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Racism in the SA real estate industry

“I can’t find a home!” – Racism in the SA real estate industry and what the government is doing to help

 By Devan Moonsamy

Some of you may know how difficult it is to deal with real estate agents, and how hopeless one can feel when searching for a home to rent or buy. Sometimes it feels like unless you are standing in front of them with cash or an approved bond in hand you are almost invisible to them. It’s no exaggeration to say that some are sharks.

They don’t phone you back, they don’t reply to emails, they don’t seem interested in serving clients. That’s not to say all real estate agents are bad, some of very helpful. But there does seem to be an overall poor level of customer service. Perhaps because of the nature of the industry, it allows room for unethical practices.

Myself, colleagues and friends of mine have simply heart-breaking stories to tell about how dazed, hopeless and insulted we have felt trying to find a place to buy or rent. Very few real estate agents stay in contact and treat you like a human being.

A friend in Cape Town couldn’t help laughing when she read that a place 3km from the coast is, “A stone’s throw from the beach.” When questioned about this, the agent said that’s advertised for “the people from Joburg”. Apparently, Joburgers can’t tell the difference between 30m and 3 000m… One can’t believe the lies!

But there is more to this story, much more. It’s not just about lousy service and obscuring the truth. It really feels like there is racism adding to the problem. In fact, we know there is racism looking at the evidence.

For example, in Cape Town, one real estate agency advertises on its fliers that they are not racist. They explicitly state that they don’t discriminate on the basis of colour against people applying to buy in a new development. Why on earth should they feel the need to state this in their advertising?

People must be communicating bad experiences to them, experiences of being racially profiled and ignored for having a dark skin. Seeing the struggles of these folk, they explicitly advertise not to worry about this when dealing with them. On the one hand, it is a good selling point. How do real estate agents hope to make sales by ignoring over 80% of the population? On the other hand, it is a kindness of them, considering how much racism others seem to be getting away with.

It’s shocking, but not entirely unexpected when I place it in the context of my own recent experiences in trying to find a property. I have faced similar discrimination when travelling as a tourist, when shopping, and in the workplace. It may be easier for me personally to see when racism is happening because I compare it to how my white companions, especially my long-time white partner, are treated compared to me – sometimes when we are in the same room.

Various demographics almost always play a role. Young single men of all races have also related how difficult it is to find a place to rent. Why? It seems because they are male, and landlords and ladies prefer female tenants or couples. But preferably without children and pets of course.

Recently, someone gave an excellent review to a young gentleman looking for a new place. The previous landlady was very happy with him. But no matter how well she spoke about him, he kept getting turned away. If we add to this the requirement that tenants and buyers be white, it must narrow the market tremendously.

Ideally, the focus should be on who needs housing most. A decent home to live in shouldn’t be a luxury, and the property market should be needs driven. Still, many factors combine to make it difficult for the ordinary South African to secure a decent, affordable roof over their heads.

There is another inconsistency: most real estate agents are white. I didn’t deal with a single coloured, Indian or black agent in Cape Town while looking for a place. Having monitored the property market for the right place over more than two years, my employee from Cape Town also reports having dealt with just one non-white agent.

Real estate agencies have too firm a hold on property and the trends that affect it. Many people are being locked out of the market by excessive prices, the nightmare of dealing with agents, and discrimination. One factor that comes into play is that many previously whites-only areas are still largely dominated by white people. Integration takes time certainly. However, white agents have a firm hold on the property market in certain areas. They have the power to prevent non-whites from accessing housing in these neighbourhoods. All they have to do is ignore prospective non-white tenants and buyers. White agents may be overly protective of the white areas they live and work in.

It’s something which is very hard to prove of course, and it’s very hard to enforce non-discriminatory practices in an industry which is already so open to abuse.

A further question I have is why buyers can’t find private sellers and thus get around agents. There doesn’t seem to be any website or other forms of advertising for private buyers and sellers. Who is squashing this market and how are they doing so? There must be a way to remove the middle person and thus reduce costs in the housing market.

In conclusion, I would like to point out solutions to some of these problems. The government has announced the launch of its Megacities projects and various related programmes aimed specifically at helping the millions who are struggling to access housing and basic services.

What is encouraging is the Finance Linked Individual Subsidy Programme (FLISP). It is specifically aimed at first-time homebuyers who are stuck in “real estate limbo”. These are people who don’t meet the criteria for RDP housing, but who also can’t afford bond repayments. It provides this large but underserved group a chance at owning their own property.

I urge readers to find out more about the FLISP and Megacities projects to see if they meet the requirements. It looks to be a fantastic opportunity for many South Africans to finally break the chains around the real estate market.

 

Hidden Disabilities in the Workplace: The Example of Dyslexia

Click Here to view article in actual Font – Hidden Disabilities in the Workplace

Hidden Disabilities in the Workplace: The Example of Dyslexia
By Devan Moonsamy

 

There are many types of disabilities and not all affect a person’s performance at work. There are often ways to get around the obstacles associated with disabilities. There are ingenious ways to make life and work easier for people with certain challenges.

Disabilities can prevent a person from doing certain tasks or functioning in the usual way that others do, but they can learn to work around that. A disability need not prevent a person taking up employment in most cases, provided they have job opportunities and discrimination does not occur.

There are less obvious or unseen types of disabilities which others can find difficult to understand because they may notice little, if any, evidence which convinces them of the existence of the problem. This includes dyslexia (difficulty with reading), or one you may not have heard of called dyscalculia (difficulty with arithmetic), as well as mental health disorders.

 

Dyslexia affects 5% to 10% of people. Because of embarrassment and ignorance about the problem, many people with dyslexia do not get help, especially if they are labelled ‘poor students’ or ‘lazy’, and dropout. Such judgements about people with dyslexia are far from the truth.

Many people who are highly successful struggle with dyslexia, including scientist Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock (who received a knighthood from the British Queen for her work), and South African engineer Dr Hardy Johnson who has two PhDs, one in Electrical Engineering and the other in Humanities.

It’s very important to note that it is not that a person with dyslexia can’t read, but that they require time and a quiet space to do so without interruptions. Reading under pressure is the real challenge.

Allowing time to absorb information is necessary for everyone, and a person with dyslexia is equally entitled to time to allow them to absorb information as it pertains to their work without pressure being placed on them.

Sometimes the worst of a disability is happening when no one is around, in the personal struggle of the individual to overcome their hardships in order to face the world and pretend to be fine again. It is a frustrating struggle to manage and overcome what seems to come so naturally to others and which they take for granted.

Children with dyslexia are placed in a difficult position by teachers who expect them to read aloud in class, and cannot understand why they do not perform well in certain areas when they seem to be bright in everything else. Exposing a person with a disability (PWD) to embarrassing situations should be avoided as it does not help in building the person’s self-esteem which is essential in managing their problem.

In the workplace, if people with dyslexia are not able to come forward and explain their problem without fear of being judged or being seen as unsuitable for their work, it can cause problems for the individual and the organisation. Such problems are avoidable, and easily overcome with the right attitude.

There are practical ways to overcome problems related to dyslexia. As often as possible, we can communicate verbally with someone who has dyslexia or who seems to prefer other forms of communication to reading.

There are also tools to help and some are free. One tool is the OpenDyslexic font mentioned above. The font is continually being improved based on user input to make it the best possible font for its purpose. It works with Microsoft, Apple, Android and Linux apps.

This article is left-aligned because this format is better for people with reading difficulties. A large typeface is best, from size 12-point and up. It’s also good to break the text up into many paragraphs with wider spacing and to use bullet points where possible.

Getting to the point is always important these days. Waffling is now strongly discouraged in writing. Be succinct. Even in academic texts, people now expect to see plain language. Pictures and diagrams also aid learning and understanding, and they are interesting for all users, regardless of reading level.

Intuitiveness is critical when it comes to persons with disabilities in and outside the workplace. If a staff member doesn’t read a document we have given them immediately, step back and give them a chance to do so in their own time. If it’s urgent, tell them in person or by phone, and find out what their preferred communication method is. Also, establish with them an email response time they are comfortable with.

When working in a team, someone can be designated as the communications person who is there to help others, including those who may struggle with certain types of communication. The communications person can take dictation from those preferring this method.

Encourage the use of mobile voice messaging on platforms such as WhatsApp. Look for ways such as this to accommodate workers and place them in positions where they will excel rather than marginalising them.

People with dyslexia often have strengths in other areas, particularly a good memory, spatial (3D) intelligence and understanding of physics. They are also able to imagine possibilities and answers to practical problems in their mind without the aid of pen and paper or a computer. They may often recall images very clearly, while others rely on what they have converted from image to semantic (in words) or procedural (in phases) memory, which has its disadvantages in terms of creativity.

Some with dyslexia can work out solutions to complex problems, quickly running through various options, discarding those they see won’t work until they come up with the best solution. Computer modelling was developed based on this way of thinking.

The creative in people mustn’t be side-lined in today’s complex society where multidisciplinary solutions are needed to solve big problems. A major advantage comes with hiring people who have certain types of disabilities but who, as a result, develop superior capabilities in other areas. PWDs also often have a wonderful never-give-up attitude.

In training our learners, ICHAF makes use of various approaches and types of materials to help individuals with different learning styles. As dyslexia is common, it helps many learners when we use the right techniques. We keep our groups small to ensure individual attention, while the environment is always friendly, low pressure and conducive to learning.

South Africans With Albinism Keep Shining Despite Discrimination

South Africans With Albinism Keep Shining Despite Discrimination

By Devan Moonsamy – CEO the ICHAF Training Institute

Powerful messages are being sent about the reality of the condition, conscientising people, and making a real difference in fighting prejudices

 

People who have the condition albinism have a complete or partial absence of skin, hair and eye pigment. It is considered a disability because of how it affects the person’s health. In Africa, people with albinism are subject to very poor treatment including discrimination and worse in some cases.

There still exists a strong feeling among many today that lighter skin is better. This is very sad, and it’s somewhat surprising then that people with albinism are marginalised in African society. South Africans have been guilty of colour discrimination. We are no stranger to the problem. In the case of albinism among African people, they are often rejected, poorly treated in school and the community, and their families even fear for the person’s life.

Just this year, a sangoma was charged with the kidnap and murder of two children with albinism. Shockingly, their bodies were to be used for muthi. The sangoma has been labelled a fraud and not a real practitioner of traditional African medicine and healing. Sangomas have struggled with a bad reputation because of those who use unethical and criminal methods. Most sangomas don’t do such things though.

Government and sangomas themselves are trying to address these problems, maintain professionalism, and fight criminal elements. Awareness raising about the facts of albinism is critical, but there has been staunch opposition. It’s quite frightening to experience this first-hand, as I have in trying to address sangomas on the issue recently.

Many also still believe that people with albinism and their families are bad luck or bewitched. People with albinism and other disabilities are often kept hidden away because their families are afraid. This is a problem in communities where they are thus not able to leave home, even to attend school, and they are often neglected in other ways too.

 

Emalahleni community outraged by the murder of children with albinism

However, in the murder cases mentioned above, the community was infuriated. They protested outside the court, and they wanted to deal with the accused sangoma themselves. The crowd was so angry that they wanted him dead, and police had to use rubber bullets to disperse them. It seems that some communities have no tolerance for such crimes against children, regardless of the disability the victims had.

Discrimination can start from birth for an African person with albinism. It is vital that we urge duty bearers to address the problem as comprehensively as possible. Education initiatives are being conducted, but there is ongoing resistance. People are still convinced that albinism is not a medical condition needing to be managed, but that it somehow warrants discrimination and maltreatment. If they attend school, it can be a very traumatic experience for a child with albinism, and it is fraught with challenges, including that they cannot spend much time outside, and that they are taunted and ridiculed by other children.

 

Media partners with activists to fight prejudices

What is really great to see is that people with albinism are taking matters into their own hands and serving as activists to educate others and challenge prejudices. The African media has embraced people with albinism in recent years, especially in recognising their beauty. This may seem superficial, but the main site of contention in relation to many prejudices is the external. Certainly, the fashion world – where people with the condition are now sought after – can be shallow, but it is really making a difference in people’s views, even by the mere fact of drawing attention to them and thus valuing their appearance.

Modelling is a prestigious occupation which focusses heavily on one’s looks. Thando Hopa is a South African model with albinism who is making waves worldwide. She has modelled for skincare brand Vichy, and Audi no less to promote their vehicles. She first appeared in Marie Claire in 2012, then in Forbes Life Africa in 2013. She has had a busy career as a model. Last year she was featured on the cover of Marie Claire, and she is also in the 2018 Pirelli calendar.

While this is awesome, one wonders why it hasn’t happened sooner. The truth is that people with albinism and other disabilities have been so marginalised, even to the point where they fear leaving their home. Their families fear for their safety or are embarrassed. They may thus tend not to encourage the person to have a career, certainly not one in which they are exposed, such as in modelling. It seems that Thando Hopa has overcome these challenges, however, and family support is one of the factors in her success.

Thando isn’t just a pretty face; she’s a qualified lawyer. Modelling is her part-time occupation, which she is using to conscientising people about albinism. Seeing Thando on the cover of a major fashion magazine and in ads for Audi does make a big impression, especially on the youth. Fashion houses and magazines are the authors of many people’s views on all manner of topics.

Thando’s beauty shone from the inside out on the newsstands of thousands of shops visited by South Africans on a weekly basis. The power of this cannot be overemphasised. Even those who are prejudiced and who don’t read magazines, or hardly go online were confronted by the cover image. Marie Claire called this 2017 issue “The August Power Issue” with the tagline “Meet South Africa’s incredible future shapers”. Her being on Marie Claire – with her gorgeous blonde ‘fro, little black dress, and XL WAIF earrings – was not easily ignored when one passed the newsstand. She really stood out, and that sent a potent message to South Africans everywhere.

Thando isn’t the only model or professional with albinism shaking things up. South African Refilwe Modiselle is said to be the country’s first female runway model with albinism. Supermodel Shaun Ross from the US has appeared in two Beyoncé music videos.

Let’s keep spreading positive, truthful messages about albinism, be aware of their safety and how they are treated in schools and communities, and support artists and activists with the condition. We can overcome stigmas surrounding disabilities and integrate everyone into a happier, more united society. After all, disabilities need not keep us down; it’s how we react to them that matters.

Are All White South Africans Racist?

Are All White South Africans Racist?

By Devan Moonsamy – CEO the ICHAF Training Institute

 

Something which comes up during my diversity training sessions, and frequently in discussions among people of colour is the perception that white people are invariably racist. Some believe that Afrikaans white people are worse than the English-speakers. It would seem that this perception is based on how black people are treated. Just a look, just one single look, is often all it takes to send a clear message about how one is perceived. Just one look can cause so much pain and be highly offensive. This is to say nothing of gestures, speech and other actions. Racism can go in different directions, but people of colour are indeed often on the receiving end (Mabuza, 2017).

However, I feel that perception and reality are not necessarily the same. It would be naïve to think that everything white people say and do in relation to others is racially motivated, but racism happens often enough for many South Africans to feel that way. So what is really happening in white culture? Whatever it is, at least some of it is offensive to people of colour. Are they all either outright or closeted racists? The answer is certainly no, and we will look at evidence for this.

What we can affirmatively say is that all white people, often from a young age, are exposed to racist and biased views from parents, schoolmates, friends, colleagues, etc. What they do with these opinions is up to them. Upbringing determines much of our behaviour, but when we come of age, we are able to make up our own minds about various issues. It has been pointed out that, for example, the rape of women and children is not something the victims can bring an end to. It is up to men, as a group and as individuals, to police and correct one another so that women and children begin to feel safe around men, and so that we reach a place where men no longer feel they have to jump through hoops to secure a date.

So too with white people, it is up to them to apply positive peer pressure on one another to refrain from and reject racist behaviour, speech and thoughts. It is up to white parents to choose to raise their children in a non-racist way and ensure they are socialised with other children in a healthy way. These aren’t the only means to overcome racism, but they could be the most effective. It seems strange, but there’s sometimes little we can do to end problems that affect us so much as rape culture and racism. The resultant feelings of powerlessness are so frustrating.

While not all whites are racist, all of them have a choice in this regard. Some expressed that choice in a national whites-only referendum, something people seem to have forgotten about. It is sometimes said that white youths are less racist, and they may be the most likely to correct others on the issue.

Nevertheless, in March 1992, ex-President FW de Klerk announced the results of the vote: 68.6% of whites voted in favour of reform. South African History Online (2015) explains, ‘Surprisingly, the majority of Afrikaans-speaking Whites gave their approval… The results of the referendum were hailed worldwide and signalled the end of Apartheid… President of Nigeria and chairman of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), Ibrahim Babangita sent his congratulations on behalf of the people of Africa.’ This referendum is still comparatively one of the best voter turnouts we have ever had in South Africa.

Based on this evidence, we can certainly say that it is not only white youths of today who are glad Apartheid is over. Sometimes it is the quiet people among us, those who seem to make no waves or get involved in political circuses, whose views really should count the most, but they don’t get heard. Why are we so obsessed with the Andre Slades and Vicki Mombergs of this world? It’s true that what such people do is terrible, they are not role models for anyone, and we don’t excuse such racism. But does the sincere, older Afrikaans person – who treats everyone fairly, and who quietly cast their vote according to their conscience in 1992 – not count because they don’t make headlines? There are more of the latter and fewer of the former than we think.

Recently, South Africa’s Institute of Race Relations commissioned a study which found that ‘72% of South Africans reported no personal experience of racism in their daily lives’ (Mabuza, 2017). These results are better than many would assume. This improved situation is partly due to white people’s behaviour, their good behaviour.

Ferial Haffajee’s 2015 book entitled What if there were no whites in South Africa? delves into this topic in considerable detail and she offers a variety of views. One of the critical points she makes is that we all need to be willing to see the meaningful transformation that is happening in our country. There is documented proof of progress, as Haffajee discusses, but we tend to focus so much on the negatives. Racism grabs headlines more often than successful integration. Will the latter ever find its rightful place in the public consciousness?

As I am writing this article, across the country, people of all kinds are getting along; people are making friends and cooperating. Not always because they have something to gain, but because it’s the decent thing to do. When do we take time to contemplate this? Most South Africans, I firmly believe, want to get along and they want to end discrimination. What we must do to reach this goal is to find the courage to speak up when racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of prejudice rear their ugly heads. We must strive to correct ourselves and those in our peer groups who we can positively influence.

In conclusion, I will quote Haffajee (2015) who ties this issue in well with what is happening in our professional lives: ‘It is in workplaces where racial bumper cars play out and crash into wider society, bringing all their pains with them. It is here that impatient black aspiration meets dogged white self-protection, where our pain lies and where leadership does not lie.’

 

References

Haffajee F (2015) What if there were no whites in South Africa? Johannesburg: Pan MacMillan.

Mabuza E (2017) No racism in daily lives of seven in 10 South Africans, survey finds. Business Day, 7 February.

South African History Online (2015) President F.W. de Klerk announces Whites-only referendum results. From: http://www.sahistory.org.za/dated-event/president-fw-de-klerk-announces-whites-only-referendum-results

Don’t Go Without Solid Policies in Your Organisation Part 2

Don’t Go Without Solid Policies in Your Organisation

Part II: Harassment and Abuse Policies

Devan Moonsamy

 

As discussed in the first part of this series, a sound policy structure is an insurance blanket against many common problems that crop up in the workplace. Policy is a cornerstone of responsible management because it protects all concerned parties. What must be emphasised as much as the need for a policy is that staff know its provisions and abide by them.

Training and workshopping a policy are thus necessary, and the right corporate trainer can do exactly that, but in an innovative way that ensures staff are well engaged in the policy training session and not bored and inattentive.

My many years of engagement with managers and staff in diverse South African contexts has helped me see that all parties want to feel secure at work, and they usually dislike ambiguity. They want to know what is expected of them and those around them.

In fact, an effective way to relieve stress and conflict among your staff is to make sure they know exactly where they stand. Policy provisions combined with education on such provisions is a winning formula in this regard.

So what policies should be drafted? We discussed BEE and gender equity policies in the first part of this article series. Here we will look at harassment and abuse policies, which can safeguard against many PR and labour-related problems.

Harassment and Abuse Policy

Companies and officials have a responsibility to protect those who are seen as vulnerable or as targets by abusers and harassers. ‘Harassment and abuse’ do sound scary, and this often means people just avoid the issues and hope it never happens. What should be much more scary is that the issues are being ignored, because this means that problems will happen. They most certainly are happening because few seem to have the skills, empathy and authority to really tackle harassment and abuse in the workplace in a meaningful way.

However, it is not that hard to draft a policy about harassment and abuse, and we will give you some great pointers here. When looking to draft any policy, a good starting point is our country’s legislation, which tells us a lot about what everyone’s rights and responsibilities are on all manner of issues. If in doubt, start with the Constitution’s provisions on human rights. Harassment and abuse are infringements against these rights.

Policy provisions should expressly forbid racism, sexual harassment, harassment of LGBTQI people, and xenophobia. The policy must protect employees against offensive speech – especially hate speech – and gestures and acts by having a reporting line and real consequences for offenders. Stipulations should be given for the offence to be acknowledged, the victim supported and protected from further harassment, and the offender to be held to account according to the seriousness of the offence.

To educate employees, they need to understand what harassment is. The difference between a thoughtless or poorly worded remark and harassment is fear. When a comment or action makes a person feel threatened, it is harassment. On the other hand, abuse is more easily recognised, but employees should know that it is to mistreat someone with disregard for their human rights. Put these definitions and explanations in the policy document so there is no ambiguity.

Power and authority can be abused in combination with abusing an employee, making such behaviour more serious than people realise. People may take a theft case more seriously than sexual harassment, forgetting that there are at least two victims in the latter case, and only one in the former. Sexual harassment endangers a company’s reputation as well as the victim of the abuse, and it should be taken much more seriously than it usually is.

A wolf whistle may seem harmless, for example, but for a young woman it can be very unsettling. This is because she is aware of what is really on the harasser’s mind. In a young woman, such fear will affect how happy and secure she is at work. Your workplace policy must protect her. Don’t just think about the company’s reputation, think about keeping your staff safe and happy so that they can give their best at work.

Employees should preferably be educated on what harassment is and why it is a problem before there is any chance for harassment to happen. There should be no uncertainty as to what is expected of men and women in the workplace.

Three other key factors related to harassment and abuse should also be discussed in policy and with staff: vulnerability, opportunity and consent. Some are more likely targets than others in terms of abuse. It is wise to prevent opportunities for harassment of vulnerable individuals by ensuring there is good supervision and security in place.

The concept of consent should be explained so that there is no uncertainty. Consent for any sexual act must be explicitly given. However, it is wise for management to prohibit sex, sexual acts and propositions for sex at work. This does not mean that there is no place for romance, but sex acts and propositions should not be happening during working hours and on company premises. Age of consent (16 years, but exceptions apply which make it unwise until the person is 18) can also be explained to employees and discussed in the policy.

Further issues to cover in your harassment policy include clear boundaries for behaviour, speech and equity; the various types of relationships that can arise in the workplace, and the professional expectations for these, specifically in relation to sexism; safety procedures; reporting lines and communication procedures; and legal recourse and punishment of offenders.

Staff who know all the basics will be much better equipped to handle and prevent abuse and harassment, as well as being forewarned as to what will happen if they perpetrate acts of abuse or harassment. It is easier to hold an employee to account on key performance indicators (KPIs), as many readers will well know, when they are clearly set out on paper, and the employee was made fully aware of them. Likewise, when staff members know the company’s stance on abuse and harassment, as clearly contained in policy, they will be more likely to respect conduct parameters.

ICHAF is a training provider with years of experience in training up conscientised, empowered employees who serve as proud and reliable brand ambassadors. Not only do we train staff on the critical skills needed for their job tasks, we also work on soft skills including diversity management, conflict management, ethics, and leadership, to name a few. We are ideally placed to conduct workshops and educate your staff on abuse and harassment in the workplace to the benefit of all involved. Let us show your staff the way to boost their career and the company’s image through best practice policies.