The Constitutional Court has stated that how an employee takes responsibility for their racist conduct is a key factor in determining whether they should be fired. File photo.

South Africa’s highest court has ruled that a white man who called a colleague a “swart man” was justifiably dismissed, primarily because he lied about saying those words and then showed no remorse for his conduct.

This ruling is likely to be used as a basis for alarmist arguments that political correctness has gone too far. But that interpretation completely misconstrues what is again a powerful warning to those guilty of racist conduct to own up, take responsibility and genuinely apologise – or  face the consequences.

It also makes a powerful statement about how South Africa’s apartheid past, and the social dynamics it gave birth to, must be a factor when considering whether conduct is racist or not.

The ruling follows the effective two-year sentence imposed on real estate agent Vicki Momberg, who was caught on camera using the k-word 48 times.