Costly lesson for k-word user who was fined R500 000 and training

The Equality Court ordered a businessman to pay R500 000 and undergo training 50 hours of racial sensitisation training for using the K-word.

The Equality Court ordered a businessman to pay R500 000 and undergo training 50 hours of racial sensitisation training for using the K-word.

Published May 14, 2024


Using the “k” word can be very costly, as a businessman has discovered after the Equality Court ordered that he not only had to pay R500 000 to the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, but he also has to undergo 50 hours of racial sensitisation training to be conducted by the SA Human Rights Commission or an institution nominated by it.

The court heard that Mr Ackerman (the respondent) on four occasions used the “k” word in a conversation with one of his white business associates. He did not aim the word specifically towards any person, but his (now former) business associate Mr Wellman felt aggrieved by these words.

He turned to the Equality Court, together with another business associate Mr Amaning to hold Ackerman accountable for his actions. Wellman said Ackerman used the word in the sense that he (Wellman), as a fellow white person associated himself with such language, which he did not.

Amaning, who hails from Ghana, in turn said as a black person he did not take kindly to the use of the word and he wanted Ackerman to account for his actions.

None of them wanted to make money from this application but they asked Judge Gregory Wright to order Ackerman to pay the money towards the work the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation is doing, which has as its core objective the deepening of non-racialism.

Although Ackerman mostly denied that he used the word, the judge concluded that he did indeed use the word.

He declared that this speech is unlawful hate speech tantamount to unlawful discrimination against black people, including to Amaning, and constituted unlawful harassment of Wellman.

Part of the order read that Ackerman is to make a public apology to Amaning.

Ackerman maintained that as his business relationship with Wellman has soured, the latter is trying to taint his (Ackerman’s) name.

A third business associate a Mr Lieberman was initially part of the complaint before the Equality Court, as he claimed that Ackerman in a conversation with Wellman, referred to “f****** Jews.” Lieberman, however, later withdrew his complaint.

The first incident of which Wellman complained was that Ackerman during a conversation with him referred to the “ks f******-up this country.”

The second incident of which Welman complained was when Ackerman apparently said “that f****** Jew who only wants to enrich himself in every deal or words to that effect.

According to Wellman the “k” word was used on two other occasions: one in an email to him. In the latter instance people broke into Ackerman’s home and threatened his family, and Ackerman expressed his dismay by using the “k” word.

While he did not act immediately, Wellman only a year or two later told Amaning and Lieberman about these utterances. He said he was not in a position to act immediately, but the three of them later decided to take action.

Wellman said in court papers that he told his other two associates that they should oust Ackerman from the business, as he finds it hard to “have this calibre of person as my shareholder. He is governed by his emotions.”

While mostly denying he used the “k” word, Ackerman did admit that he may have used it after his house robbery, but he said he was very emotional at the time. He did however retract it.

Regarding the second incident, Ackerman admits saying that Lieberman “only wants to enrich himself in every deal “but denies saying “ f****** Jew”.

He said that he employs many people of colour, he “has donated towards bursaries for black persons and that he donates to charity”.

In finding that Ackerman did make the utterances in conversations with Wellman, Judge Wright said Ackerman relied on what he assumed would be the like mindedness of Wellman. “This is precisely one of the assumptions that the Constitution and the Equality Act seek to displace,” the judge said.

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