Cape Town – In the wake of Standard Bank economist Chris Hart’s suspension over an alleged racist tweet, his CEO has warned staff that the bank "does not tolerate racism in any form, no matter how casual or trivial".
Writing in an internal email to his staff, Standard Bank CEO Sim Tshabalala said that "racism against anyone is always totally unacceptable and inexcusable".
"I admonish all of us not to infringe on the linguistic, religious and cultural rights of others," he said. "When we differ - which we will - we must always remain respectful."
READ THE FULL EMAIL: What Standard Bank CEO Sim Tshabalala told his staff
Hart is at the centre of a social media racist storm, after several white South Africans were targeted for posts last week that were either outright racist or had undercurrents of racism.
Others were just caught in the storm. Gareth Cliff lost his long-standing role on Idols, while Penny Sparrow had to vacate her home on the South Coast.
Hart's tweet on January 3 that got him suspended, said: "More than 25 years after Apartheid ended, the victims are increasing along with a sense of entitlement and hatred towards minorities."
READ: Standard Bank suspends Chris Hart over 'racist' tweet
A group of prominent black South Africans filed a legal case against Hart and others, but some black entrepreneurs and academics have come out in support of the economist.
READ: Black academic backs Chris Hart, calls for ‘race’ dialogue
However, the stern message from Hart’s boss reveals how seriously Standard Bank is taking the matter.
Tshabalala, who is a popular and respected leader at Standard Bank, said all South Africans have a "legal and moral duty to work hard to promote the transformation of South Africa".
"Transformation is not a choice," he said. “We are committed to transformation by the aspirations and values expressed in our Constitution; by the legal force of its equality clause; and in terms of precisely detailed legislation including the Broad-based Black Economic Empowerment Act, the Employment Equity Act and the Labour Relations Act."
"To build this better world for future generations of South Africans, a little patience and a degree of sacrifice is required from all of us," he said.
"Transformation, then, is about creating a much fairer and more sustainable distribution of resources and opportunities," he said. "But, as we have just been painfully reminded, it is also about the eradication of racism from our society - both because racism is a practical barrier to transformation and because racism is deeply wrong in itself."
"As our history teaches us, racism can lead directly to systematic cruelty and appalling violence," he said. "Open or subtle, racism hurts its victims terribly, weakens the fabric of society, poisons politics and erodes the trust and the optimism on which economic growth depends."
Tshabalala said South Africa needs to enter a new phase of open and serious dialogue about race and racism in South Africa.
He will make it a mission of Standard Bank to ensure "business people enter this dialogue with the utmost thoughtfulness and willingness to listen".