A journalist’s allegations of racism at a bicycle repair shop in Cape Town has turned the spotlight back on racial profiling in South Africa.
— Phumzile Van Damme (@zilevandamme) May 20, 2015
On Wednesday morning, Philip Owira said on social media that staff at Woodstock Cycleworks in Woodstock, Cape Town, had accused him of stealing the bicycle he had brought in to the shop to be repaired.
@Nyathikano ohhhhhhh my word … What’s going on here??Do you know me at all. What should I respond with?? Do you even know me?
— Woodstock Cycleworks (@WScycleworks) May 20, 2015
According to Owira’s friend, Akil Musa, who was with him at the time, the bike belongs to Owira’s girlfriend.
“People are seeing people according to how they are dressing and according to how they see people [on the outside]. They’re not seeing what is the people inside, in their heart,” Musa, a Congolese businessman told The Daily Vox.
Some online commentators have defended the bike shop, saying that black people commit more crime in the country, and therefore the staff member was justified in assuming Owira had stolen the bike.
In the comments section of an article about the incident on IOL, Xenophobic comments were also made with people assuming Owira was Nigerian.
“If a Nigerian shows up with a bike, I would be very certain to ask for proof of ownership. But I suppose that makes me racist, hey? But also a realist I’m afraid,” one commenter wrote.
Nils Hansen, the owner of Woodstock Cycleworks, who is also alleged to be the staff member who spoke to Owira, defended the store saying the two clients had entered the shop outside business hours and that he had earlier seen someone riding a bicycle the same as the one that belonged to Owira’s girlfriend.
Writing on Facebook, Hansen initially dismissed the incident, saying people complained on on the platform having “no idea what transpired”. A few hours later, the Woodstock Cyclework’s Facebook page issued a formal apology.
“We’re so sorry for the unprofessional treatment you may have experienced,” said a post signed by Hansen and the Cycleworks staff.
Cape Town major Patricia de Lille on Thursday announced that an investigation would be launched into the incident.
Hansen told The Daily Vox that he welcomes the inquiry, and had had a positive meeting with de Lille’s staff on Thursday morning.
Meanwhile Musa told The Daily Vox that while he forgives Woodstock Cycleworks, steps must be taken to ensure such treatment never happens again.
“We are all human beings, we have to forgive one another. But we have to accept our mistakes – and correct our mistakes – so the next time we do not repeat the things that happened,” Musa said.
– Featured image by Mauritsvink via Wikimedia Commons