Pretoria – "We are not racist. We have been here for 30 years and this is the first time something like this has happened.”
So said principle of the Silverton office of Sue and Dick Home Finders, Joleen Stapelberg, following a “whites only” advertisement that caused outrage on social media this week.
Not wanting to elaborate on its suspicions, the company cried foul and blamed sabotage. It claimed that the offensive advert was posted without anyone’s knowledge.
The estate agency came under fire for the “Only whites please” statement on a rental ad for an upmarket property in La Montagne in Pretoria East.
The owner of the three-bedroom townhouse, going for R9800 a month, made her preferences clear; only whites and no dogs.
The advert sparked social media outrage, with Twitter and Facebook users labelling it racist and asking the government and other stakeholders to intervene.
Joining calls for white people to stop being racist was Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa.
He took to his Twitter page to say: “We denounce this racist ‘whites only’ advert placed by Dick and Sue Home Finders on the Private Property website. It’s dreadful and intolerable.”
In reaction to the outrage, Stapelberg on Thursday told the Pretoria News that the company was investigating the matter.
“We are dismayed by the comments and publications regarding the accusations of racism linked to our business.
“We are investigating the matter and will in due course and in the appropriate forum, deal with the issues. We first want to obtain advice from various experts,” she said.
The disclosure of further information could prejudice the investigation, she said.
“For the time being and pending finalisation of the investigation, which includes possible sabotage of our software and/or online presence, the agency would like to reaffirm unequivocally that it distances itself from any form of racism."
“We will not hesitate to take the necessary legal steps against any person or entity, directly or indirectly, for prejudicing our business.”
Stapelberg has called on “any member of the public who can assist with the investigation to bring any relevant information to our attention” to step forward.
Stapelberg did not want to elaborate on whether they suspected an outsider for being responsible for the offensive ad.
An estate agent at the company Allen Bernardus, who called himself a “black African”, said he grew up under apartheid and knew what racism was.
“I have had difficult times under apartheid and I will not stand for racism. But I can tell you the people here are not racists. I have worked here for 20 years and I will not work for racists. More than 90% of our clients are indigenous people. I invite people to come here and look for themselves,” Bernardus said.
The original listing, which included details of the estate agent Eliza Scheun, was posted on the Private Property website. It was later removed by the property site, which said it didn't condone the phrasing.
While the ad caused a stir on social media, the real estate Business Owners of South Africa said advertisements like the one in question were “absolutely deplorable and by no means reflective of the attitude or inclination of estate agents in general”.
Head of Lawyers for Human Rights Jacob van Garderen said the advertisement was a reminder that racism was still a major problem in the country.
“This is not the first time that we see complaints of racism against an estate agent. We are more than two decades into our democracy and we would expect not to see such cruel examples of racism. This kind of attitude belongs in the past.”
Van Garderen said an immediate investigation into the incident should be launched and the guilty party should be brought to book.
Gail Smith, of the South African Human Rights Commission, couldn't confirm whether a complaint had been laid against the estate agency.