Homophobic staff at Cape Quarter coffee shop make chef’s life a misery

Bootlegger management says homophobia is unacceptable and it is rectifying the situation

Photo of a man

Irvine Goto works at coffee-restaurant chain Bootlegger in the Cape Quarter. He says he is struggling to cope with homophobia at work. Photo: Tariro Washinyira

By Tariro Washinyira

16 April 2019

Irvine Goto works at coffee-restaurant chain Bootlegger in the Cape Quarter, which used to be the heart of the city’s gay district. But Goto, who is gay, says he is insulted at work.

The 28-year-old Zimbabwean says most of his colleagues are Zimbabwean. He says they call him ngochani, a derogatory word in Shona for a man who sleeps with men.

“I have thought of resigning but then I told myself to persevere until I get another job. Each day I wake up with the zeal to go to work, but the mood and motivation disappears once I get to work because of the treatment I get from other employees,” said Goto.

Goto lives in Delft and came to South Africa in 2015. He is a chef in the salads and grill section. When waiters come to check on their orders they ask for ngochani instead of calling for him by name. Some workers won’t enter the cold room if he is inside it or eat food which is prepared by him.

“I thought it was just a phase and it would pass, but this year the bullying has become worse,” said Goto, who started work in late 2017.

A friend, Ishmael [surname withheld], warned him of the homophobic environment when he got the job. Ishmael had previously worked there and left.

“Management told the employees who were calling me names that if they didn’t stop they would be arrested or the company would terminate their contracts. There is new management, probably that’s why Goto has become vulnerable,” said Ishmael.

Goto said last year he reported his ill treatment several times to management, but nothing was done.

He then turned to PASSOP, an NGO focused on the rights of immigrants in South Africa.

GroundUp spoke to the general manager of the restaurant, Jethro Jenneker, who said he is new and was not aware of Goto’s situation until last week when he got a call from PASSOP. He has advised Goto to send details of his complaints to the company’s human resources department.

“What has been happening is unacceptable. I have put some action in place and I am rectifying the situation as soon as possible,” he said.