'Had I known, I would've acted differently': mall manager who humiliated activist, Thando Mahlangu
Boulders Shopping Centre manager Jose Maponyane told the CRL Rights Commission on Monday he acted to protect the rights of other customers as Thando Mahlangu was unusually dressed.
“When I saw Thando’s dress code, he was unusually dressed. There was no cultural event around Midrand which could have sparked the idea that there was a cultural event. It was an isolated situation and it was one that I have never seen.
“When I noticed that we live in an environment where people are mentally disturbed and I am sorry to use the word crazy, hence I was asking myself if he was normal because I have never seen anything like that,” he said.
Maponyane, alongside his lawyer, appeared before the commission as its hearings continued on Ndebele activist Thando Mahlangu being barred from entering the shopping centre while wearing African attire in March.
Mahlangu gave his testimony during earlier hearings.
Maponyane was given a chance to testify and respond to allegations raised by Mahlangu. He started by apologising, saying video footage of the incident was taken out of context.
“On March 24 at about 12.15pm, I was buying lunch for my team members. As I was waiting in the queue for the order, I could hear a loud exclamation from the kiosk from a lady, like a surprise. It got my attention, then I noticed a gentleman and I looked and could see that his front area was not covered and he was wearing a small item that looked like underwear and a blanket,” he said.
Maponyane said he then asked security to go and ask Mahlangu to cover up. He said he was obligated as the centre manager to address the situation when security returned to say Mahlangu refused to cover up.
“I went there, had a discussion with Mahlangu and asked him nicely to cover up as it was a public space and he said no, it was his tradition,” he said.
Maponyane said his conversation with Mahlangu lasted for about three minutes and five seconds, and he left the scene when tempers started getting frayed.
He said he had video footage indicating that customers who came into close contact with Mahlangu were surprised.
“So you could see that it was unusual, even for me I couldn’t understand if this gentleman was normal. Thando's dress code was unusual. I have seen how Ndebeles and Zulus dress, hence I was emphasising that had it been an event where he was coming from, we would have seen maybe six [or] seven guys wearing similar [clothes] to [what] he was wearing.”
Maponyane told the rights commission that he acted with a lack of knowledge.
“I acted upon lack of knowledge and I know [now] the context behind his dress code. I sincerely apologise, humbly so, to him and Mrs Masuku on how I reacted. It wasn’t my intention to make him uncomfortable. Surely if I had known better, I would have reacted better.
“I have never looked down on him. I have never disrespected him, my plea was for him to cover [up] for the sake of other customers because it was a public space. I mean no-one wants to go to a mall with his child and see that,” he said.
Commission chair Luka Mosoma said what happened should be a lesson for every South African.