SARS has apologised to staff for dragging its feet in dealing with a complaint of racism against a senior manager who used a toy gorilla in her address to black staff.

Acting SARS Commissioner Mark Kingon wrote to the staff on Tuesday, his last day in the position before new Commissioner Edward Kieswetter took over, to apologise that it ‘took a newspaper to expose the deep hurt and damage done to people's dignity’, notes a report in the Sunday Times, which reported last week that Susan Fourie, a data-analytics executive, had produced the stuffed toy and told black colleagues it was a visual representation of a ‘gorilla of a problem’.

Fourie faces disciplinary charges of inappropriate behaviour and contravention of the SARS code of conduct. She is still at work.

The gorilla incident took place in August 2017. It was reported two months later and wasn't investigated until a hearing in April. Kingon said in his letter: ‘We should have acted far quicker and more decisively, even as we await the outcome of disciplinary procedures which are currently under way.’

In her responding affidavit to the charges, Fourie (51) said she had been asked to deal with what had been described to her as a ‘gorilla of a problem’.

She said: ‘As a visual representative of the problem, I got up from my chair and within context explained that the gorilla represented for me the nature of the task, the combined problem at hand, and put it on the desk in front of us. It was not aimed at any individual and I explained the "monkey doll" (as it is referred to in business practice) in that context.’

Staff in SARS' trade statistics department told their new manager, Victor Munyama, that the incident had left them disturbed.

Full Sunday Times report (subscription needed)