‘Time for employers to recognise African culture’

2012-10-19 00:00

A WOMAN who was said by a traditional healer to be having “premonitions of ancestors” and took a month off work without her employer’s permission “to attend a sangoma course to appease her ancestors” must be reinstated in her job.

This was the judgment handed down by three judges in the Labour Appeal Court (LAC), who described the issue raised in the matter as “novel”.

The time had come for the people of South Africa to accept that the old traditional Western culture in the country cannot dominate the African culture of many people.

The case is described in the latest issue of the law journal De Rebus.

Johannah Mmoledi, who had had eight years’ service with the company Kievits Kroon Country Estate, attended a course in her own time to qualify as a traditional healer.

After the course she asked for a month’s unpaid leave to attend a course to qualify as a sangoma. Her employer refused her permission.

Mmoledi nevertheless attended the course, but before going, left a note for her manager from a traditional healer. In it the healer states that she had been seen by him and diagnosed as having “premonitions of ancestors”.

When she returned to work she was subjected to a disciplinary inquiry, found guilty of unauthorised absenteeism and summarily dismissed.

She referred an unfair dismissal dispute to the CCMA, but conciliation was not reached and the matter went to arbitration. The arbitrator ruled in Mmoledi’s favour and ordered her reinstatement, without backpay.

When the company challenged the arbitrator’s decision in the Labour Court, the judge stated that the company had treated Mmoledi’s sick leave certificate “with contempt” because it had been issued by a traditional healer.

The case was then appealed in the LAC.

In their judgment, the judges described South Africa as a country with a diversity of cultures and said the time had come for a “paradigm shift”, also in the workplace.

Just because Mmoledi’s sick leave certificate had not been issued by a Western medical practitioner that did not make her strong belief in her culture and her own healer any less acceptable.

Given the “novel” nature of the case, the judges dismissed the appeal, but with no order as to costs, saying that the company had not acted unreasonably in approaching the court on appeal.

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