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Alleged abuse of workers at RocoMamas Summerstrand

By Afikile Lugunya - Feb 23, 2018
Alleged abuse of workers at RocoMamas Summerstrand

A case of crimen injuria is currently under investigation by Port Elizabeth police after an employee at a local restaurant alleged a manager at the eatery had willfully abused her and her sister's dignity by using obscene or racially offensive language against them.

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) has since been roped in 'to defend the workers' at the Summerstrand franchise of popular restaurant chain, RocoMamas.

“The management of RocoMamas is not professional. They don’t know how to talk to people in a professional manner,” Thandokazi Mpupa, who was working as a Kitchen Manager at the restaurant, told RNEWS.

Mpupa and a colleague further accused two white managers at the restaurant, whose names are known to RNEWS, of passing homophobic remarks and racially abusing workers. One of the managers has since left the outlet.

“If you are black, all the ideas that you come up with get ignored. When they discuss business related stuff, all the black managers are ignored and have no input. So, I ended up asking myself ‘why I’m a Kitchen Manager while things carry on like this’,” she said.

“The staff do not get lunch breaks; if you start your shift at 08:00, they expect you to knock off at 16:00 and that is the only time when you get a break.”

Mpupa said that before the EFF helped them to join the Security Officers Civil Rights & Allied Workers Union (SOCRAWU), working conditions were worse as she was once forced to work a straight 18-hour shift and was not allowed to take a lunch break.

“That day, I arrived at RocoMamas at around 4am because we had a breakfast booking and only left when it became quiet at 10pm – which is when we closed.”

Mpupa said that she has worked at the restaurant since it opened about three years ago. Things were fine then, but began deteriorating for the black staff, she added.

“Black people work more hours than anyone else in the restaurant and there are things black staff are not informed about - black managers are the ones, who continuously do the closing shifts,” she described.

Coincidentally, Mpupa’s boyfriend also worked at RocoMamas.

“A former manager once called me a stupid b**ch after accusing me of giving burgers to my boyfriend,” she said and accused franchisee, Louis Barkhuizen, of turning a blind eye to staff abuse.

“At the hearing with Louis, the manager was absent. I was the only one, who was present at the meeting and I could not believe it when he asked me, ‘what’s the big deal?’

”When I asked him if he has daughters, he said he has two, but he failed to answer my follow up question about how he would feel if their superiors would call them b**ches in front of their colleagues.”

She said that after the hearing, the manager wrote a letter of apology and “threw it in my face”. She refused to accept it.

“It was clear that he didn’t mean the apology, he was just doing it. So, I took the matter to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) ... I haven’t forgiven him,” Mpupa said.

“At that hearing, the CCMA representative went outside to smoke with the manager. When they came back, he told me to drop the case ‘because there is no case there’. I was left confused as it seemed like they had some form of agreement between them.”

Mpupa said that she was to later bump heads with this same manager again at the restaurant, which led to a case being laid with the police.

“My mistake was to say ‘I don’t care’ when he spoke to me.”

She claimed that the manager called Barkhuizen and told him that he was tired of Mpupa and her attitude. She claims, Barkhuizen’s response was that the manager must find a way to get her fired.

“He then returned to me and said that I was playing with fire and I must be prepared to deal with the consequences,” Mpupa narrated, adding that this same manager once called her sister, “a bloody kaf**r” when she came over to the restaurant.

“I went to the police to open a case of defamation of character and that is when he resigned.”

She said that after some time, she called the investigating officer, who was handling the case to do a follow up and was apparently told the case was dropped without her knowledge – and she has never seen the investigating officer since.

However, Port Elizabeth police confirmed to RNEWS that a case of crimen injuria was still under investigation.

Meanwhile, a waiter at the restaurant, Kwakhanya Xanise, alleged that another manager at the restaurant continues to make his life and that of the other staff unbearable.

Xanise, who is gay, claims that the manager once told him that “you are confused about your gender”.

“I started to work at RocoMamas mid-November and it was a good place to work at. My problem started when this manager came in to fill in for someone.

“One of the waiters made a joke, we all laughed and I laughed louder. He then turned to me and said that I was screaming more than the ladies, which I took as a joke, so I laughed it off,” he told RNEWS.

“But, he then repeated it – this time, he was shouting at me, after we had gone outside. So, I told my colleagues, who advised me to write a letter to senior management.”

Xanise accused the manager of also taking tables away from him because “he couldn’t multi-task” and when he raised his concern he claims, he was verbally abused.

“He was being unfair by taking my tables; in the process, he also called me names, like ‘mofi’ and said that he doesn’t care...

“I wanted to explain to him what was going on, but he got angry, told me that I don’t have a right to talk back at him and if he wants, he can fire me anytime. So, I decided that I have to write the grievance letter.”

Xanise claims that when Barkuizen heard his grievance, he sided with the manager.

“He said that I don’t have a right to write grievance letters. He also said that I have an attitude and that must be the reason why I no longer work where I was working before,” he told RNEWS.

“The manager [continued] to call me names and that traumatised me. I even told my mom and she wanted me to quit the job, but I couldn’t because I need the money, no one is working at home – but, I can’t live like this.”

RNEWS asked him about the alleged racism at the restaurant; he said that he didn’t think there was any racism – adding that it was perhaps because, he is not aware of what happens at management level.

Mpupa and Xanise indicated to RNEWS that staff at the restaurant were aware of the abuse, but would never speak out for fear of losing their jobs. Apparently, the restaurant also makes unfair and unexplained deductions from their workers' salaries among other issues of concern.

RNEWS could not ascertain whether the claims by the workers reflected how all the staff at the restaurant felt or reflected the feelings of a disgruntled group.

'We protect the working class'

Speaking for SOCRAWU Port Elizabeth, Thokozani Nogoqa, said that, as SOCRAWU, they strive to ensure that workers are treated with dignity and respect.

“We are going to refer the matter to the CCMA … it is going to be the workers' call to refer the matter [of abuse] to the CCMA or to refer the matter to the Labour Court,” Nogoqa said.

However, some of the disgruntled workers, have since opted to approach the local EFF saying that the party "gets things done - faster".

Speaking for the EFF, Nkosiyoxolo Mncam, told RNEWS; “The aim of the Economic Freedom Fighters is to protect the working class because it is within us to make sure that our people are protected. It is our role as the EFF to make sure that no one is going to take advantage of the working class.”

He added that the EFF makes follow-ups after they have received a complaint.

The party has since visited the RocoMamas premises on several occasions in a bid to resolve the matter.

“Protecting the dignity of black people is very important to us, RocoMamas should have known better than to treat our people like they are nothing and we are going to deal with them.

“Workers don’t leave their homes because they have nothing better to do, but because they want to put bread on the table and we [the EFF] refuse to watch our people suffer,” he added.

“We are not violent, we have not been violent and it shows because no one was arrested even though Barkhuizen called the police on us several times.”

'I fear for my staff and customers - but won't tolerate intimidation'

Meanwhile, Louis told RNEWS that it was his first time hearing of the allegations that he pays a blind eye to grievances raised by his staff.

He further said that he was concerned that the unhappy staff had instead chosen to involve the EFF in a labour matter.

“The EFF is very active in this area of Port Elizabeth and I don’t know what their agenda is. I have on several occasions asked the EFF members to contact the labour union if they have a problem with how we treat our staff  - I really don’t know what their problem with me is,” Barkuizen described.

“We do have an active labour staff union, but we have one or two staff members that decided to rather go to the EFF instead of going to the union. We are busy dealing with [any issues at the restaurant] and all that is necessary.”

He said that the EFF were making it hard for him to run his business - which is also a source of income for the same workers that they say they are representing.

“We don’t feel safe and my concern is for the rest of the employees and for our customers. When you go to a restaurant, you want to be able to dine in peace and be able to enjoy your meal in peace and these EFF guys come and spoil the situation for you?” Barkhuizen told RNEWS.

“At the end of the day, [my responsibility] is to keep my staff safe as well as the customers. I’m not going to tolerate intimidation...”