Kimberley - Director-General Justice Bekebeke said that he was “absolutely amazed” that he had to defend himself in court “for making use of an Afrikaans idiom”.
He testified in the Equality Court in Kimberley on Thursday, where he is facing charges of hate speech and discrimination following remarks he made during a strategic session that took place at the Protea Hotel in 2017.
During his address to motivate senior managers on work performance, Bekebeke had indicated that “ek meng nie met semels en varke (I do not mix with chaff and pigs), I have better things to do with my life than to descend to that level. I can assure you that, that level is lower than pigs”.
He believed that his analogy might have been misunderstood or misinterpreted by the complainants, who felt offended by the remarks.
Bekebeke indicated that he made use of euphemisms to get his point across.
“That is what I love about language, it allows me to express myself. I should not be standing here today. It is an idiom that I am entitled to use. If anyone did not understand what I was saying, they can always come to my office and ask for an explanation. I never referred to anyone as being a pig. I merely wanted to encourage staff not to associate themselves with pigs and chaff. I was exalting the staff and motivating them to aspire to greater things. To say that anyone feels hurt, is really far fetched. I had no intention to infringe on anyone’s constitutional rights,” Bekebeke testified.
“There is nothing that prevents me as the director-general from trying to absorb the best out of our colleagues so that they do the best that they can.”
He indicated that the premier at the time, Sylvia Lucas, would have understood the message that he was trying to get across, as she was well versed in Afrikaans.
“I have no idea whether I will make use of the same words again (in the future) because I often stand up without a prepared speech.”
Bekebeke added that the main complainant had frequented his office to address him on various grievances, but omitted to mention her unhappiness relating to the hate speech and discrimination charges.
“I go into every office and joke with all the staff. Why did the complainant not come to me on the day, the day after or a year after the speech was delivered?”
He pointed out that he did not notice any change in the mood inside the venue following his address.
“There was absolutely no difference. I only became aware of the complaint that was laid against me at the Commission for Gender Equality a few months ago. The Ministry at the Premier’s Office informed me about the issue, which I knew absolutely nothing about.”
The legal representative for the complainant, Tsietsie Shuping from the Commission for Gender Equality, put it to the court that Bekebeke’s choice of words was inappropriate in a workplace setting.
“Personal beliefs should not be used to characterise employees. The premier also has a duty to protect employees,” said Shuping.
He pointed out that for people whose first language was not Afrikaans, the remarks made in Bekebeke’s speech had the potential to create harm.
“An association can be drawn because ‘semels’ (chaff) is eaten by pigs.”
The senior manager and legal adviser in the Office of the Premier, Gladys Botha, indicated that she was amused by Bekebeke’s speech.
“I was not offended by the remarks nor did I feel discriminated against. Pigs are animals, chaff is what pigs eat and panties are undergarments. Taken in the correct context, there is no reason to take offence,” said Botha.
“No one came to complain to me about the speech. The mood was light. It did not seem as if the director-general had a prepared speech as he took to the podium without any documents.”
She pointed out that the managers responded with laughter to Bekebeke’s remarks about “green panties and green underwear”, where he was referring to detached workers whose only aim in life was to go to work to antagonise their fellow colleagues.
Botha believed that Bekebeke intended to encourage senior managers to strive to be better and not to associate themselves with fellow workers who were a bad influence.
“None of the participants who were addressed fitted into that category. If anyone did not understand the analogy, I would have expected them to ask for clarity.”
She added that the Commission for Gender Equality had advised the Office of the Premier to investigate the incident and take action against the director-general.
“The matter is currently in court. The internal matter is pending and is being addressed by the Office of the Premier.”