A motoring journalist accused of racism has resigned from the South African Guild of Motoring Journalists (SAGMJ).
Bernard Hellberg Sr quit his membership as the guild was preparing a disciplinary hearing against him for alleged racist comments in articles and on social media.
Hellberg Sr, a contributor to Driven magazine and the SA Express Airways’ Indwe inflight magazine, was in December 2017 accused by another journalist, Thegandra Naidoo, of making racist statements. Naidoo, who had been fired from his job some years ago for a social media post in which he threatened violence against motorcycle riders, compiled a dossier which included Hellberg Sr reportedly comparing blacks to gorillas. Also, in a comment to an article in the Mail and Guardian posted on Facebook in 2017, he said of the Umkhonto Wesizwe Military Veterans Association: “The tricky part will be to get the bush out of these dancing bunnies”.
His comment on a 2016 Politicsweb article read: “Thank you for the vulgar, typically African 70 IQ response. I would have not expected anything less from a follower of the Thief in Chief,” and another comment about Indians read: “Those fellas probably worship rats as reincarnated relatives. Adds new meaning to the term rat race”.
Naidoo said he’d lodged a complaint about these posts late in 2017 with the SAGMJ but had received no response. According to Naidoo, this was because the chairman of the guild, Bernard Hellberg Jr, is Hellberg’s son and also his employer. Alleging a cover-up, Naidoo then approached the Human Rights Commission.
In reply the guild this week confirmed it had received Naidoo’s complaint in 2017 containing a single screen shot of a social media post where Hellberg Sr commented on another post using two emoji icons in his comment.
“Following the receipt of this complaint, the Chairman, Mr Bernie Hellberg Jr, in consultation with the Vice-chairman, Mr Eugene Herbert, and the guild office, communicated with Mr Naidoo by email and telephone,” says the SAGMJ statement.
“Mr Hellberg Sr was subsequently advised of the complaint and reprimanded, but regrettably Mr Naidoo was not advised. Although the Committee has resolved that the Chairman followed procedure in this regard, it is regretted that the complainant had not initially been advised of the outcome,” it continued.
“Subsequent to the initial complaint, the recent publication of an article in the media on 15 April 2018, brought to light new allegations of alleged racist comments. Following these additional allegations, the SAGMJ acted immediately to address the issue … and a disciplinary committee was formed.
“Mr Bernard Hellberg Sr responded by tendering his resignation from the SAGMJ with immediate effect.”
The SAGMJ said the resignation has brought the disciplinary procedure to a close, as the body is not mandated to further pursue matters against a nonmember.
"The guild is a non-profit, non-racial and multicultural organisation that embraces cultural diversity and rejects, in the strongest terms, any forms of discrimination based on race, gender, age, religion, or sexual orientation,” the guild statement continued.
“While the guild recognises all South Africans’ right of expression, members are cautioned that the guild will not tolerate racist or otherwise discriminatory comments made by its members and will pursue such infringements with vigour.”