Necklace-wearer cleared at hearing

Lubabalo Jack shows off his traditional neckpiece
Picture: Fredlin Adriaan

A Port Elizabeth engineer has been cleared of wrongdoing during a disciplinary hearing, two weeks after his employer suspended him from work for wearing a traditional necklace.

Although the outcome has vindicated him, Lubabalo Jack, 35, said he was still traumatised and felt discriminated against by his employer, Formex Engineering, for practising his Xhosa culture.

It terms of the hearing ruling, Jack can continue to wear the necklace – an intambo enkulu – on condition it remains under his overalls whenever he is in the workshop.

The traditional necklace, made out of a goat’s tail, is meant to bring good fortune and fight off evil spirits.

Jack said he was glad to be back at work, but said a stigma still lingered because some people continued to ridicule him.

“It was a not guilty verdict. I am happy I got my job back. However, I am still traumatised and hurt that my culture is frowned on.

“Nelson Mandela emphasised the importance of loving each other and respecting others’ beliefs and culture.

“We must not judge each other by the colour of our skin,” he said.

Jack, a laser technician supervisor at the Markman Township engineering firm, was suspended on May 15 when he refused to remove the necklace.

Formex Engineering managing director Hennie Venter took exception to Jack wearing the necklace, saying he looked like a lion. But Jack refused to take it off and was charged with gross insubordination. The move by his employer to haul Jack before a disciplinary hearing was met with fierce criticism from traditional leaders, singer Zwai Bala and businessman Mkhuseli Jack, who is not related to him.

Bala said Formex had no case against Jack.

“They had no choice but to reinstate him.

“They need to acknowledge that what they did was wrong. Something needs to be done with regard to their behaviour.

“He has been inconvenienced. It’s up to him and his representatives to take the next step,” Bala said.

The Vusiwe Foundation’s Chief Jongisilo Pokwana ka Menziwa said the not guilty finding should not be celebrated.

The foundation undertakes historical research.

“[Formex] humiliated him and that deserves a public apology by the employer to Jack and custodians of [his] culture,” he said.

“That the employer came to his senses should not be celebrated.

“The question remains – what are they going to do now?” he said.

Formex could not be reached for comment.

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