20/10/2017 15:49 SAST | Updated 23/10/2017 11:18 SAST

Sonke Gender Justice: 'Spur Bowed To Racist Pressure'

Restaurant group lambasted for cancelling investigation into racism.


Human rights group Sonke Gender Justice has lambasted the Spur Corporation for cancelling the panel that was expected to do an in-depth investigation into an alleged racist incident that happened at Texamo Spur at The Glen Shopping Centre, south of Johannesburg, in March this year.

The incident -- captured on a video that went viral -- involved a heated altercation between a white man and a black woman. After an investigation by the restaurant, the man in the video was banned from Spur, leading to an alleged boycott by mostly white, Afrikaans-speaking people, as they believed white people were being treated unfairly.

Sonke has been involved in the matter from the beginning and three of its employees who were meant to serve on the panel -- which was appointed by Spur following the furore and which was meant to start its deliberations in the first week of October -- spoke to HuffPost SA.

"We are deeply disappointed in the cancellation of the panel. It is clear that Spur bowed to the racist pressure applied by [Afrikaner-rights organisation] AfriForum and [trade union] Solidarity," Sonke's portfolio manager for child rights and positive parenting, Wessel van den Berg, said on Friday.

He said both organisations supported the boycott of Spur on the premise that the restaurant should have also banned Lebohang Mabuya, as they did Nico Viljoen -- the two people at odds with each other in the video.

"[Mabuya] was, in fact, the one being attacked. Their support for Viljoen demonstrates an expression of systemic racism, embedded in white privilege, which ignores the ascribed power due to race, of the aggressor -- Viljoen," he said.

"In our assessment, Spur is condoning violence and racism by stepping back from a serious analysis and course of action," Van den Berg said.

"They have moved away from finding a lasting solution to this challenge."

Nonhlanhla Skosana, a gender activist and Sonke's community education and mobilisation unit manager, said Spur should "take full responsibility when a similar or worse incident happens in the future, given that they have moved away from finding a lasting solution to this challenge".

According to Patrick Godana, Sonke's government and media liaison: "The cancellation of the panel came as a confirmation of Sonke Gender Justice's initial doubts in Spur's commitment to safety and antiracism.

"We were encouraged by the opportunity to work with a large company to prevent violence in their spaces, and to combat racism actively," Godana told HuffPost SA.

"If you look at the video both of them are perpetrators and both of them should be punished, if you have a person misbehaving and you simply want to say it is acceptable because she is black."

Solidarity and AfriForum have rejected claims that they had a role in intimidating Spur to cancel the panel.

Reacting to Sonke's assertion that his organisation had a racist agenda, Solidarity's financial services MD, Francios Smit, said: "I don't think Solidarity has a racist culture, so I think it is an unfounded comment.

"I did not even know about the cancellation of the panel. We cannot tell a company what to do," Smit said.

He denied that Solidarity had anything to do with the boycott of the restaurant.

"We never supported any boycott, we did not have a discussion with anybody about a boycott... I think the whole boycott argument is unfounded," Smit said.

AfriForum CEO Kallie Kriel said the cases they handle show that they are not racist, saying Sonke Gender Justice was "uninformed".

"We acted [on behalf of] Gabriella Engels [the woman who was allegedly assaulted by Zimbabwean First Lady Grace Mugabe]... we are busy acting on behalf of people in Nkandla," he said.

He maintains that Spur should have "punished" both patrons, instead of just Viljoen.

"If you look at the video, both of them are perpetrators and both of them should be punished... you have a person misbehaving and you simply want to say it is acceptable because she is black," he said.

Spur ghosts HuffPost SA for almost a week

Spur headquarters employee, Gayle Michelson, on Friday said the company would not be making further comments on the matter.

"Mr [Pierre] van Tonder [Spur CEO] told me to tell you that we won't be making any further comments," she said.

In the days before, Spur cut off all communications and HuffPost's many efforts to get comment from the company were futile.

Since Monday, 15 calls were made to Van Tonder's cellphone, with no response.

HuffPost SA also tried to call Spur's head of communications, Moshe Apleni, six times on Friday morning, with no luck.

Emails were also sent to both Michelson and Apleni. Michelson has not sent a response and Apleni's automated response said he was in training for the week.

** This story was edited after publication for accuracy.