In reality, the Dischem letter reflects the country’s policies

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By Howard Feldman

“From this moment onwards, we will be boycotting Dischem.” This was the news that I announced to my family who I had gathered on short and urgent notice. Mainly I focused the message on my 17-year-old daughter who I felt needed to hear it most. She does, after all, spend a large portion of her time and a significant amount of her (my) spare cash at the store.

I picked my timing carefully. Unknown to them, it had little to do with the leaked letter or memorandum allegedly penned by Dischem CEO Ivan Saltsman, but I knew they would assume that it was the case.

In reality, it was about saving money and the fantasy of all the disposable income I would now have once my daughter could no longer purchase all her hair and skin products: products she simply could not live without, apparently.

I know what she means. Last week I needed to pick up some Nexium (it’s a Jewish middle-aged reflux staple) that I had mysteriously run out of. Following my morning radio show I dashed past the nearest Dischem to replenish my stock. Having collected it at the dispensary at the back of the store and after having had the medicine double wrapped, sealed, locked in a bag that would self-destruct if tampered with and could now only be opened with an iris scanner at the till, I meandered down the aisle towards payment, cradling my precious cargo as though it was heroine.

The Dischem aisles are clever. They remind you that you need deodorant, that your hands are dry and that your feet could do with some love. But what was particularly impressive, is that they even can get a bald guy to linger in the hair-care section. I have not needed shampoo for a good part of a decade, but still I found myself reading the ingredients and instructions of some very finely scented hair products. Had the Nexium not fallen in my Discovery payment gap, there is no doubt that I would currently be the owner of a bottle or two of never to be used shampoo and conditioner that promised to untangle and give body to even the most stubborn of locks.

After adding some chewing gum, deodorant and vitamins to the Nexium, I exited the store and resolved to never step foot into it again.

Like an alcoholic would treat a bar.

And then, social media gifted me with the so-called leaked letter. Perhaps clumsily and too directly written, the reality is that the letter focused on the policy that has been adopted by the country. We might cringe when we read it, detest the contents in principle, but like it or not, it merely holds up a mirror and reflects the policies that have been adopted in the country.

To shoot Dischem as the messenger, is to blame Eskom alone and not the ANC for the power outages. 

Here is another take. Instead of focusing on the Dischem letter in itself, we should be using the opportunity to examine policies about equity in South Africa. How do we best achieve goals of inclusivity, how do we address inequality and how do we create a successful economic environment that will allow all South Africans to flourish? If the letter achieves anything, let it be constructive and valuable dialogue.

And if it can keep my 17-year-old out the store for a week or two, well then it’s a real win-win.