A racially divisive notice, which called for “non-whites” to use a separate toilet at Port Elizabeth’s Kuyga Community Hall, has infuriated residents, who are demanding answers from their Ward 40 councillor, Jason Grobbelaar.
The mysterious notice pasted on the front door of the hall, which Grobbelaar and his staff deny erecting, was discovered at about 11am yesterday by temporary government workers employed through the Extended Public Works Programme (EPWP).
The notice, stuck on the inside of the door, reads: “Down stairs tiolets for non-whites or if you black wearing EPWP overall – By order councillor’s office.”
Grobbelaar and his staff denied putting up the notice, and a few others around the building, saying they were being sabotaged.
DA chief whip Werner Senekal said he believed the ANC was behind the debacle as it was battling to accept it had lost the ward to the DA in last month’s polls.
The ANC denies involvement.
The hall belongs to the municipality and is thus a public facility.
The EPWP workers claimed the notice had been put up after three of them were allegedly barred from using the toilet next to Grobbelaar’s office the previous day.
They claimed they had been told by Grobbelaar’s assistant, Antoinette Hermanus, that it was dedicated for staff use only.
They were allegedly told to use the ablutions downstairs, next to the hall, which were meant for the public, but they had been locked.
The group said about 20 of them had arrived at the hall yesterday to confront the councillor about the incident the previous day, when they discovered the notice.
When a Herald team arrived at the hall, the notice was still up and a large group had gathered to confront Grobbelaar.
Siphokazi Sihlabi, 28, said the notice had triggered old feelings of suffering and humiliation that black people had endured.
“It would appear that apartheid is coming back to haunt us,” Sihlabi said. “I am very perturbed by this sign that prevents us from using the toilets upstairs.”
Ntombovuyo Balani, 23, of Kuyga, said she was hurt.
“Before the DA occupied these offices, and the ANC was in power, we all shared the toilets.
“We cleaned those toilets yesterday, so now that they are clean we are not good enough to use them? That is nonsense,” she said.
Bongiwe Poli, 24, of Kuyga, said: “I didn’t expect them to do this because they said they would bring change.
“Is this the change that they were talking about?
“How dare they tell us not to use the toilet. Do they expect us to relieve ourselves outside?”
Grobbelaar and his team moved into the council office on Monday.
Andiswa Kleinbooi, 30, of Kuyga, said: “We welcomed you here with open arms – now that will change.
“When will apartheid end?” Grobbelaar, who appeared to be calm when responding to the angry group, said he was equally shocked by the notice and he distanced himself from anything that was racially divisive.
“That poster was put up by somebody trying to sabotage this office,” he said.
There was no way they would refuse the public access if there was a dire need, but they had told them on Tuesday that the ablutions downstairs were meant for members of the public.
“The one upstairs is for staff in the council office,” Grobbelaar said.
“We never refused anybody the use of toilets. How can this issue bring back apartheid?”
The two staff members who work in his office are black and coloured.
Grobbelaar said claims that he was trying to bring back apartheid were merely a form of “politicising”.
The workers said there were photocopies of the racially charged notice in Grobbelaar’s office desk drawer.
When The Herald team went to verify the claims, two photocopies were found in the drawer.
Hermanus said she had taken them down and put them in a drawer to show the councillor.
“I took them down, but left one at the entrance because I wanted to show them to the councillor, who was not at the office,” she said.
Senekal said there was absolutely no way that any of the DA members were behind the notice, accusing the ANC of orchestrating it.
He said the incident followed the disruption by EPWP workers and ANC supporters of mayor Athol Trollip’s Arbor Day project last week, when he planned to plant trees in the park.
Last week’s group said they had never been told about the event in their ward. The tree-planting had to be abandoned.
“We fully deny being behind such a notice. That kind of thing has no place in South Africa post-1994,” Senekal said.
“People will like to play the race card and it’s not going to work.” He said the councillor and his two staff shared the same toilet.
ANC ward chairman Booi Mantewu said he was sure the notice did not come from ANC members.
“We cannot say it was the ANC that could have put up that notice because I am the [ANC] chairperson of this ward and everything that happens here I would know about,” he said.
Acting city manager Johann Mettler said he was shocked and dismayed by the incident.
“Anyone found to be behind it will be severely dealt with,” he said.
SA Human Rights Commission spokeswoman Gail Smith declined to comment.