South Africans who undermine and downgrade the cultures of other people are serious stumbling blocks to social cohesion, cultural tolerance and national harmony.
People who deal with people, particularly employers with employees, and those who interact with the broader community at all times and at various levels, need to know that the onus is upon them to educate themselves about the ways of life of those they interact with.
The recent widely publicised ill-treatment of an employee by his employer, on the basis of him having around his neck an “intambo enkulu” (an honour bestowed upon him by his clan) is most disappointing.
This public controversy was sparked by the managing director of an engineering company in Port Elizabeth, who accused 35-year-old Lubabalo Jack, a laser technician, of insubordination for wearing around his neck an intamb’enkulu. This must have traumatised Jack. People who hold this custom in high esteem will be emotionally shaken by this decision.
People who grow up and live in the Eastern Cape, the majority of them, know that intamb’enkulu is an honour bestowed on one by one’s family’s elders and the departed, amanyange (ancestors) of the family and the clan.
Instead of finding out about the practice, what the intamb’enkulu was all about, the boss hauled Jack in front of a disciplinary process, since he believed the man was a safety risk to the company clients.
Ignorance of the culture of others is no excuse.
This employer has to be roundly condemned.
He should have first familiarised himself with the facts and merits of the deed.
He would have easily found out that there was nothing offensive to his customers about this practice.
The employer, in discriminating against Jack’s cultural practice, violates his human rights, his inherent dignity, and the right of his dignity to be respected and protected, in terms of the country’s Bill of Rights.
If the employer was one who cared, he could have educated himself easily with section 31 of the Bill of Rights in the South African constitution, which states that persons belonging to a cultural, religious or linguistic community may not be denied their right to enjoy their culture, practice their religion and use their language.
The fact that the employer had no regard for the constitution of the country that protects and defends the cultural practice of his employee is disgusting, to say the least.
One cannot avoid bringing up the damaging effects of the racial superiority policies propagated by successive colonial regimes, from colonial days to the National Party’s racial supremacy rule.
That kind of superior mentality is precisely what encourages a person to condemn the culture of another people.
It does not occur to him that a new constitution has been established that accommodates the right of all people to practise their own cultures.
Suspending Jack for practising his culture is a serious infringement of his cultural rights.
The constitution empowers him to approach a competent court, to allege that his right under the Bill of Rights has been infringed or violated.
Such action can be instituted by the complainant himself or anyone acting on behalf of him, or a group or interested class of persons.
We can never succeed in creating a true democracy that is based on equality, where there is no discrimination based on race and culture, if we tolerate this kind of behaviour.
The fact that there are people who think it is correct to treat people as half human means that we as a country and people have failed in adhering to our constitutional vision.
When we fought for a free and democratic state that would uphold everyone’s freedoms and rights, we were honest.
We have continuously to call for the country to be what we fought for it to be.
Our children admire us when we tell them what the freedom was all about.
They are baffled by how different what they see is compared with what we profess we once stood for.
Every South African, black or white, is called upon to be constructive to strive for the attainment of the goals of freedom.
We are supposed to be constructive, progressive and forward-looking.
We cannot allow ourselves to be yesterday’s people, who discriminate, and are retrogressive and destructive.
The lesson from the above-mentioned problem is that the government must take seriously its obligation to make sure that all traces of racism are eradicated from our society.
The state must not tolerate any form of discrimination, be it cultural, racial or religious. It must actively combat it. In a free and democratic South Africa there should be no justification for any form of cultural or racial superiority.
Mutual respect is built on different people acquainting themselves with the cultural practices of others.