'Race-specific' property racism incident shows at the root 'if you're not white, you're still unwelcome'
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Cape Town - A local estate agent was suspended by her agency after she refused to proceed with a viewing of a property by a person of colour, because the owner of the property had a “race-specific” request.
Live Real estate agent Gabriella Johnson refused to proceed with a viewing and application process for the R17 000 Fountain Suites apartment in the Cape Town CBD, stating that the client was “race-specific”, and the inquirer, Pol Osei, 26, black.
Live Real Estate chief executive Brendan Miller said Johnson had since been suspended.
“We are following the legal route as dictated by the relevant labour laws. She will most likely be dismissed at the earliest opportunity, pending her internal hearing.”
Miller said Osei had been advised on the steps to take to report Johnson and the landlord to the Estate Agency Affairs Board, and is being assisted to find alternative accommodation.
“With regards to the landlord, we did not have a contract as the property was not listed with Live Real Estate. We have reached out to Gabriella’s previous agency, and we are working on expanding guidelines for other estate agents to also implement in order to prevent anything like this from happening ever again,” said Miller.
Following public outrage and many people sharing similar experiences, Osei said this seemed to be common in the industry.
“I’m using this experience to catapult this issue that many have and are struggling with into the national spotlight. I will launch a complaint at every board and governing body attached to this industry, and I am approaching the Equality Court and the Human Rights Commission ,as I have been categorically denied access to housing, a basic human right, because of the skin colour I was born with,” said Osei.
Social Justice Agency managing director Edwin Cleophas said incidents such as this garnered media attention “as it now exposed the well-organised white supremacist system”.
“The system operates with ease because white solidarity ensures that the system and individuals benefiting from it won’t expose the system. And yes, it is a very common practice.
“However, every now and then, somebody with less experience on how to play their part drops something and then we are able to expose incidents, moments, events, but we should remember that this problem is systemic and institutionalised, and therefore, there are groups that hold power over this that can and should be held accountable for this.”
The Movement for Collective Action and Racial Equity (CARE)’s Aisha Hamdulay said this form of racism did not come as a surprise.
The Movement for CARE is an emerging non-partisan movement that aims to address the issues of racial inequity in Cape Town and build bridges between the divides of its people.
While a landlord has the right to choose their tenant, it must still align with the law and values of the constitutions – equality, non-discrimination and dignity, said Hamdulay.
Working on issues pertaining to urban land justice in Cape Town, Hamdulay said while there may be formal justice, there is a deep lack of substantive justice when it comes to land and property.
“There is lots of attention on urban land occupations, and at its root, this issue displays part of the cause – if you're not white, you're still unwelcome – whether you're an occupier or a tenant.
“When it comes to rental issues like these, there's nothing to hide behind,” said Hamdulay.
“It's really just pure racism and points towards white supremacist thinking. People still refer to Cape Town as the Cape Colony for a reason. It still feels like a colony. It is untransformed in many ways, seen and unseen. We have been stagnant and untransformed for a long time.
“This kind of behaviour sets us back from building bridges toward equity, tolerance, unity and acceptance of each other as equal beings deserving of dignity and respect. Radical change – not violence – is needed to break down structural racial barriers in land and property in Cape Town.
“The city will struggle to transform as long as apartheid spatial planning lines are maintained. We need to address all types of racism, including structural racism.”
Johnson has since issued an apology on Facebook and could not be reached for further comment.
“I wish to apologise unreservedly for acceding to my clients demand not to accept black tenants to rent their property. In hindsight, I should have objected to this request as it goes against my own values, the principles of the company I represent and our constitution.
“It is non other than crude racism which I detest. It was my duty to call it out, which I neglected to do. It was my oversight for which I take full responsibility and accountability.