Twittercide: Chris Hart - is this the track record of a racist?

Twitter is a marvellous invention, allowing anyone to express their opinions on any subject. But it is also proving to be career limiting for professional pundits, even when they comment on subjects outside their circle of competence. Like Canadian sportscaster Damian Goddard who got canned after going onto Twitter to criticise same sex marriage. But the most dangerous of all – except, it seems, for US Presidential candidate Donald Trump – is racism. The recent case of politician Diane Kohler-Barnard mindlessly re-tweeting a dodgy statement praising Apartheid President PW Botha almost cost the DA firebrand her job. A couple years ago, an idiotic tweet about Aids in Africa by New York-based communications director Justine Sacco gave her overnight notoriety and a rapidly issued pink slip. Now Standard Bank’s outspoken economist Chris Hart is reaping a similar whirlwind after an opinionated tweet went viral. Even though he has unreservedly apologised, Hart’s chances of keeping his job appear bleak after he was suspended in a disciplinary hearing on Monday. – Alec Hogg 

By Alec Hogg

Being a celebrity on Twitter is a double edged sword as outspoken economist Chris Hart discovered after one of his tweets led to a suspension yesterday by his employer, Standard Bank. Hart is the Global Investment Strategist at the group’s Wealth and Investment division.

On the strength of 140 characters and the reaction by his employer Standard Bank, economist Chris Hart is being widely condemned as a racist (which he isn’t) and a fraud who lied about his qualifications (which is outrageous).

Chris and I have engaged frequently over the years through radio and television interviews and in public forums. At times I felt he was overly opinionated, but given his knowledge and achievements had earned that right.

Hart earned a BSc degree at Wits and applied it to teach science at Glenvista High. While other teachers were grabbing packages or emigrating, Hart regarded the dawn of democracy in 1994 as “exciting times as the education system was shifting from segregation to being integrated.”

After studying part time and earning an economics degree “where the original intention was to help underpin my career in education…” Hart received an offer he couldn’t refuse from Absa. His progress since has been stellar.

Outside of working hours, he is a senior leader at the volunteer organisation St John Ambulance and invests lots of time engaging with and mentoring young people.

The incident

He was whiling away what for most of South Africa was a lazy Sunday afternoon, when he opined to almost 21 000 followers that “More than 25 years after Apartheid ended, the victims are increasing along with a sense of entitlement and hatred towards minorities.”

The comment generated a lot of heat and after four hours of debate in the twittersphere, the economist said he never meant to cause offense “for which I apologize wholeheartedly”. Hart’s profile on Twitter clearly states he works in a senior position at Standard Bank.

The apology did not resonate with the bank, which held a disciplinary hearing on Monday and put Hart onto immediate suspension.

The bank issued a statement re-iterating its values and code of ethics and did its utmost to distance itself from Hart’s comments, saying they were “factually incorrect, make inappropriate assumptions about South Africa and have racist undertones. We expect our colleagues in every country to at all time reflect the values of Standard Bank Group”.

Hart, a prolific media commentator, has long been an outspoken critic of the ruling ANC’s economic policies.

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