A pro-Palestinian group in South Africa – Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) South Africa – has hailed Virgin Active’s apology to its leader Mohammed Desai as a victory for freedom of expression.
The health club denied Desai entry to its Old Eds branch near Johannesburg for wearing a T-shirt reading: “From the coast of Cape Town to the coast of Gaza, in solidarity with Palestinians against Israeli apartheid.”
In the apology published on its website, Virgin Active said: “We have taken the highly publicised events at Old Eds Virgin Active health club this week extremely seriously…
“We have thoroughly investigated the decisions we took, and the reasons behind them, which ultimately led to a member, Mr Desai, being informed that he could not enter the gym wearing a particular T-shirt.”
This process included a “very senior team flying immediately to Johannesburg” to personally meet Desai.
The club said it is now reviewing its procedures “as a result to find more appropriate ways to manage any tensions which might arise in what is meant to be a positive space for members’ fitness and wellness.”
After the apology was issued, Desai said: “This is not my victory nor that of BDS South Africa, but of all those thousands of South Africans who took to social media and other platforms in anger against the blatant violation of basic constitutional rights.”
BDS spokesperson Kwara Kekana added that the move was also a victory “against the Israeli lobby and its supporters’ consistent pressuring and harassing of businesses, members of the public as well as media who voice or even just allow legitimate criticism of Israel”.