LISTEN: Rapper MarazA on his supermarket humiliation

LISTEN: Rapper MarazA on his supermarket humiliation

It was destined to create a social media storm, rapper MarazA videoed himself and his friends being detained at the exit of the Pick n Pay in Killarney the other night while their purchases were “verified” - and then posted it online, and it quickly blew up into a race issue. 

Rapper, MarazA
Twitter - MarazA

Listen to Wendy on the topic below, or read the details under the podcast.

When I saw MarazA’s tweet and the video footage showing him, real name S'phamandla Mhlongo, who was born and grew up in Kwadukuza or Stanger on the KZN north coast and now lives in Johannesburg - I presumed he and his three friends had been stopped in a routine bag search between paying and exiting the store.

It’s done by a lot of stores to stop cashiers colluding with friends or family by not scanning all their purchases, so typically what happens is a security guard asks for your slip and then counts the items in your bags or trolley to make sure all were paid for.

When I watched his video, I thought that’s what 28-year-old Mhlongo’s “detention” was about, and that he was upset because the white customers weren’t being subjected to the security searches, as they should have been.

But it wasn’t that at all, a Pick n Pay spokesman said.

That branch of PnP has been experiencing “a number of problematic card transactions, especially at closing time,” she said. “The store put random checks in place, and this was one of them. The security officer on duty did not ask to check MarazA's groceries and only the card transaction itself was verified.”

But that doesn’t gel with what Mhlongo says happened.

There was nothing random about the incident he said, and nothing was verified either.

From the moment he and his three mates entered the store at about 6.45 on Monday night, they were “marked” by the security personnel, who monitored them very closely.

MarazA speaks to Wendy Knowler 

“There were four of us, four guys dressed in an urban or hip hop kind of way, and as much as I think skin colour did pay a role i think it’s a class issue. I’m young, I’m hip, my pants are torn, I wear them below my waist, we speak in a very hip language..”

It wasn’t until Mhlongo had paid for two trolleys full of groceries and moved towards the exit, that they were approached by a security employee, about 15 minutes before closing time.

Mhlongo had spent about R8300 on his debit card for what he calls basic groceries for his immediate family of five, plus his extended family at a PnP in Killarney on Monday night - it’s a bulk buy he does every second month or so.

The security guard was hostile and accusatory, Mhlongo says, asking why they were shopping so late and why they’d bought so much.

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"He took a look at the groceries, took a look at the receipt, and took a look back at the groceries, but never once took hold of the card. He never once asked me to give him my card or to provide some form of ID, you see in the video I’m carrying the receipt and my wallet. 

In my wallet there is drivers licence, ID and bank card. He never asked to see any of that. He just said we need to verify and in the end he said It’s fine, you can go.”

He said the security guard kept going into an office to speak and get direction from a manager, who failed to emerge form the office.

PicknPay responds

In a media statement, Pick n Pay apologised 'for the inconvenience' experienced by Mhlongo  and he tells me he is going to deal directly with the retailer today.

So here’s the thing. Clearly retailers suffer huge losses from shoplifting from people colluding with cashiers to not pay for goods, and yes, card fraud too. 

ALSO READ: Online scams: Spot them before they catch you

But vast majority of consumers are honest and choosing to spend their hard-earned money in a particular store. 
So to my mind, given the realities of this country, random searches to search bags  or “verify” purchases are very ill-advised because of the impression they create.
 It may not be a big deal for the security personnel, but for those “randomly” detained, it’s absolutely humiliating.

The worst part, he told me, is that he can’t find those who witness their humiliation and tell them they weren’t found to have done anything wrong.

And when they were finally allowed to leave the store, the security personnel were cold and unapologetic.

I’ve heard from so many consumers who have been stopped on suspicion of shoplifting or some other criminal activity, treated badly and then released without much of a sorry, and the trauma and humiliation of the episode haunts them for a very long time. I don’t think the retailers really get that. And they really should.

That PnP statement ended with: “We value and appreciate MarazA as our customer at Killarney and are sorry if the reasons for the random check were not communicated better.”

The problem is it didn't feel random to those men, and the approach should have been very very different. Let’s hope big lessons have been learnt by all retailers who conduct security checks.

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