fairview horses

Photo: Supplied

Fairview horses: Trainers, racing authorities war over ‘the facts’

Fairview trainers alleged that a horse was killed with a panga, but contradictory reports suggest that it died of self sustained injuries.

fairview horses

Photo: Supplied

The despicable incident that took place at the Fairview Racecourse in Port Elizabeth on Thursday, in which a mob of nearly 200 grooms and workers stormed the premises and released horses, killing one in the process, has led to contradictory reports that have muddied the waters of what actually transpired. 

While trainers employed by the racecourse have charged that several horses were injured by the rioting mob that entered the premises at around 6:00 on Thursday, police have made only one arrest related to the damage to property that occurred.

They have also suggested that a vet report indicates that the horses were injured as they fled the property, not as a result of assault by members of the group with a panga. 

‘The worst day of my life’ – Fairview trainer 

Speaking to GroundUp, trainer Hedley McGrawth said that the group had embarked on a siege of terror on Thursday morning, saying that 29 had been injured, with one injured. 

“This is the worst day of my life,” he said. “What they have done to my horses is barbaric and no human being can do that to animals. They stabbed and stoned my horses. One is dead and 29 are injured and traumatised. The vet will determine later the extent of injuries.”

He said that the cruelty inflicted on innocent animals, which had previously been under the care of the group, is unforgivable, adding that the dispute had begun earlier this year when one of the grooms stabbed a horse and was dismissed. 

“All these [workers] looked after million rand expensive race horses that can’t even harm a fly. They came to me on 14 February after the incident happened on the 7th. They said ‘please boss pay this guy so that he can go away’. I said I don’t pay someone who stabs my horse and no one can bribe me. He stabbed my horse on the neck and it nearly died. Then they decided to stay home and not come to work.”

“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.

Contradictory reports  

The incident has produced various reports of what actually happened though, with the Love Racing South Africa facebook group suggesting that the horse that died – Mark the Doorman, who belonged to trainer Yvette Bremner – had died of self-inflicted injuries. They said that their information had been procured by a “reliable source who wished to remain anonymous”.

“A large number of horses were set loose by the protestors and once they were chased out of the fenced training centre area, they ran loose in the unfenced area surrounding the racecourse,” they said, attempting to “set the record straight”.

“Unfortunately one loose horse jumped a fence in a panic and hit a wall. The horse broke it’s neck on impact and died. The cause of death was later confirmed by a veterinary surgeon. No protestors were directly involved in the death of this horse.”

Further, they charged that only one horse died, none were “doused in oil and burnt alive” (as was suggested by eye-witnesses on Thursday), no horses have broken legs and none have had to be euthanised.

“All the other horses inside the training centre were safe and unharmed. Their respective trainers fed, watered and cleaned their boxes in the morning. The horses were walked this afternoon and there are no further issues,” they said. 

Police arrest one Fairview rioter  

Police spokesperson Colonel Priscilla Naidoo confirmed to The South African that only one arrest had been made, with a 49-year old man remanded in custody and charged with public violence and malicious damage to property. 

She clarified that the charge was not malicious injury to property at Fairview, and said that police are awaiting a vet report they understand confirms that the horse was not killed as a result of wounds sustained from a panga assault. 

“We are still monitoring the area with people in the vicinity there. There is racing today so we are ensuring that no further public disorder ensues,” she said. 

“The suspect has not been charged for the injury to the horse. From what I understand they have released a vet a report that says that the horse died from a broken neck.”

‘Cover up’ underway 

McGrawth said that there is currently a “cover up” being carried out.

“There are currently many false stories being spread, and I am not sure what the purpose of this cover up is, but this morning was one of the most barbaric, savage attacks I have ever seen and pray to God we never see again,” he said. 

“I would like the owners of all of the race horses that are currently stabled at Fairview with the various trainers to know that it was not just Yvette Bremner’s grooms who took part in the riots this morning.” 

“It was also the grooms from the other yards who were part of the attacking and rioting.”

Workers dispute dismissal and UIF payments  

As far as the dispute between management and the protesting workers goes, one Fairview worker told Ground Up that they had taken the matter of the worker accused of stabbing a horse to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) in March just before the national lockdown was implemented.

“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,” said Mbeko Kolisile. 

“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.”

He said that he and his colleagues had additionally requested that they be paid funding from the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) owed to them by their boss. 

“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.