Jewish-owned businesses feeling the pinch
Over the past four years, I have witnessed in my labour-law practice more and more interference from political forces in the business world and in particular in its labour relations and employment.
A scourge of individuals from the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) have taken up the cudgels against employers on behalf of staff who have either been dismissed or who have not received expected increases. The EFF has tried to usurp the duties and jurisdiction of trade unions and legal representatives.
This insidious practice hasn’t gone away and in spite of my reports to the department of employment and labour and to the official adjudication bodies who have condemned the practice, it continues. This was the first warning sign of negative interference in the business sector.
Subsequent to 7 October 2023, I have been presented with numerous complaints from business owners that a new type of labour practice has emerged. Ostensibly Jewish-owned businesses both large and small have been subjected to external pressure because they are either Jewish-owned or were previously Jewish-owned.
Some of these businesses, in fact, aren’t Jewish-owned but were historically. This doesn’t come without political encouragement. One need only look at the statement recently put out by President Cyril Ramaphosa, which was reported in Daily Maverick on 31 January 2024.
Ramaphosa warned of a fight-back and regime-change agenda. This type of address given at the National Executive Committee lekgotla last week is almost like a call for action against those who don’t support South Africa’s stance in its completely unfounded case before the International Court of Justice.
The president’s words ring loud. “We’re aware that there will by systematic fight-back campaigns, and I say this so that we are aware of it. There will be no doubt that these forces will do anything in their power to prevent South Africa from concluding its case on the merits of the matter.”
Ramaphosa goes on to say that those “forces” will try and somehow affect the African National Congress negatively at the polls. With this sort of war talk, one can understand that antisemites might feel this is the opening for action.
I believe this has emboldened antisemites, who are now doing everything in their power to encourage trade unions and staff representatives to put pressure on so-called Jewish businesses. We’ve seen this play out in bigger businesses, and these stories have all been carried in previous editions of the SA Jewish Report.
However, the pressure on smaller businesses who are getting this type of negativity on a daily basis from their staff is becoming so negative, some of the owners are talking about closure, liquidation, or sale of the businesses.
Of the approximately two dozen businesses I’ve spoken to over the past few months, none openly stated their support for Israel or made any negative comments about South Africa’s stance.
These entrepreneurs, some of whom have been in that business their entire lives, merely want to ply their trade in a fair and respectful manner.
Unfortunately, as can be seen in Cape Town, the majority of these business are trading in areas where the majority of their customers are of the Muslim faith. Customers have continued to purchase, and have had no hand in the negativity the businesses are getting from staff representatives. In fact, the feedback I’ve been getting from Muslim customers has been sympathy for the troubles that have been experienced.
I don’t believe 7 October created more antisemites, it merely emboldened them to come out of the shadows. Furthermore, emboldened antisemites have been given a feeling of immunity because of our government’s behaviour, especially the statements made by the president.
- Michael Bagraim is a labour lawyer.