The suspended manager of the Boulders Shopping Centre has apologised to Ndebele activist Thando Mahlangu after he attempted to chase him out of the mall for being dressed “indecently”.
Centre manager Jose Maponya appeared before the Commission for Cultural, Religious and Linguistic (CRL) communities on Monday after a viral video last month showed him attempting to chase Mahlangu out of the mall as he was dressed in revealing traditional Ndebele garb.
In the video, Maponya described Mahlangu’s dress as “indecent” and attempted to have him kicked out of the mall, with guards.
A Clicks manager came to Mahlangu’s rescue and allowed him to shop at the store and the store chain filed a formal complaint with Redefine Properties, who own the mall, a day after the incident.
Maponya has been on suspension since.
“I did not disrespect Thando, I asked him to cover up because it is not normal for people to be dressed like that,” he said, explaining that it appeared Mahlangu had been partially naked.
“I spoke to Thando for three minutes and I asked him to cover up for the benefit of other customers,” he said.
He later apologised, pleading ignorance.
“Our country has got different cultures. There is a lot of work to be done. I acted upon lack of knowledge, I wouldn’t say ignorance. Had I known the context behind his dress code, I would have acted differently.
“I apologise sincerely. It was not my intention to make him uncomfortable at the centre. Had I known better, I would have acted differently,” he said.
CRL Commission chairperson, Professor Luka David Mosoma, said a lesson in tolerance and cultural diversity had been taught through this incident.
“If you knew, you would not have acted the way you did,” he said, with Maponya agreeing. “When we talk about cultural diversity, nothing is excluded. When we come to do this as South Africans it is part of what ought to be. It is the tapestry and the beauty of this country.
“What happened must be seen as something of a lesson or a teaching aid for every South African. Diversity is not just a theory, it is real.
“This is a teaching aid, even for those that are not involved, we need to appreciate, tolerate and live side-by-side as South Africans.
“I appreciate your humility and the fact that you say, I did not know. South Africa must know that you do not intolerate other people simply because you do not know,” he said.
“Rather, take the person to your office and ask the person to explain what is this and let them explain this is my culture, this is how we dress, and then you say thank you, you may go,” said Mosoma.
The hearing at the CRL Commission continues.