A Perminisions of Ancestors

November 10, 2010

Imagine this situation: you are running a medium-sized business and one of your employees comes to you with an unusual request. She says she has been seeing visions and that she spoke to a priest who advised her to go on a Christian Outreach Revival camp which would last for a month. She has no annual leave left, so she wishes to take unpaid leave. You are in the middle of your busiest season and you can’t spare her for more than a week, which is duly offered. Your employee goes to the camp without permission, and during her absence a disciplinary hearing is held as a result of which the employee is dismissed for being absent from work without leave.


This seems to me to be fair. Why should special allowance be made for an employee in order for her to indulge her superstitions? I’m betting that if this actually happened, the labour court would, rightly, uphold the employee’s dismissal.

However, this did not happen, but something similar did. Johanna Mmoledi was employed as chef de partie by the Kievits Kroon Country Estate. She claimed to have visions and was advised to go on a traditional healer’s course for a month. She duly applied for a month’s unpaid leave, was told she could have a week, took the month and was dismissed. When she returned she gave her employers a letter from a member of the North West Dingaka (traditional healers’) Association which read:

This serves to certify that Mmoledi was seen by me and was diagnosed to have a perminisions of ancestors.

Mmoledi’s union declared a dispute and the case went to mediation. Mmoledi claimed that she was justified in being off work on the grounds that she was sick, or feared that she would become so if she failed to attend the course. Her employers insisted that there were no grounds for believing that Mmoledi was sick, and just what the hell did “perminisions” mean, anyway? The commissioner, bizarrely, found in favour of Mmoledi, saying that the employer lacked empathy and understanding of cultural diversity and that Mmoledi was justified in absenting herself from work “rather than risking the wrath of the ancestors.” Well, this is no great surprise—everyone knows the bizarre and fantastical shapes into which the CCMA will fold itself in order to find for an employee (sorry, wekka.)

The case was taken on review to the labour court where, unbelievably, Judge Ellem Francis upheld the ruling of the commissioner. Finding that Mmoledi was justified in absenting herself, he said, “This case sadly shows what happens when cultures clash in the workplace.” Perhaps the judge considered the culture of actually pitching up for work when you are expected to to be unimportant in the context of this case, or perhaps he thought a belief in the “wrath of ancestors” trumped all other considerations. Or perhaps he didn’t think at all. This was not so much a “clash of cultures”, it was a clash of stupidity and common sense, a clash which stupidity won.

We hear various government ministers and trades union officials whining that despite growth in the economy, employment continues to stagnate. This case is an excellent illustration of why this state of affairs exists. What employer in his right mind would hire someone of Johanna Mmoledi’s ilk when he can possibly avoid doing so? Businesses continue to replace labour with capital wherever it is possible to do so, resulting in high unemployment, poverty, crime, and all the misery that those things bring in their wake.

As usual, our politicians are too stupid to realise that this is a problem of their own making.

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Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License


November 2, 2010

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A girl can be sued over accusations she ran over an elderly woman with her training bicycle when she was 4 years old, a New York Supreme Court justice has ruled.
The ruling by King’s County Supreme Court Justice Paul Wooten stems from an incident in April 2009 when Juliet Breitman and Jacob Kohn, both aged four, struck an 87-year-old pedestrian, Claire Menagh, with their training bikes.
Menagh underwent surgery for a fractured hip and died three months later.

Johannesburg – A man apparently chopped his dog’s back legs off because she “stole” food from a neighbour in a squatter camp outside Sabie.
The female Africanis dog lay helplessly for more than a week behind the hut of her owner, Alfred Maganzi, 65, before residents of the Fok-fok squatter camp called the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).

Canis africanis

On the face of it these two news stories seem to have nothing in common. Half a planet apart, one a silly ruling by an overeducated first-world judge, the other a horrific act by an uneducated, unemployed third-world man; but at the root both made the same mistake: they failed to understand the nature of responsibility.

In order for responsibility to exist, the responsible agent must be able to understand that his actions will have consequences, and be able to make a reasonable assessment of what those consequences might be. In addition, to be held criminally responsible, he must make a conscious choice to perpetrate an act despite being aware that it will or may have adverse consequences.

Neither of those is true in either of these cases. Dogs’ and children’s brains are insufficiently advanced to be capable of anything but the most rudimentary reasoning, and to suggest that a four-year-old human or a dog is capable of performing a sophisticated analysis of cause and effect is ludicrous. When a dog is hungry its instinct will cause it to seek food, and if the only food available is in the hut of a neighbour, then it will take and eat it regardless of any human notions of ownership. (My dog Doofus, coincidentally also an Africanis, took and ate our Christmas chicken that was thawing out atop the oudoor barbecue. Scallywag and I had to make do with a Christmas meal of pizza and roast potatoes.) Similarly, children have very limited spacial awareness; they keep bumping into things and wandering around without looking where they are going. They surely cannot be held responsible for this—a characteristic of childhood behaviour.

However, it is reasonable to chastise dog or child for behaviour that we as adults would like to curb, in the interests of modifying future behaviour. We would like our children to know that running over old ladies with wheeled vehicles is not always a good thing, and we would like our dogs not to go around, like the Italian government, promiscuously gobbling up everything in sight regardless of where it is found. Mild rebuke is called for; suing and dismemberment are both grotesquely disproportionate.

I’m not familiar with the law in New York, but I presume there must be some legal guidelines as to the age at which a child becomes responsible (either in civil or criminal proceedings) for its actions, but I cannot believe that threshold would be as low as four, especially when they are deemed too immature to have sex until they are 18, or buy a beer until they are 21, or take marijuana ever. I don’t suppose we will ever know what caused the judge’s brainfart in actually believing that this child is responsible, but I’m quite sure his ruling will be overturned when, if ever, proceedings are initiated against the child, and no one will be the worse off. (The lawyers, as always, will be very much better off.)

The same cannot be said for the dog, which was put down after her week of agony. How any human being can be so devoid of empathy as to perform an act of such barbarism is beyond me—I do not have the mental equipment to understand it. I can only assume or hope that it is the result of mental illness, not an evil nature, and that Mr Maganzi receives, in either case, the treatment he deserves.

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Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License