirmative Action (AA) is defined as a “preferential measures to increase the representation of disadvantaged groups (race, ethnicity, gender, caste, disability…) in socially esteemed and economically influential positions (higher education, high-level occupations, enterprise, ownership).” Hwok-Aun Lee insisted that AA is not about the over-representation of certain groups (Bumiputeras and Black in the case studies) among poor/unemployed. Rather, it is about their under-representation in higher education, high-level employment, enterprise, and wealth ownership.

After highlighting the common issues faced by disadvantaged groups in both cases and the different policies adopted for implementing the AA strategy, Hwok-Aun Lee compellingly concluded that “AA has promoted access and participation but fallen short in developing capability. Ultimately, Malaysia and South Africa must succeed at AA in order to graduate out of overt racial preferences – not declare failure and abandon AA.”

Hwok-Aun Lee’s research is fascinating for those who focus on AA in Malaysia, given the relative absence of data related to AA in Malaysia compared to South Africa. A total of 42 participants joined the online talk with participants coming from different academic and professional backgrounds. While online talks prevent personal interactions, it allowed CSEAR to mobilise beyond its traditional network and reach out to young researchers from different universities across North America and Southeast Asia.