South African Pagan files religious discrimination complaint against employer

Damon Leff —  October 26, 2017 — Leave a comment

SOUTH AFRICA — In September 2017, shop manager and Pagan Shuvey Bower-Louw lodged a complaint with the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration against The Foschini Group (TFG), a South African fashion and lifestyles retailer. Bower-Louw says her previous employer discriminated against her because she is a Pagan.

Bower-Louw does not call herself a Witch. She describes herself as a Pagan seeking the Higher Self, who follows the cycles of the All Mother.

“I have been privileged to have been born within a line of healers.” She is a Life-Coach and owner of Healing Evolution SB .

Shuvey Bower-Louw [courtesy]

In an interview with the Sunday Times, Bower-Louw alleges that the discrimination against her religious beliefs actually started in 2014 after she was placed on suspension for two months for performing a purification ritual using incense, black feathers, and candles in the store.

Sunday Times journalist, Khanyi Ndabeni, reported that TFG admitted to charging her with negligence, but denied that the disciplinary action had anything to do with her religion.

In an interview with TWH, Bower-Louw said that, after the incident, she was routinely ridiculed by company executives and she felt embarrassed and offended.

In February 2016 she approached the South African Pagan Council for assistance. The Convenor, Morgause Fonteleve, sent a letter to TFG, which read in part:

‘…The employee feels that the repeated derisions, judgement, jokes about her spiritual walk, the humiliation she has repeatedly been subjected to during her three years in your employment, is tantamount to coercion to resignation, according to Section 186 (e) of the Labour Relations Act, 66, 1995. She now wishes to put her unhappiness and dissatisfaction in writing, as well as declare that the situation at hand has become intolerable … since no steps have been taken from management side to prevent those in your employment, from desisting with their … repeated violation of her freedoms, which in itself constitutes an infringement of her religious rights…’.

The Council suggested that the company formally address the matter with a circular that encouraged management and staff to desist from discriminatory behaviour.

Together with seven other staff members, Bower-Louw lodged a formal complaint with the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious, and Linguistic Communities against the company. That complaint alleged that TFG routinely disregarded the cultural and religious rights of employees who are members of minority religions.

To date, the Commission has not yet dealt with the case.

According to Bower-Louw as reported in The Sunday Times, “The discrimination and ill treatment by the company worsened last year when she applied for religious leave for April 30 to celebrate an event on the Pagan calendar marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter.”

Bower-Louw explained further: “I approached the company @HomeLivingSpace [one of TFG’s brands] for religious leave in April 2016. I wanted to celebrate All Hallows eve, the Witches new year.”

She claims that TFG’s Human Resources Information Management responded by saying “South Africans do not celebrate Halloween, and you have the wrong date, it is celebrated on the 31st of October.”

Bower-Louw adds that TFG only recognised three minority religious groups – Islam, Hinduism and Judaism – and members of these faiths were permitted to apply for religious leave.

After further discussion between the South African Pagan Council‘s executive members, Fonteleve sent a letter to TFG at Bower-Louw’s request.

 

Fonteleve told TWH: “We were not involved in the case; we sent the company a letter explaining that Paganism is a recognised and protected religion in South Africa.”

SAPC also included a southern hemisphere Pagan calendar, and encouraged the company to promote religious equality and provide for religious leave for their employees. It read:

‘…Our Organization is aware that SA Labour Law does not make provision for Religious Leave, however, TFG have accorded this privilege to Muslims, Hindus and Jews… TFG LEAVE POLICY clearly states that TFG recognizes certain religious leave, over and above SA Public Holidays. It further states that other religious holidays for these groups will be granted at the discretion of management.’

Kathryn Sakalis, TFG’s Head of Marketing and E-commerce was reported by the Sunday Times as saying: “All TFG employees are entitled to two ‘well-being leave’ days per year, which are provided on top of annual leave, bonus leave and public holidays. These days can be used for religious leave.”

Bower-Louw recalls, “I was humoured by an informal meeting April 13, 2016, and informed that ‘higher powers are looking into my request’ and that corporate business does not change overnight.”

She was eventually denied religious leave on appeal, and obligated to take two days from her annual leave.

After being diagnosed with cancer, Bower-Louw was placed on sick leave in late 2016 and ,although she was requested by TFG to return to work in August 2017, Shuveny opted instead to resign.

“I have been diagnosed with adrenal fatigue, hungry bone syndrome, and a severe calcium constrain after the 5 hospitalisations, tests and radiation.”

Despite the diagnoses, Bower-Louw remains determined to pursue her CCMA Arbitration against TFG.

Damon Leff

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Damon Leff is a Witch, human rights advocate and law student. He is the founding director of the South African Pagan Rights Alliance, and editor-in-chief of Penton Independent Alternative Media. He lives with his partner, greyhounds, and other familiars on a smallholding in the southern Cape, South Africa.