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SARS case: Constitutional Court rules racism cannot be overlooked in SA

08 November 2016 - 13:42 By Roxanne Henderson

A former South African Revenue Services employee‚ fired in 2007 by then SARS commissioner Pravin Gordhan for using racist and derogatory language‚ has had the reversal of his dismissal overturned by the Constitutional Court.

In a judgment handed down by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng on Tuesday‚ Jacobus Kruger was labelled a racist for using the k-word at work in August 2007.

Kruger‚ who was an anti-smuggling officer at Cape Town International Airport‚ had called his manager Abel Mboweni the k-word.

"I don't understand how [k-words] think. A [k-word] must not tell me what to do‚" he had said.

In a disciplinary hearing Kruger pleaded guilty and was given a final written warning and placed on suspension without pay. But in October 2007 Gordhan reversed this sanction and sacked him.

After Kruger successfully challenged his dismissal at the Commission for Conciliation‚ Mediation and Arbitration and was reinstated‚ SARS approached the Labour Court and Labour Appeal Court.

In both courts SARS argued that Kruger's reinstatement was intolerable due to the seriousness of his offense‚ but failed in both appeals.

The Constitutional Court has now upheld the taxman's appeal‚ saying the seriousness of Kruger's racist remarks cannot be overlooked by the courts in a country still fighting the scourge of racism.

Mogoeng said the use of the k-word had great historical significance in South Africa‚ used previously to deligitimise and dehumanise black people.

"The use of this term captures the heartland of racism‚ it's contemptuous disregard and calculated dignity-nullifying effects on others."

He also said Kruger was dishonest when he back tracked on his admission of guilt at the CCMA‚ saying he was advised by his union representatives to plead guilty.

The Constitutional Court ordered that Kruger's reinstatement be reviewed and set aside‚ but ordered SARS to pay Kruger six months compensation because the organisation had mishandled the dismissal.