Stories and Traveltips

ID #5151

The Case of the Bloody Tooth, Fedmis Phalaborwa, Lowveld, Limpopo Province, South Africa.

In the mid-80’s South Africa was in political turmoil. For my sins I was chosen to be the Chairman of all disciplinary enquiries in the factory. One such enquiry involved a dispute between two employees, one black and one white.

An assault had taken place in the very early morning while still dark and without any witnesses other than the two protagonists who were involved. The meeting started with my interrogation of the white employee. He said he was calmly going about his business when suddenly, without warning or provocation, he was attacked by the black employee. He retaliated in self-defence, knocking out the black employees tooth.

In my interrogation of the black employee, his interpretation was exactly the opposite. According to him, he was quietly going about his business when, without warning or provocation, he was suddenly attacked by the white employee who assaulted him, knocking out his tooth. Then he unwrapped a filthy handkerchief to reveal the bloody tooth as evidence.

Clealy one or both of the parties was lying. But which one? I thought about it a while and then said to the white employee: “If I believe your argument then it means that I believe that he black employee is lying, and I have no evidence to draw such a conclusion”

Then I turned to the black employee and said: “If I accept your interpretation of events, it means that I believe that the white employee is lying, for which there is no evidence other than your statement”

So I decided to throw the case out for lack of evidence. After filling out the necessary paperwork, the meeting ended and both parties went on their way.

However I was surprised to be accosted by several employees during the rest of the day, all of whom were quite upset with my decision. “You should have fired the black employee” they said. “On what basis” I replied. Then I realized that, if one wants to avoid being overwhelmed by events, the key issue is absolute personal integrity. It was the one attribute that disappears as soon as the situation becomes emotionally charged (If, when all have lost their heads… from "If" by Rudyard Kipling). And it was sorely lacking on this occasion. I subsequently maintained this position to advantage – an important lesson learned from being involved in such momentous events.

Alan McIver

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Last update: 2014-03-17 02:16
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.5

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