The Labor Court in Johannesburg found in favor of Edcon after the company fired a worker who posted on Facebook to former president. Jacob Zuma referred as a monkey.
Teresa Cantamessa, a former senior buyer at Edcon (which owns the Edgars retail stores) made all the offending comments in December 2015.
This came after Zuma’s decision to replace then-finance minister Nhlanhla Nene with Des van Rooyen. Barely a few days later, Van Rooyen got in the way and Pravin Gordhan took over the treasury. Damage to the economy due to the cabinet fluctuation was estimated at between R250 billion and R500 billion.
Many South Africans were outraged and several so-called #ZumaMustFall marches were held during this time. The media reported extensively on the decision, including on M-Net’s news program Carte Blanche .
On her annual holiday during that time, Cantamessa made the dreaded entry on Facebook.
“Watching Carte Blanch and listening to these f*****g stupid monkeys running our country and how everyone makes excuses for that stupid man we have to call a president … President my f*****g ass!! #zumamustfall This makes me crazy ass mad (sic)”, het sy geskryf.
The placement provoked a huge reaction and Cantamessa was internally tried on a charge of misconduct. During the hearing, she argued, among other things, that the placement was not racist and that she merely pointed out incompetence.
However, she was convicted and sacked in early 2017.
Cantamessa took the matter to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA). No reconciliation could be reached and an arbitration process was started.
During this process, Cantamessa’s dismissal was found to be unfair and she received compensation in the form of 12 months’ salary. Among other things, the commissioner found that the Facebook post had nothing to do with Cantamessa’s work at Edcon and that no fair internet user would associate the post with Edcon.
She was also on leave during the placement and there was no evidence that her placement had done any harm to Edcon.
In addition, Edcon workers who indicated that they liked it on Cantamessa’s Facebook post received only final warnings.
The commissioner also found Cantamessa’s remark that Zuma “stupid” is not racist.
This was still not the end and the decision was referred to the Johannesburg Labor Court for review.
This court found that some white South Africans frequently, before the start of democracy, referred to black people disparagingly, including by referring to them as apes.
“To fully understand what Ms. Cantamessa said it is important that the history behind the monkey insult is also understood. It is an emotional expression of our sad past during which racial discrimination, at the workplace in particular, was the order of the day. Me. Cantamessa, who has lived in South Africa for more than 20 years, undoubtedly knew this, ”the court now found.
“She said she was angry when she made the post on Facebook and did something she had never done before.”
Cantamessa admitted, however, that some South Africans could see the placement as racist.
The court found her remarks to be extremely abusive and that Edcon was entirely entitled to disciplinary action.
It was also found that the right to freedom of expression does not allow the incitement of hatred and that Cantamessa had no right to use racist insults to express her anger over a situation.
The court consequently set aside the remuneration initially awarded to the CCMA and found that Edcon acted quite reasonably when he put her in the way.