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Estate agents to sign anti-racism pledge

Screengrab of Rebosa's pledge against racism that is mandatory for all estate agents to sign.

Screengrab of Rebosa's pledge against racism that is mandatory for all estate agents to sign.

Published Apr 7, 2016


Cape Town - Racist behaviour in the property industry has compelled the Real Estate Business Owners in SA (Rebosa) to take a stand against acts of discrimination, with the aim of making it mandatory for estate agents, nationally, to take a pledge against racism.

The pledge, which was launched two months ago, was created in the wake of the racist remarks made by former estate agent Penny Sparrow, who on Facebook described black beachgoers as “monkeys”.

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Rebosa chief executive Jan le Roux said: “Everybody I met felt terrible about the Penny Sparrow saga and how badly it affected our industry… to address this problem agents in general can show clients the pledge.”

Rebosa, formed in 2012, comprises national property companies including 500 smaller businesses and about 15 000 estate agents.

The pledge reads: “I pledge to work towards eliminating discrimination, whether by reason of race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, nationality, disability, age or religion… I pledge to aggressively promote professionalism in the real estate industry and work towards creating a robust environment, free from discrimination in all its forms.”

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However, Le Roux said sellers often dictated conditions of sale to the agents who then had to make a moral choice.

“Sometimes sellers/landlords can state they don’t want black prospective renters or buyers. And, of course, the agent has to take mandate from the seller/landlord,” Le Roux said.

Incidents of estate agents discriminating against potential property buyers based on their race continue to surface across the country. On Wednesday, the Cape Argus spoke to Thandi Nkomo, of Moorreesburg, who said an estate agent had treated her unfairly.

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Moorreesburg is about 100km outside Cape Town.

Nkomo said they sold their house in Moorreesburg because of the distance her husband had to travel every day to work in Woodstock.

“I saw an advertisement about a house to rent in Paarl online and when I enquired about the house I was told there were people who lived in it so I wouldn’t be able to view it,” she said.

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She said a Pam Golding estate agent told her the tenants were moving out at the end of the month or might even stay longer.

Nkomo said after she saw the advert still displayed on the website, she asked her white friend to call and enquire about the house.

“My friend called the same estate agent on Tuesday and she was told she could view the house today (Thursday) and she was very shocked to hear that,” she said.

Nkomo said 90 percent of the estate agents she spoke to about a possible house to rent “kept on changing their stories” when they realised she was black.

“I was rejected without them even checking if I qualified for the property or not,” said Nkomo.

She said she had a frustrating experience trying to find a new home for her family.

Nkomo said Pam Golding chief executive Andrew Golding apologised about the incident. He told her they were disassociating themselves from the agent and would conduct an internal investigation.

Golding reiterated the sentiment to the Cape Argus.

“The Pam Golding Property group does not tolerate racism in any shape or form and is urgently investigating this matter toascertain the facts and also to investigate the allegations.”

Last year, actress Bonnie Mbuli, in a series of tweets, told a story of how she was evicted from her apartment because of her skin colour.

She claimed that after searching for a place in the southern suburbs, she found one, paid a deposit and moved in.

Mbuli said she was then asked to provide identity documents and a work permit for the nanny she was living with. After hiring a lawyer, Mbuli said, she was given notice to vacate the premises in a week.

Le Roux said property companies had always had a code of conduct they abided by, but sometimes the problem was with the sellers or landlords.

“People sometimes think the agents are racist. I am yet to see an agent who can say ‘I don’t want your money’.

Le Roux said the agents then had to make the moral decision “to comply with the mandate or not to, and miss thecommission”.

He said, however, with the pledge they were motivating agents to educate their clients.

Property companies such as Pam Golding, Rawson Properties and Seeff Properties are signatories of the equality pledge.

While Le Roux could not say exactly how many estate agents had signed the pledge, he said close to 700 Seeff agents had signed.

Seeff Properties had initially identified an opportunity to provide education and insight to consumers in the previously disadvantaged sector, who may not be familiar with the benefits and opportunities associated with property.

The pilot project was started in Khayelitsha.

Seeff’s national marketing manager, Ted Frazer, said: “We quickly realised that this initiative would need to be a component of a far greater strategy, aimed at elevating our brand’s overall relevance to the previously disadvantaged consumer, nationally.

“We thus formed an internal transformation committee with a view to looking at ways to create real value to this sector, specifically in creating meaningful career opportunities and related training.”

Rawson Properties managing director, Tony Clarke said the company condemned all forms of discrimination.

“We do not tolerate any forms of discrimination.

“Negative statements or actions depicting racism are not in line with our culture and value system and we are committed to making sure no client is ever discriminated against based on his or her race.”

Mayor Patricia de Lille said people should take action against racism.

The mayor has established a desk in her office to assist people with investigating complaints and incidents of racism.

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