Mr Van Tonder, you’ve let your Spur franchise-holders down

Kallie Kriel says CEO should resign over his continued mishandling of the incident

Spur boss should resign for the sake of franchise holders

It has seemingly become fashionable under the Zuma government in South Africa for leaders not to accept responsibility for their own mistakes and to rather try and blame everyone else. It is evident from Spur CEO Pierre van Tonder’s open letter –published in various media – to Dr Dirk Hermann, Solidarity’s Chief Executive, that the former refuses in typical Zuma style to accept any responsibility for the dilemma that he has plunged Spur franchise holders as well as employees into. Van Tonder’s attempts to exonerate himself hold everyone from conservative people and residents of certain suburbs to Hermann himself falsely up as scapegoats for this debacle.   

Let me put it on record: In terms of this debacle, I am firmly on the side of the Spur franchise holders and their employees. Here I have to declare my interests: I know a few Spur franchise holders personally. They are the salt of the earth and together with their employees work literally day and night to make a success of their businesses. Apart from the current difficult economic climate, franchise holders are subject to almost dictatorial prescriptions and high costs which are forced upon them by Spur’s head office. The last thing that Spur franchise holders and their employees now need is for Spur’s CEO to further alienate a large portion of their clientele through his thoughtless actions.  

Yes, Van Tonder’s actions have been thoughtless. Spiteful people now want to present any criticism in this regard as an attempt to justify the actions of the man who misbehaved himself in the Texamo Spur. Anything but! I also don’t want to subject my family to this type of behaviour when we visit my children’s favourite restaurant. The point is rather that I also do not want to subject my children to the behaviour of the woman – the other misbehaving party. It is therefore reasonable for my family as well as other families who have been supporting Spur for many years to expect the company to have acted against both culprits.

Minority groups in this country are subjected daily to double standards when it comes to racism. Racially-obsessed politicians, a large part of the media, and even the Human Rights Commission itself, make a big fuss about incidents of alleged white racism, while racism against minority communities is ignored. In a context then where many people are increasingly fed up with these double standards, it is understandable that many Spur customers from minority communities were upset at the company’s biased handling of this matter.

Most members of minority communities are moderate people who believe in mutual recognition and that everyone’s dignity should be respected. For this reason, neither I nor most others would expect Van Tonder to take the side of a white customer against a black customer. What I and many others would hope to see, however, is for Spur to treat its customers equally.

In Van Tonder’s desperate attempts to exonerate himself, he insinuates in his open letter that it is Hermann who is threatening the jobs of Spur employees. This is less than honest. Hermann commented on the Spur debacle only after the media has reported on Spur experiencing a customer stay away. Neither did Hermann promote a boycott of Spur; he simply expressed his displeasure with the way in which Spur’s top management handled the issue. The origin of the crisis is and remains Van Tonder’s biased response to this unpleasant incident at Texamo Spur.

The responsible thing for all role-players in this debate to now do is help see to it that hard-working Spur franchise holders and their employees do not fall victim to the thoughtless actions of Spur’s CEO. Loyal customers who feel wronged by Van Tonder’s actions cannot be won back if Van Tonder continues to try and exonerate himself while branding them as so-called rightists. Neither does it help that Van Tonder sees it fit to have his handling of the matter investigated by someone who does not enjoy the confidence of much of the Afrikaans community.

Even worse is Van Tonder’s enlisting the help and advice of anti-Afrikaans activists to manage the media relations for his open letter. If Van Tonder is as worried about the fate of Spur franchise holders and their employees as he claims to be, then the time has come to do the right thing. He should acknowledge his mistake, take responsibility for his actions, and resign. Only then can this tasteless incident be forgotten and can everyone once again develop a taste for life at Spur. 

Kallie Kriel is CEO of AfriForum.

A version of this article first appeared in Afrikaans on Maroela Media