By Nicholas Godfrey
South Africa: A horrific incident at Fairview racecourse in Port Elizabeth has reportedly left one racehorse killed with a panga (a machete-like tool) and more badly injured after 28 horses were released from the track’s stable complex as violence erupted amid a vicious employment dispute.
In an article under the headline ‘Fairview horse massacre – workers attack animals following pay dispute’, The South African reported that a disgruntled group of ex-employees stormed the premises on Thursday, one of them having been fired for allegedly stabbing a horse in recent weeks.
A report at sahorseracing.com said the group were acting in retaliation against a specific trainer, “killing and maiming horses, whilst threatening female trainer with gender-based violence”. The trainer was later identified as Yvette Bremner.
Police were called to Fairview after 28 horses were let loose from the holding stables at about 6am when a group said to number up to 200 from a nearby informal settlement on the Phumelela racing grounds arrived at the stable with weapons. They were later dispersed and a number of arrests were made – but not before chaos ensued.
“One horse was killed and others have been injured,” reported police spokesperson Colonel Priscilla Naidoo amid the mayhem. “The racecourse has opened a case of malicious damage to property and the Public Order Police Service (POPS) is on the scene trying to contain the situation. There were 28 horses released. Most have been recovered.”
Reports suggest the feuding grooms who worked at the stables had lost their jobs and were angry at not receiving Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) payments. The training business at the centre of the dispute is said to have a court interdict against the group.
One stable manager who spoke to the South African described the actions of the protestors as “pure evil” and outlined a scene of chaos. “I have dead horses, I have injured horses – they killed one in the bushes,” they said. “This is an absolute nightmare. These people are barbaric, it’s absolute savagery.
“The riot is still going on but it seems that cops have got it under control. They have set a horse alight, they killed one, there are a couple with broken legs.”
Among owners with horses in the yard is the international racing syndicate, the International Racing Club. “Something has to be done to stop this incredible violence and abuse against these animals,” said their spokesman Michael de Haast at sahorseracing.com.
“It is a very sad day in this country, when innocent animals are slaughtered and abused due to greed and hate,” he added. “We want action now.”
Friday’s scheduled card at Fairview is in the balance. De Haast added: “We are calling on all trainers and other yards to stop all racing immediately until Phumelela take responsibility for what is happening and protect these horses. Something has to be done.”
• More South African racing news at the sahorseracing.com website