Austrian Hinteregger Jurgen, an employer running a construction company in Malawi, was recently deported for calling a local worker “a monkey.”
Jurgen, a 46-year-old manager at Strabag International, a German construction company working on a 47-kilometer road in Nkhata Bay, Malawi, reportedly insulted one of his Malawian truck drivers, after he accidentally stepped on some metal bars that punctured one of his water tanker’s tires, according to Nyasa Times.
“This angered Jurgen who shouted and called me a ‘monkey’ and snatched vehicle keys from me,” water tanker driver Charles Devina said.
According to Ignatius Esau, the police spokesman in Nkhata Bay, Jurgen was immediately arrested and locked up at Songwe border police post, where Malawian authorities were waiting for further instructions before his deportation.
Wesley Mwafulirwa, Strabag International’s lawyer, maintains that soon afterward, Jurgen was eventually “driven to the border” shared with Tanzania, “The immigration officers drove him to the border without even telling him where he was headed to, only to be told by well-wishers after disembarking from the vehicle that he is no longer in Malawi. We could [have been] more civilized.”
The allegedly racist attack, which happened in late March, angered Malawian workers at the construction site who resolved to boycott work until the necessary actions were taken against their employer.
Malawian Road Authority Spokesperson Portia Kalanga later reported that the K16.8 billion project will continue after the striking workers agreed to return to work.
Social Media Uproar
The incident has generated mixed reactions on social media with some people castigating the German company and calling for the immediate deportation of Jurgen.
Douglas Banda wrote on Facebook:
Those of you backing this White guy should get yourself an air ticket and fly to Germany. There you will understand what it means to be called a “monkey,” when you are Black.
When you are on a public transport in Germany and you are Black, the Whites literary move away from you as if you are stinking — all because you are Black. It’s worse than you think it is. The White guy must go.”
Yet, according to Mwafulirwa, “monkey” is a common word used in Jurgen’s home country, “He indeed said ‘you are driving like a monkey.’ But in his country, Austria, that’s a common expression meaning you are a bad driver. In their country it’s not racist at all.”
And others have accused the truck driver of being reckless, saying his careless behavior warranted the attack:
Let’s look at the issue within a larger context and with sobriety…. I hear the driver messed up with his job, leading to loss of property in form of damaged pipes etc. The German boss “out of anger,” looking at the damage, called the driver a ‘name’ just as any one of us annoyed might call one “chitsilu,” “mbuzi,” “nyani,” etc…many times…when people are hurt, angry, frustrated, etc. they call each other names and yet we don’t just deport them,” Franklin Simtowe also wrote on Facebook.
Comparing Black people to monkeys, though, is one of the most common racially disparaging insults used to make the Black race feel inferior and see itself as less human than other races.
As for the victimized Devina, the driver reportedly lost his job for revealing Jurgen’s treatment, “I do not know what will be next over the matter. The company has fired me. Jurgen has not even apologized to me. Why is this happening within my country?”
Minister of Home Affairs and Internal Security Grace Chiumia, though, insists Devina will be assisted.
by Fredrick Ngugi