About 2,000 members of trade union Solidarity protested on Thursday against a plan by chemicals company Sasol to allocate shares only to its black employees.

Solidarity, a union mainly made up of white Afrikaners, said that its 6,300 members working at Sasol’s plant in Secunda, Mpumalanga, feel “alienated” and “powerless”.

“We can’t address an old system of exclusion by a future system of new exclusion,” Solidarity leader Dirk Hermann said. “The question is, when does affirmative action and empowerment go too far? There must be parameters.”

The union has demanded that the blacks-only share scheme be extended to include white workers or that an alternative scheme is developed.

Banners at the march read “Stop racism at Sasol” and “Skin colour doesn’t determine my worth”. “By giving only black people shares, we are dividing ourselves just when we’ve started to understand each other after 20 years,” Cobus van Rooyen, a machine operator at Sasol, said.

Previously disadvantaged

Sasol has said that the new share scheme will empower members of previously disadvantaged communities in SA, where racial inequality remains high more than two decades after the end of apartheid rule.

Flanked by armed private security, senior executives from Sasol accepted a list of demands from Solidarity.

The governing ANC has said that any protests against the share scheme would have “racist overtones”.

“Characterising the Sasol initiative as racial exclusion is at best malicious and at worst dishonest,” the ANC said.

“With today’s demonstration, there was a temporary decrease in attendance by Solidarity members at our Secunda operations,” Sasol said. “As a result, some of today’s planned activities were impacted.”