The man, who was left humiliated after Gautrain security and station management refused to let him ride the train because he was wearing traditional Ndebele attire, will be taking his cause to the Constitutional Court.
Ndebele cultural activist and author Thando Mahlangu claimed he was publicly humiliated and kicked out of the Gautrain Park station in Johannesburg because he was dressed in his traditional garb, which was apparently deemed “inappropriate”.
The 34-year-old from KwaMhlanga in the former KwaNdebele homeland said he took a train from Pretoria to Johannesburg and went about his errands.
When he returned later to take the train again, he was stopped and told he was not welcome on the train.
“I was humiliated … made a laughing stock. As a cultural activist, I am deeply pained by this continued degrading of Africans and their way of life,” said Mahlangu.
He said he went to the Berea taxi rank, where people ululated as he arrived to take a taxi to Pretoria.
He said the alleged incident cost him a deal worth R4,500 because he missed his appointment in Hatfield.
It was reported that the Gautrain, through its operator Bombela Concession Company, had apologized to Mahlangu but his lawyer stated this was not true.
Gautrain Management Agency (GMA) CEO Jack van der Merwe said in an interview with talk radio station 702: “Well the policy is to be appropriately dressed but we have to look at cultural diversity so we will retrain all our security personnel and make them more conscious of traditional dress.”
When asked what constitutes being “appropriately dressed” van der Merwe explained that it is important to have shoes on as shoes protect bare feet from the risk posed by the escalators.
He also added that it was important to offend the other passengers on the train with one’s attire.
Van der Merwe then apologized on air on behalf of GMA for humiliating Mahlangu but stated that he would have to lodge a claim with Bombela in order to possibly be compensated for the money he lost as a result of missing his business meeting.
“Well, Bombela Concession Company has got insurance so he can lodge an insurance claim. I don’t think we have ever paid anything like that because we can’t be held responsible for consequential damages.”
Mahlangu’s legal counsel advocate Benny Buthelezi later called into the show to state that GMA had not, in fact, apologized directly to Mahlangu.
“The Gautrain has not apologized to Mr Mahlangu. We have been following this in terms of the media reports that have been coming through. The first one I think was from Mr Ismail Vadi who issued a press statement from his department saying ‘it’s wrong for people to be taken off the Gautrain etc etc’ and there was an apology in yesterday’s Citizen wherein a spokesperson for the Gautrain concession company issued an apology but these apologies have been issued to the media or issued on social media but have not been issued to Mr Mahlangu himself.”
Buthelezi went on to state that his legal counsel would be filing a case against Bombela for impairing Mahlangu’s dignity and constitutional damages thereto.
“So I think the issue of the business deal that he lost was something to the tune of R4,500 that he was going to sell his goods at and I think that has now become secondary for us in this case.”
Listen to the full interview below: