In the first three months of lockdown, the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation’s (AKF) racism reporting app, ZiRRA, received over 500 reports of racism from across South Africa.

Victims and witnesses were linked up with various partners of this project, including the SAHRC, Lifeline, Mediate Works, and the legal body, People Against Racism. A report on this period will be published before the end of the year.

The Foundation has also been involved in specific instances of tackling racism:

  1. Kathrada Foundation engages with Clicks management

Representatives of the AKF on Tuesday, 8 September, met with members of retail and healthcare group Clicks, following their publication of a racially offensive advert on their website last week Thursday.

The AKF’s Executive Director, Neeshan Balton, and its Anti-Racism Manager, Busisiwe Nkosi, were part of the delegation that met with Clicks Group CEO, Vikesh Ramsunder, alongside their Director of Human Resources, Bertina Engelbrecht.

The meeting came as a result of a request for one by the AKF on Saturday, 5 September, after news broke of the racially offensive adverts that depicted black hair as “dry and damaged” as opposed to that of white hair as being “flat and normal”.

In their opening statement, Clicks Group CEO, Vikesh Ramsunder welcomed the letter from the Foundation and indicated that there was no excuse for the advert, which he acknowledged was both racist and derogatory. Clicks noted that even though the material was not developed by Clicks, but by a third party supplier whom they have worked with, they however accepted responsibility for not vetting the content before it was uploaded. It was also indicated that all employees responsible for enabling the advert to go live have since been suspended and that a senior manager responsible for that area of work had resigned.

The AKF delegation was informed that Clicks would be implementing a number of proactive measures to prevent incidents such as this from reoccurring:

These include:

  • Intensifying its diversity and inclusion efforts, especially at management levels;
  • Removing all TRESemmé products from their shelves with immediate effect and replacing them with locally sourced haircare brands;
  • Re-evaluating their marketing division’s signing off processes, especially for material to be placed on their social media platforms;
  • Engaging their suppliers to enforce their ethical codes of conduct;
  • Working with the Departments of Labour and Trade and Industry to help develop the local beauty products market in South Africa; and,
  • Priority will be put on diversity and inclusion training programmes for head office staff.

“The action steps indicated by Clicks management are positive and need to be made as a public commitment with clear timeframes,” said Busisiwe Nkosi. “These are similar to the steps that H&M were advised to follow after the racist hoodie incident.”

The Foundation’s Executive Director, Neeshan Balton said, “While the anger and deep sense of disappointment at Clicks is valid,  the tactic of using violence and intimidation to express this anger cannot not be condoned. Our response to issues of racism must not undermine our collective responsibility to uphold the Constitution of South Africa. We have a responsibility to build the institutions developed to adjudicate on issues of racism and hate speech, just as much as we have to mobilise society to speak out against all issues of racism and bigotry.”

“It is our collective duty to challenge racism where it manifests. Whether it is at schools, in the workplace and in this case, through imagery. But acts of vandalism only mean that nothing gets built and diverts from the core issue, which is institutional racism. Eradicating institutional racism requires working with organisations and companies to ensure that they not only understand the issues at hand, but know how, and remain committed to changing policies, structures and procedures to comply with anti-racist values,” said Balton.

 “We would however, like to commend South Africans for ensuring that the issue remains a talking point and we hope that the strong condemnation of the advert is translated into meaningful action against racism within the retail and advertising sector as a whole.” Balton concluded

2. Assault of Ma Mkhonza

The Ahmed Kathrada Foundation is angered and appalled following the severe assault of an Ekurhuleni woman last week. Khabonina Mkhonza, a domestic worker for the Muller family for over 20 years, has opened a case of assault against Christiaan Henrico Muller (28) after he reportedly attacked her in what appears to be a blatantly racially motivated incident.

Leslie Muller (57) also faces charges of damage to property as well as intent to cause assault with grievous bodily harm. Both father and son are out on R500 bail each, and appeared before the Springs Magistrate’s Court on September 8. The case has been postponed to October 14 for further investigations.

During an interview with the AKF, 64-year old Mkhonza described how her attacker, whom she practically raised, would often complain to her about the rampant looting and corruption in the country. According to Mkhonza, the young Muller would often attribute the corruption to only Black-African political party leaders.

“His anger only started during the period of the lockdown. I know because every time the President would address the nation about where we were in the lockdown and Covid-19, he would have negative things to say, blaming everything on the President and other party leaders,” explained Mkhonza.

The Foundation has reached out to Ma Mkhonza in solidarity with her following the brutal assault. “We commend her and her family to taking this matter up with law enforcement, refusing to buckle under pressure and subsequent interference,” Balton said.

The AKF’s Executive Director added that following investigations, the perpetrators need to face the full might of the law.

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