Columns 20.5.2017 05:08 am

Is the right wing taking down Spur?

A screengrab of the video taken at the Spur at the Glen Shopping Centre in Johannesburg

A screengrab of the video taken at the Spur at the Glen Shopping Centre in Johannesburg

We may be giving Front National a little too much credit on this one.

I’ll admit to a bit of astonishment at the supposed news this week that a two-month (and counting) boycott by right-wing white-rights party Front National against Spur is apparently being so effective it’s cut some Spur restaurants’ profits nearly in half.

Radio 702’s The Money Show’s Bruce Whitfield spoke to the chief operating officer of Spur, Mark Farrelly, who said that “several” of their stores have been facing hardship after Front National, a relatively new party that contested the 2014 national elections but won no seats, said the boycott was a “principle case” and they refused to be treated as “second-rate citizens”.

Front National joined in on the calls for a boycott in March (and now seem to have claimed ownership of it), after a white man threatened to “klap” a black woman in a Spur at the Glen Shopping Centre in Johannesburg.

Black people were actually the first to call for a boycott of the Spur brand, with them initially accusing the restaurant of not having done enough to protect the woman.

Then when Spur apologised to the woman and confirmed their own CCTV footage showed the man had grabbed her child “in an aggressive manner and his actions are unacceptable”, this invited a boycott from some white people after the man was banned from all Spur stores.

Spur CEO Pierre van Tonder offered the woman and her family trauma counselling and “other support”. Front National wants to punish him, particularly because many people reacted with anger when an eyewitness alleged the woman had sworn at the man and “provoked him” before the subsequent exchanges were captured on film.

The party says they feel both the man and the woman “acted incorrectly and therefore both should be treated the same”.

It also says its protest action is not aimed at franchise owners directly‚ but the boycott will continue until Van Tonder offers a public apology and resigns.

That doesn’t seem likely, despite the fact the company has had to approve 72 “rescue packages” for its stores.

All of this leads to some weird conclusions (or theories):

  • Can it be that there are still places in this country where half the clientele (or at least half the purchasing power) at Spur restaurants is not only white people, but white people who feel strongly enough about the fact that if a white man they’ve never met before – but who they believe has suffered a wrong – is not allowed to enjoy a Spur T-bone with them, then they won’t have a T-bone either?
  • I thought black people like basted red meat even more than white people, but in places like Welkom and Ballito, it seems, “white power” is still very real, particularly if you’re trying to sell ribs.
  • Contrary to what I was consistently told by my (right-wing) dad when I was a kid, maybe white people, can sometimes stick together. But only when it’s over something particularly petty.
  • And to perhaps take it to the most absurd extreme, if the vote were given only to people who like to eat at affordable steakhouses, would Front National be the official opposition in some provinces?
  • Or maybe, just maybe, people just don’t feel like going to the Spur any more. Maybe they’re just broke.

In all seriousness, even if this boycott is real, I struggle to believe it’s all down to Front National. Having looked at social media when the “scandal” broke, it seemed to be a “cause” that had found favour with many people, and Front National has probably just hijacked that, and is now claiming to be the main driving force behind it, and will probably claim responsibility for anything bad that ever happens to Spur again from now until Kingdom Come.

There’s no one who can say they’re wrong, but there are apparently people (black and white) who’ve simply been put off going to Spur because there are “pics of waiters spitting in their food and doing all sorts of nasty things”, according to one of my colleagues.

A subsequent investigation didn’t turn up any such pictures, although there are a lot of rumours about these pics swirling about on social networks, to the point that Spur told one customer that the post she was referencing was an old one by an internet troll from more than two years ago that was found to be completely false and baseless. It’s doubtful that these rumours have much to do with the profits being down. It must be linked to the Glen Spur’s “racism” incident, but that incident goes far beyond Front National. I have no doubt there are many people “supporting” this boycott without ever having heard of Front National, or perhaps even that there is an organised boycott.

Whatever the reasons Spur’s profits may be down, it may now merely be “convenient” for management to blame Front National for all its problems.

Maybe the sudden financial woes of these once financially bulletproof restaurants are showing that racial divisions and what contributes to them are becoming even more defined in South Africa, whether you’re looking at an alleged murder case in Coligny, or an argument in a Spur. That’s a depressing thought, and it’s probably true.

Or maybe people are just not going out to restaurants as much as they used to.

Charles Cilliers, Citizen.co.za digital editor

Charles Cilliers, Citizen.co.za digital editor

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