But Mbeko Kolisile, a worker, said: “In February one of our colleagues was busy cutting one of the horse’s hair. The horse jumped and he mistakenly cut its ear. But our boss got angry and fired him, claiming that the vet would charge him R13,000. We asked the owner not to fire him but to deduct the money from all of us because that mistake could happen to all of us. But he fired all of us instead.”
The workers took the matter to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) in March, just before the national lockdown was implemented. “During level 4 of the lockdown we went back to the CCMA and we were asked to lodge a new complaint. Our boss told us that we can go anywhere but we will never win our case. We then decided to drop the case and ask for our UIF and service money because we are financially struggling,” said Kolisile.
On Wednesday, the workers went to the Port Elizabeth Department of Labour to apply for UIF and were told they were not eligible because they had absconded from work.
On Thursday, the workers and surrounding community members stormed the stables and began attacking the horses with stones, pangas, sticks and knobkerries. Police were called to disperse them with rubber bullets and stun grenades.
According to police spokesperson Col Priscilla Naidu, more than 150 protesters from the Fairview informal settlement freed about 28 horses early on Thursday. She said witnesses reported the horses “running in all directions with their abusers taunting them with sticks and stones”.
Naidu said the injured horses were treated by the Animal Anti-Cruelty League. “A case of malicious injury to property is opened and under investigation,” she said.
After the incident on Thursday, McGrath said: “We don’t owe them a cent and we followed all the labour laws of this country. I have a court order against them. Now I am busy with my legal team to see which is the next step to take.
“These horses are owned by prominent people who are now also calling me to check on the safety of their horses.”
On the threat made by the workers that they would continue protests, preventing any racing from taking place at Fairview racecourse, McGrath said: “My company just trains the horses and we have nothing to do with the racecourse.”
This article was first published by GroundUp.