TV footage was best way to prove racism

Bulelwa Makeke

Bulelwa Makeke

On Tuesday evening I was watching Debora Patta on 3rd Degree being her usual self - all feisty and energetically chasing "racist" doctors who were all too keen to escape her intrusive cameras.

The focus of her attention this time was on how doctors in North West were practising racism in their consulting rooms.

The approach of the doctors in treating their patients was clearly "black and white" - down to two separate entrances and waiting rooms.

After watching that episode, any illusions I might have had that racism no longer exists in our beautiful country were summarily dashed.

The recent exposé in Sowetan of the Johannesburg prosecutor, Carlette Muller, then came to mind.

This newspaper reported on how colleagues of Muller charged that she demonstrated racial bias when deciding who to prosecute. They accused her of being too ready to send black kids to jail while leaning over backwards to forgive white kids their transgressions.

Of course I raise this background to get to my real point. How else can you prove acts of racism beyond any reasonable doubt, so to speak, except in the manner that was revealed to us in Patta's TV piece.

I bring this up because in recent weeks the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has been dogged by media headlines screaming racism within our organisation.

In these media articles the NPA management is portrayed as a group of people who turn a blind eye to reports of racism in the workplace and happily let it fester unabated.

Importantly, the media feel that these reports are justified because they have inside sources who seem to have provided them with reams of internal documents and correspondence supporting their accusations.

If there is such overwhelming evidence that proves the reported racism contained in the files that journalists appear to have access to, by all means let it be presented.

If it seems that NPA management is not doing anything about it, I suggest that perhaps the Human Rights Commission would do well to take up such matters. At least that is an idea that seemed to be confirmed by the head of the commission when Patta interviewed him following the North West racism saga I referred to above.

When allegations of racism are made by one employee against another, the matter is handled in the same way as any other allegation.

The NPA's disciplinary procedures provide that the accuser must provide facts that support his allegations for investigation through the necessary channels.

The NPA operates in an environment where unions are allowed to organise and represent employee rights in this respect. The union that organises within the NPA is very effective in fighting for its members, I might add. I don't believe it would just let sleeping dogs lie if the findings of the official investigations conducted proved the allegations as facts.

How do you prove racism, except perhaps for the easiest way we saw in 3rd Degree? The camera never lies.

As a member of management in the NPA, I find that this quandary arises when we have to deal with such matters.

The difficulty is that racism is an attitude, a mindset - and it is usually defined as such by the person who experiences it.

If I experience racism, that is a reality for me. But how do I prove this to the next person to whom I have to report it?

Save for situations such as those revealed to us on camera, courtesy of the TV show, or where clear racist remarks or slurs are uttered.

I suspect that this is the reason that of all grievances and disciplinary matters that the NPA labour relations unit deal with, there are none that have findings of racism.

The matter which received prominent coverage in Sowetan in the last month is currently being investigated by a deputy director of public prosecutions in that office.

This case is peculiar in that there are also accusations from other stakeholders who are not part of the NPA, in which case it is possible that there could be tangible evidence that they could submit to the NPA in support of their accusations.

Media reporters ask us to comment on a statement that the NDPP has failed to clean up racism within the NPA. Perhaps our comment is - if that is the feeling, show us, tell us how to.

Must every employee who is accused by another of racism be summarily dismissed, until all such complaints disappear? That would be very easy, but unfortunately the laws of this country do not allow that.

l Makeke is executive manager: communications for the National Prosecuting Authority