Bullard: Sorry, but I'm suing

By Justine Gerardy

Canned writer David Bullard has apologised to readers of a column that got him axed for racism. But now he plans to sue the Sunday Times for breaching labour law.

"I couldn't comprehend that it would be offensive to so many people and that's what the apology was about," Bullard, 55, said on Friday.

"It's driven home that the days of apartheid, which I never suffered under, are still real to people. And one has to be sensitive to that."

Bullard apologised in a national newspaper for his recent column on pre-colonial South Africa. The column cost him his 14-year contract with Sunday Times.

Three complaints have also been lodged with the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC).

Bullard now plans to sue Sunday Times publisher Avusa in the labour court for two years of lost income.

"We believe we've got a strong case. We're up for a fight because we think we're going to win," he said.

The apology was a different issue and the legal case was due to belief that labour law had been breached, he said. "You can't sack someone over the phone, without a warning or calling them in. They zapped the middle finger to the Employment Act."

Sunday Times editor Mondli Makhanya called Bullard to tell him he was fired and his Out to Lunch column had been cancelled.

The newspaper apologised to readers on Sunday and Makhanya took responsibility for having allowed "poison to pollute" the newspaper.

The column heavily stereotyped black people, with references to "simple tribesmen" and suggestions that a family who lost a child would simply mourn for a week before having another child.

Bullard on Friday also apologised to Makhanya, whom he described as a friend and editor he enormously respected.

The past week had been ghastly, hectic, painful and expensive, Bullard said.

He also apologised in a televised debate on Wednesday and appeared on TV and radio shows. His column, racist attitude and firing were debated in the media.

However, Bullard said he did not regret writing a column that was meant to stimulate debate.

"I still stand by that. What I regret is that so many people took offence," he said.

Columnists were open to misinterpretation and South Africans needed to "grow up a bit" and "get a sense of humour", he said.

But a column should not offend the majority of its readers and the pre-colonial piece had been a calculated risk, which had not worked.

"Whether it was racist is open to debate but I have apologised to those who found it racist," he explained.

Bullard said he welcomed an open discussion in the format of the Forum of Black Journalists debate.

"I would like it to go to the SAHRC. I don't see them as the Spanish Inquisition - I think the debate should be out in the open."

SAHRC chief executive Tseliso Thipanyane, who spoke to Bullard on Friday, said the body might accept Bullard's apology if the three complainants did so.

"The hurtful remarks definitely violated the Equality Act and were racist in nature," said Thipanyane.

"Before we saw the apology we had decided to recommend that the matter be taken to the equality court. That's how seriously we took the matter."

The Sunday Times would have also gone to the equality court if they had not apologised, he said.

Since the column's canning, a fifth imprint of 2 000 copies of Bullard's book had been ordered and he was getting more speaking engagements.

"From a commercial point of view, it's been phenomenal - you couldn't have bought the publicity."

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