AfriForum hauls tourism minister to court over 'racist' Covid-19 relief aid
DISPATCH LIVE / 15 APRIL 2020 - 14.33 / JEFF WICKS
Contentious lobby group AfriForum has hauled the department of tourism to court in an urgent bid to overturn race criteria which determine which businesses score state-sponsored Covid-19 relief bailouts.
At the heart of the looming legal battle is the R200m Tourism Relief Fund, announced by minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane as a buffer for businesses in the tourism sector which have been severely affected by the national lockdown.
AfriForum CEO Kallie Kriel says the tourism minister's race criteria for loans to help businesses hurt by the lockdown are 'shameful and unlawful'. 'Discrimination on the basis of race and other unalterable characteristics is immoral and inexcusable,' Kriel says. Image: Gallo Images/Netwerk24/Deaan Vivier
It provides for a one-off grant of up to R50,000 for financially distressed businesses.
According to papers before the court, the tourism department intends to apply “empowerment criteria” when considering pleas for a bailout, and it would be an exercise in aid of transformation.
But AfriForum CEO Kallie Kriel called the race criteria shameful and unlawful, insisting that the discrimination did nothing towards funding those who need it most.
“The tourism minister’s stated intention to help only some people and not others, because of the colour of their skin, their age or their gender, makes a mockery of South Africa’s constitutional democracy,” he said in an affidavit.
“Discrimination on the basis of race and other unalterable characteristics is immoral and inexcusable. It is unacceptable that President Cyril Ramaphosa could call for national unity ... only for the tourism minister to insist that race and other immutable characteristics would be used as the basis for determining which South Africans would receive government support,” he wrote.
Kriel said that beyond the discriminatory posture, the one-off cash payments would do little to uplift those previously disadvantaged.
“The fund is intended to assist businesses, not persons or categories of persons,” he added.
This was the foundation for his contention that the decision to apply “race-based and other criteria concerned” violates the principles of law and asked that the decision be reviewed and set aside.
On the eve of the lockdown, AfriForum reacted when an unpublished department of trade & industry document indicated that to be granted state assistance, a business would need to be majority black owned.
The department dismissed the document as a fake while AfriForum sabre-rattled with a court challenge.
Kubayi-Ngubane however on Wednesday slammed AfriForum’s claims and insisted that their court challenge was a publicity stunt.
“No such court papers were filed with the court by AfriForum. Therefore, any statement issued to the contrary is disingenuous,” she said.
The ministry had received court papers from AfriForum’s lawyers but considered them moot as they didn’t bear a court case number. “This means there is no court process, which was initiated, and we are not able to respond to court.”
She moved to defend the transformation agenda of the relief fund, saying that it was guided by the Tourism Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment Codes of Good Practice. “Our vision to ensure sustainable and inclusive tourism development,” she said. The matter will be heard in the Pretoria high court on April 21.
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