The risks of freedom on social media in South Africa


Correction: Since this story was published we have corrected the sentence which stated that “the chain reaction seems to have been started by Jawitz employee Penny Sparrow”. Sparrow left the employ of Jawitz Properties two months (November, 2015) prior to her racist comments going viral and therefore was a former employee of Jawitz Properties.   We regret the error. Jawitz’s full statement can be viewed below this article.

We are all entitled to our own opinions, as long as we know that they have consequences, in the workplace – the damage could be even more dangerous and be grounds for dismissal explains Khomotso Makapane, Bowman Gilfillan partner, in Employment Law.

This comes after the year started with several people expressing views on social media which were seen to be racist. The chain reaction seems to have been started by Penny Sparrow who likened black people to monkeys and escalated with Velaphi Khumalo suggesting white South Africans be handled the same way Hitler dealt with Jewish people.


“Although every person is entitled to their own opinion, whether you are an employee or a contractor, it is important to understand that your opinions may have ramifications,” said Makapane.

“What social media has done is it has bridged the divide between what we used to consider private space and space that the companies used to own – we no longer work for a company for eight hours in a day but the whole time,” said Makapane.

He adds: “The trick about it is this, it is not only tweets or posts that you make today – three years from now you might be looking for a job in a space where you once criticised someone in it.”

Makapane explains how disclaimers mean nothing, if anything they attract more scrutiny and curiosity.

“The moment you say that, it seems to actually attract people to Google you and what comes up first is normally LinkedIn and people are able to see where you work – that disclaimer does not work – already you are telling the public you are worried about your employer and about where you are contracted.”

Employers also have a responsibility to be informed, like in the Gareth Cliff instance, Makapane states “They reacted to a social outcry, a warning to companies: Although you can give credence to what the public has to say, be careful not to violate the right of your employees or contractors as well”.

Social media conducts are no different from any normal misconduct cases Makapane says and that they need to be treated the same, through process like a hearing and be able to substantiate the reasons why the employee should face sanction.

The concept of criminalising hate speech has been around for a while the lawyer said, “Whether it is racism or hate speech, we already have laws dealing with it, it is just that these laws are perhaps not that popular or known to the public and they are not being affected,” said Makapane.

“This indicates to me just how many South African’s actually don’t know about the existence of those laws – But I guess this is why we are lawyers.”


Herschel Jawitz CEO of Jawitz Properties has condemned the racist statements made by former estate agent, Penny Sparrow, who left the company in November 2015, labeling them as unacceptable.

The ex-agent’s Facebook page erroneously stated that she was still an employee of Jawitz Properties.  This has now been corrected. In addition, properties reflecting her name on another property website have also been updated.

Jawitz Properties has been operating for many years during which it has built an impeccable reputation in the marketplace.  We would like to strongly emphasise that the racial comments made by the ex-employee were done in her personal capacity and have no reflection whatsoever on our company or its views.

We are exploring all legal options and are engaging with our Industry regulatory body to ensure that Penny Sparrow is held accountable for her words. I feel both personally and professionally as the CEO of our company the same anger and outrage about these comments as the public.  It is unfortunate that the anger from the public has been misdirected towards our brand and not the person responsible for the comments made.

There is no place for these views in our country, in our society, in our industry and especially not in our Company.