The allegations include him putting a rope around a black cadet’s neck and making him walk on all fours, “like a dog”.
This is a sensitive issue so please take note that Wayne Sternsdorf, the fireman in question, is innocent until proven guilty.
False claims of racism are as bad as racism itself.
I report on it because there’s been no pursuit of truth by the City of Cape Town, the Knysna Municipality has been secretive, and my hometown public are unaware of it.
I’m a huge admirer of our firefighters. In no way is this blog meant to reflect negatively on them as a whole. It’s my hope that the members of our our fire service would have preferred this to have been speedily and professionally resolved by their bosses.
WHY THE SECRECY?
Outside the racist charges, there are other relevant questions:
Why did Knysna ignore the controversy? Did cronyism get Sternsdof his job? Was Knysna Municipality legally allowed to hire him? Why, for 4 months, did Knysna bigshots, Director Dawie Adonis and Municipal Manager Grant Easton, fail to answer my questions? Why is this serious matter not being treated seriously???
Sternsdorf was hired in September 2015 by Knysna Municipality’s Fire Station Chief Clint Manuel. Manuel had only being hired in February, around the time this controversy erupted in Cape Town.
Sternsdorf is currently the fire chief for Sedgefield and Karatara, outlying areas of the Knysna Municipality.
Manuel was apparently Sternsdorf’s boss and friend in Cape Town when Manuel was the Divisional Commander for training at Cape Town Fire Rescue Services (CTFS). That included the Epping Fire Training Centre.
The alleged racist incident happened at the same training centre. There were also other accusations of racism.
ALLEGED RACIST FIREMAN INCIDENT
Die Son, in February 2015, mentioned an email from Zolile Mhambi, the shop steward from SAMWU (South African Municipal Workers’ Union), to Richard Bosman, Cape Town’s Executive Director for Safety and Security.
The letter included the claim that, “Sternsdorf het ’n kadet vier maal teen die kop geslaan, ’n tou om sy nek gedraai en geskree: ‘Boy, you will be my dog and do what I tell you to do!’“
Sternsdorf was apparently warned that he may lose his job. Several cadets wrote affidavits against Sternsdorf.
In Sternsdorf’s defence, he claimed that it was a lie. He said that he’d laid a charge against the main cadet in question and was involved as a witness against two others. He reckoned that this was their way of trying to get rid of him.
Sternsdorf was temporarily transferred to another district so as to await the outcome of the disciplinary hearing.
Their was unwillingness to act from the beginning.
Mikel Khumalo, the SAMWU Cape Metro Regional Secretary, said that he had to threaten the City of Cape Town with protest action if they failed to act.
On April 17 2015, SAMWU members, including local shop steward, Charles Fezi, protested outside the fire department’s head office in Goodwood. Their goal was to force Bosman and Ian Schnetler, the Chief Fire Officer, to acknowledge their outcry against the alleged racist acts committed by Sternsdorf.
But the cadets were never heard. On the day of the disciplinary hearing, Sternsdorf handed in his resignation.
He then got hired by Knysna Firestation Chief Clint Manuel, who must surely have been aware of the Cape Town controversy. The fire circle is small and the scandal was huge.
Sternsdorf’s hiring in Knysna should have been illegal because one cannot walk away from a disciplinary hearing for a government position only to occupy a similar position elsewhere. By quitting, the disciplinary procedure stops but once a new government post is gained, it returns as if never vanished.
Even if early ignorance of the alleged racist incidents is claimed, Manuel and the Knysna Municipality would’ve discovered them during the obligatory background check that accompanies a job application.
Sternsdorf would also have been obliged to disclose what had happened in Cape Town on his Knysna application form. Did he? To not do so would’ve been fraud.
It would seem that there had to have been deliberate failure.
PAYING LIP SERVICE TO RACISM
4 months ago, my email to Director Dawie Adonis said: “I understand that this is a sensitive matter. So as to not put you under pressure, i will wait 3 days for your response so long as you acknowledge this email today and assure me that you’ll treat it with the gravity it deserves.”
Georlene Wolmarans, the Mayor of Knysna, said in January, in response to another alleged racist incident, that, “Knysna Municipality strongly condemns all forms of discrimination or racism. There is no place for such acts in our beautiful town… Any acts of discrimination or racism reported or perceived are not a reflection on Knysna as a town and have no place in our society.”
Knysna Municipality chose to block cooperation.
Patricia de Lille, the Mayor of Cape Town, said in May that, “We are mobilising the voices of the majority who are not racist to speak out and condemn all forms of racism and discrimination.”
The City of Cape Town hasn’t officially responded to my queries and hasn’t pursued the disciplinary action.
The Knysna DA, ANC and COPE also, so far, failed to respond to my email.
Has the response to racism in the Western Cape become lip service?
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