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