Trade union Solidarity on Monday laid a criminal complaint against Small Business Development Minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni over her department’s requirement that black economic empowerment (BEE) would be a condition to qualify for COVID-19 relief funds.
The union said the criminal complaint, which included perjury, was laid at the Lyttelton police station in Pretoria.
In a statement released on Monday, Solidarity said the minister – under oath and in court documents – had given the union the undertaking that race did not play a role as a criterion for assistance to small businesses.
“We cannot just leave it at that when a minister lies in court documents. It would make a mockery of the legal process. Solidarity withdrew a court case against the minister and her department based on what she undertook under oath,” Solidarity chief executive Dirk Hermann said.
According to the union, on 25 March it filed complaints against the Department of Small Business Development and the Department of Tourism after both departments had indicated that BEE would be a requirement to qualify for relief funds.
In response, the Department of Small Business Development apparently assured Solidarity under oath that this was not the case. As a result, Solidarity did not proceed with the case against the department. The case against the Department of Tourism was heard in the Northern Gauteng High Court on 28 April, which the union lost.
“On the day, the lawsuit against the Department of Tourism ended, the minister changed her story again,” Hermann said.
Solidarity said at a portfolio committee meeting held on 28 April, Ntshavheni acknowledged that BEE was indeed a requirement for small businesses to qualify for relief funds, which contradicted the court documents handed to Solidarity.
“On 29 April, in a letter to the minister, Solidarity insisted that relief funds should not be allocated on the basis of race. Solidarity is of the opinion that it has no choice but to proceed with a criminal charge,” the statement from Solidarity stated.
Hermann said granting relief aid on the basis of race was still bizarre.
“We are not going to leave it at that. We have laid a criminal charge against the minister. We will also lodge an urgent appeal to the Constitutional Court and file a complaint with the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Businesses are suffering, people are in need, but all the government sees is the colour of your skin. We will not cease fighting this,” he said.