Dis-Chem has withdrawn an internal memo that called for a moratorium on hiring of white people.
It said it regretted offending staff and customers.
The pharmaceutical retailer said it was committed to transformation.
JSE-listed Dis-Chem has done an about turn, withdrawing an internal memorandum to staff from its founder and CEO Ivan Saltzman that called for a moratorium on hiring white people at the pharmaceutical retailer.
The group, whose original memo was aimed at improving its employment equity targets, said in a "communique" from its board that it regretted offending staff and customers, and vowed to improve internal processes around what it communicated in the future.
After initially standing by the memo on Friday, the company said on Monday it regretted the "wording and tone" of the memo, adding it had "been erroneously widely shared".
"We acknowledge that it did not reflect our values. Its release did not follow our correct internal vetting processes and steps have been put in place to ensure that, going forward, relevant checks and balances are thoroughly duly performed."
It said that "more importantly" it regretted the "offence and distress it caused to so many people, including our staff and millions of loyal customers", adding it valued all its employees and appreciated their contribution to the group.
"We reiterate that while the wording of the internal memo was withdrawn, its intention remains," Dis-Chem said on Tuesday. "All appointments at junior, middle and senior management level will require CEO approval, and appointments will be made based on merit and the necessity of giving employment preference to previously disadvantaged individuals."
On Friday, the retailer had told News24 Business that the "memo still stands, and Dis-Chem reiterates its commitment to the transformation journey".
In the memo to senior management dated 19 September, Saltzman had announced the moratorium, which includes external appointments and internal promotions.
"It’s the ratio between white and black that counts. So, when no suitable black candidate is found, and a white is appointed, we need several blacks just to maintain the status quo, never mind moving forward," said Saltzman in the memo.
Saltzman said the achievement of set employment equity targets would be incorporated into the bonus structures of management and the "allocation will be issued in due course".
"This will form a large part of your KPAs, probably a third. This is for real, each region has a base from which to work and a target."
Saltzman said no managerial appointments (including senior, middle and junior) were to be made without his "direct approval as CEO".
In Monday’s statement, the group said it stood by "the unequivocal imperative to continue our transformation journey", adding that "equality, diversity and inclusivity are important throughout Dis-Chem".
It said it continued to "make great strides in ensuring that we maintain progress in this area".
"We have always been cognisant of imperative to comply with all legislation including employment equity on our journey to meet transformation targets, and with a priority of employment on merit, based on our view of giving employment preference to previously disadvantaged communities. We apologise for the erroneous communication which caused offence to any South African community."
The article’s headline has been corrected, and a quote from Dis-Chem has been added, to confirm that the company withdrew the wording of the memo – and not the moratorium on hiring white people.