Dis-Chem board sorry for tone of leaked memo – but says no white managers’ policy to stay

Dis-Chem says it will continue to grow and remain focused on adding retail stores to its base.Photo: Simphiwe Mbokazi/African News Agency (ANA)

Dis-Chem says it will continue to grow and remain focused on adding retail stores to its base.Photo: Simphiwe Mbokazi/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Oct 17, 2022


Johannesburg – The Dis-Chem board has apologized to South Africans for the inappropriate tone used in an internal memorandum by chief executive Ivan Saltzman, in which he announced that the pharmaceutical giant was placing a moratorium on the hiring of white managers in a bid to improve its employment equity and transformation objectives.

Saltzman’s letter drew ire from white people incensed by the top-down instruction, while black people were offended by being referred to as “blacks” in the letter.

“It is evident that our organisation's efforts to effect transformation in terms of our employee profile remain inadequate in spite of the regionals making some inroads.

“Remember, we are growing at a fast rate and a few appointments other than white don't cut it. It's the ratio between white and black that counts.

“So, when no suitable black candidate is found and a white is appointed, we need several blacks just to maintain the status quo, never mind moving forward,” the CEO wrote.

According to the letter, from September 19, 2022 the company placed a moratorium on the appointment of white managers.

It also said no appointments are to be made on managerial level without the CEO’s direct approval.

It also said managers who reached their employment equity targets would be rewarded as part of their bonus structure and that attaining the target comprised at least a third of their KPA.

“This is for real; each region has a base from which to work and a target.

“We are aware that there are recruitment and succession activities currently in progress.

“With Dis-Chem being a JSE listed company, these are harsh measures and necessary if we are to remain profitable and to avoid a potential fine of 10% of turnover which would cripple the business. This is a real threat at this stage,” the CEO said in the letter.

The Dis-Chem board said the wording and tone of the letter was regrettable but they stood by the CEO.

“We acknowledge that it did not reflect our values. Its release did not follow our correct internal vetting processes and steps have been put in place to ensure that relevant checks and balances are thoroughly duly performed.

“More importantly, we sincerely regret the offence and distress it caused to so many people, including our staff and millions of loyal customers.

“We deeply value all our employees and appreciate their contribution to Dis-Chem.

“We stand by the unequivocal imperative to continue our transformation journey.

“Equality, diversity, and inclusivity are important throughout Dis-Chem, and we continue to make great strides in ensuring that we maintain progress in this area.

“We have always been cognisant of the imperative to comply with all legislation including employment equity on our journey to meet transformation targets, and with a priority of employment on merit, based on our view of giving employment preference to previously disadvantaged communities.

“We apologise for the erroneous communication which caused offence to any South African community,” said the board.

The Dis-Chem board said the pharmaceutical was built on the premise of pharmacists who care “and this philosophy always has, and always will, underpin how we operate”.