On Sunday, 3 January, estate agent and former Jawitz employee, Penny Sparrow, unleashed a social media storm when she took to Facebook and described black beachgoers as “monkeys”, in an apparent reaction to litter left behind after New Year’s Day celebrations.

 

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Sparrow went on radio and defended her comments. She also said she apologised only because her former boss called her and asked her to do so.

Jawitz Properties CEO, Herschel Jawitz, told News24 that while Sparrow had left the company two months ago, her online profile still associated her with the Jawitz Properties brand. “She is an ex-employee and unfortunately she hadn’t updated her Facebook page that still reflects her as employed by Jawitz Properties,” he said. Jawitz said in an official statement: “I feel both personally and professionally as the CEO of our company the same anger and outrage about these comments as the public. It is unfortunate that the anger from the public has been misdirected towards our brand and not the person who made these comments only after she had left the employ of the company.”

 

THE BACKLASH

By Monday, 4 January, complaints against Sparrow had been filed with the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC). The Democratic Alliance announced that one of its members, Herman Mashaba, had filed criminal charges against Sparrow with the police, and a criminal case had been opened. Jawitz Properties was considering legal action against her for bringing its company into disrepute‚ including civil action.

Sparrow’s comments also triggered a broader debate around racism in the real estate industry in South Africa.

 

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MINISTER WANTS TO PROBE PROPERTY SECTOR

On Tuesday, 5 January, the The Ministry of Human Settlements, the Estate Agency Affairs Board (EAAB) leadership and Jawitz Properties franchise owners met to discuss concerns from South Africans in relation to the racist comments made by Sparrow. Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu has instructed her department to work with the Human Rights Commission and the EAAB to probe racism by estate agents in South Africa. The ministry said the report must be submitted within six months.

Minister Sisulu said: “You cannot be an estate agent by day and in the evening you are posting racist comments and behaving in an unlawful and offensive way, our regulations and code of conduct must provide instruments for people like Penny Sparrow not to operate as estate agents.

“The EAAB must make sure, if it is not there in current regulations, those regulations must be amended to ensure that we root out racism in the sector, it is our responsibility as government,” said Minister Sisulu.

 

REBOSA RESPONDS

Real Estate Business Owners of South Africa (REBOSA) strongly condemned the racist comments made by estate agent, Penny Sparrow. REBOSA CEO, Jan le Roux, said, “It is regrettable that Penny Sparrow is associated with the real estate industry and that her racist comments have not only tainted the industry but also unleashed repressed prejudices that evidently still plague our society. This is not about real estate or real estate agents, it is about racism.”

Le Roux said in a statement on Tuesday. “Real Estate Business Owners of South Africa is the biggest and most representative body in the real estate industry and denounces racist comments made by any and all thoughtless individuals.”

 

>> Look out for the March/April issue of Property Professional magazine as we delve deeper into the issue of racism in the industry, and how to make sure your company’s social policies protect you from incidents like these.