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Spur bosses to go on countrywide tour to address boycott

Jun 26 2017 19:16
Mpho Raborife, News24

Johannesburg - Due to the public outrage sparked by an incident at a Spur Texamo franchise in Oakdene in March, the backlash against the eatery’s franchise business has caused such a knock that its top management is embarking on a nationwide tour to get to try and clean up the mess.

In a statement released by the Spur Corporation’s CEO Pierre van Tonder, the company said the tour would be done in a bid to "gain a greater understanding of their customers and franchisees".

"Over the past few months, we have realised that we have not been listening to our customers," Van Tonder said.

"The altercation between two Spur customers in March in Johannesburg and the reaction that followed drove home a powerful message, namely that we urgently needed to give attention to the needs and frustrations of our customers."

He said the corporation accepted and recognised the sentiments of both the public and its franchisees with regards to the way they had handled the situation "overall".

"We hereby unconditionally apologise to any person or community who has taken exception to our actions and will ensure a fair hearing is conducted prior to judgements being made in future," he said.

Van Tonder added that the company had analysed the reaction to the incident on social media and the actions it took subsequent to the incident, "so that it can be addressed and corrected".

To this end, Spur has appointed a panel of experts to evaluate the recent negative response on social media and throughout the broader public, and to make recommendations where improvement can be made, he said.

However, due to the overwhelming public response and customer input from ground level, Spur had decided to put the panel’s work on hold and focus on listening to their clients, the franchisees and the public. 

"Once all information has been collected, a panel will be able to evaluate richer, ground level input and make more meaningful recommendations to Spur."

Heated argument

A task team had been appointed to make the children’s play areas safer, with additional staff to be employed during busy periods, he said. Franchisees were also receiving training in conflict management.

A video of the incident circulated on social media. It recorded Lebohang Mabuya, the godmother of one child, and Nico Viljoen, the father of the other, involved in a heated argument.
Viljoen was heard telling the woman that her daughter had hit his daughter on the head, which he apparently witnessed through the window of the play area.

Mabuya countered that the child was tiny, telling the man that she would not allow him to bully her. He then told her to do something about what happened, to which she replied: "Just fuck off."

The man then appeared to stop himself from smacking her, saying: "Ek sal jou 'n p**sklap gee [I will smack you.]"
The children sat around the table as the two adults screamed profanities at each other. The man left the scene, and then laughed as he turned back after Mabuya called him a bully and a coward and swore at him.

Bystanders and staff attempted to intervene and, as the children were moved to different seats, the man tried to overturn their table.

He was then pushed away by bystanders, and Mabuya then called him a bully and racist. Another person was heard shouting, "Fuck them!" to which Mabuya retorted, "Fuck you too. This is a democratic country, if you haven’t noticed", as the man walked out of the establishment.

A Facebook page called "Boycott/Boikot SPUR Steak Ranches" was set up shortly after the incident. The page described Spur as being biased.

"White people must stop spending their money there until the black lady with her filthy mouth is also banned. They were both wrong!" the page read.

'You snapped at them. That was a mistake'

Another group called "Boycott Spur Steak Ranches" said on its page that a boycott was in order "after a recent banning of a male at Spur while disregarding the events leading up to his outrage".

Two months later, Port Elizabeth’s daily newspaper The Herald reported that several franchise owners in the city had confirmed that the boycott had affected their businesses, but refused to comment further, referring questions to the group's head office.

Spur Group Chief Operating Officer Mark Farrelly reportedly told the publication that the boycott was affecting a minority of Spur branches, mainly those in "strongholds of the old Conservative Party".

CEO of trade union Solidarity, Dirk Hermann, then wrote a letter responding to Farrelly, saying the reason white South Africans had decided to boycott Spur restaurants was that the franchise had characterised them as conservative right-wingers that belonged to the old Conservative Party and lived in places like the Moot in Pretoria.

The open letter to Farrelly, which was titled "I’ve lost my appetite for Spur", was published on Afrikaans news platform, Maroela Media.

Hermann continued, saying white people were tired of political correctness at their expense and of being bullied every time they voiced an opinion.

"This is about a community that feels estranged in the country and now they feel strange in their favourite restaurant as well.

"Afrikaners are Spur people, family people. They saw Spur as a restaurant where they felt at home. Mark, you snapped at them. That was a mistake."

'An apology is appropriate'

He said Farrelly had messed up and should apologise for what he had said. 

"You dismissed a community that was your loyal customers for years. An apology is appropriate. People have lost their appetites to go eat at your restaurants."

At the time, Van Tonder stood by the statements made by Farrelly and the corporation and said Hermann was entitled to his opinion.

On Monday, Van Tonder reiterated his stance, saying the corporation’s decision was not influenced by any political organisation.

"Spur does not want to engage in political debates and will focus on what has made us an iconic South African brand for the last 50 years – a place where families from all communities can come together and enjoy a safe and fun restaurant environment," he said.

The lessons Spur had learnt from the incident would serve to expand the corporation’s focus going forward, he added.

"We note that several franchisees are now under pressure, without having done anything wrong. Spur will assist each and every one of these franchisees in re-establishing the personal relationships they foster in their respective communities. We also offer our sincerest apology to our franchisees."

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