ALL those jokes about Nigerian drug dealers and shysters? – don’t translate them into an anti-Nigerian workplace or business policy or you could find yourself in big trouble.
Nigerian doctor Anderson Anyikwa was barred from an upmarket restaurant during 2010 by a bouncer who declared that Nigerians were not welcome. And Anyikwa, a highly-qualified medic with business qualifications as well, employed by the department of health at Livingstone Hospital, Port Elizabeth, was not amused.
Ironically it later emerged that the bouncer himself was Nigerian, though apparently his employers didn’t know.
It was a mid winter evening in 2010, plenty of visiting Nigerians in town because Port Elizabeth was hosting the Nigerian world cup team, and Anyikwa – who by now regarded himself as a local – took himself down to the Cubano Latino Café on the beach front after he’d heard good reviews of the place.
As he reached the eatery he noticed a senior medical colleague there with a party of friends. The colleague, identified by the court only as ‘Dr Smith’, greeted him and the two walked together to the entrance.
There they met doorman Ike Enwere, and that’s when the trouble began. Anyikwa’s version, accepted by Judge Jeremy Pickering, sitting in the Equality Court, Port Elizabeth, was that Enwere asked Anyikwa where he was from, though no other guests were asked the same question.
Anyikwa said he was from Port Elizabeth – he wanted to stress he was a local and not a foreign tourist in town for the Soccer World Cup. No, said Enwere, that’s not what I mean: where are you from originally?
Anyikwa said he was from Nigeria. Wrong answer. Enwere informed him that he couldn’t allow Anyikwa to enter: no Nigerians allowed inside. Anyikwa, shocked, said that Enwere’s actions ‘amounted to racism’ and as far as he know, racism was ‘not allowed in South Africa’.
At that point Smith intervened. He later explained to the court that as a coloured man he had experienced race discrimination in the past. He found it completely unacceptable and felt sick to his stomach.
Smith told Enwere he knew Anyikwa, a medical doctor, and that they were colleagues. He could ‘vouch for the fact that (he) didn’t sell drugs’. Enwere was unmoved: he had strict instructions not to allow Nigerians into the restaurant, he said.
Faced by this determined bar, Anyikwa went to the Humewood police station and reported what had happened. Two uniformed police officers returned with him to the eatery. The doorman called some people including Nadia van Mollendorff, who said she was part of the management team.
From this point things are a little confusing because some of the witnesses testified that Anyikwa’s problem wasn’t his nationality – but his dress code. This was later discounted by the judge who said Enwere’s description of Anyikwa’s dress could not be believed: he described the man as wearing a t-shirt, jeans and tackies.
Anyikwa, Smith and one of the police officers both contradicted this. It was winter said Anyikwa, and he was wearing ‘a shirt with a collar, a roll neck jersey, a smart pair of long trousers and a pair of black ‘Italian shoes’.’ He added that the incident was ‘deeply humiliating and insulting’ to himself and all other law-abiding Nigerians.
Smith, a specialist anaesthetist and an associate professor, said he heard the bouncer telling Anyikwa he couldn’t go in because no Nigerians were allowed. During the conversation Enwere also pointed to the ‘right of admission’ sign and mentioned ‘dress code’ without elaborating.
That, said Smith, made him check his own gear. Fortunately he had no problems: he was wearing ‘a pair of Woolworths trousers, a Woolworths zip-up jersey with a collar and a pair of slip-on brown shoes’. He also checked his colleague’s attire and concluded that he looked neat and comparable to other patrons being allowed in.
Van Mollendorff denied it was policy to keep Nigerians out. In fact most of the eatery’s clientele were black and a large proportion of these were Nigerian, she said.
Faced with these contradictory accounts the court found the version of Anyikwa and Smith more believable, partly because of the demeanour of Smith, described by the court as ‘an outstandingly good witness’ who withstood ‘an extremely aggressive cross-examination with quiet dignity.’
Enwere on the other hand was defensive and evasive, while it emerged Van Mollendorff was quite unable to say what Anyikwa was wearing.
‘There is a sartorial chasm’ between what Enwere said Anyikwa was wearing and the clothing described by the police and Smith, said the court, with the probabilities overwhelmingly in favour of Anyikwa’s version. And if Anyikwa was properly dressed then the only plausible inference was that he was refused entry because he was a Nigerian.
Once this was proved the law prohibiting unfair discrimination kicked in and the court awarded Anyikwa R40 000 in compensation. Judge Pickering also approved an unconditional apology in the media. Even if the lounge did not have a policy of discriminating against Nigerians, he said, it should apologise for the actions of its doorman.
And that’s why, if you’re reading a Port Elizabeth newspaper, you may come across an apology to a Nigerian doctor, expressing deep regret for certain events at the Cubano Latino Café in 2010 and for the hurt the incident caused him.