Racehorse trainers and owners in Port Elizabeth voted to go ahead with Friday’s race meeting at Fairview racecourse – despite Thursday’s horrific attack on 28 horses stabled at the venue on Thursday.
One horse was killed and several others were seriously injured and in danger of being euthanised after they were set upon by 150 to 200 panga- and knobkerrie-wielding assailants, according to the East Cape Horse Care Unit.
The mob – comprising current and former horse grooms employed at the Fairview training centre – descended on the stables of leading trainer Yvette Bremner at 6am. After threatening Bremner and her stable workers, the invaders released 28 horses from their boxes and chased them around the property, stabbing and beating the fleeing animals.
The Public Order Police unit was called in to restore order and the situation had stabilised by midday. More than 30 police vehicles were on the scene at one stage – “but the cops were still outnumbered”, noted one observer.
Police spokesperson Priscilla Naidu said charges of malicious damage to property would be laid, while the NSPCA also vowed to bring charges. Racing operator Phumelela said it would pursue “all avenues with law-and-order officials to ensure that all those responsible for the unrest are prosecuted”.
Luciano Passerini, Phumelela’s racing manager in Port Elizabeth, said a meeting of all affected parties was held on Thursday afternoon and it was decided to proceed with Friday’s scheduled meeting at Fairview.
“All necessary security protocols will be in place,” said Passerini. “The SA Police will also be in attendance.”
The racing community of Port Elizabeth was in lockdown in the wake of the incident, with few answering their phones and others refusing to comment for fear of heightening tensions.
Videos posted on social media showed yelling men chasing terrified horses and raining blows on them. Others showed horses with horrific wounds.
Massive Protesting happening at Fairview Racecourse, we have received reports that one horse has been killed and a few was hit with a panga, SAP on scene pic.twitter.com/HJE5wRva7G
— Mvula Gaga (@davegaga1) September 17, 2020
It is understood that a long-simmering labour dispute is at the root of the trouble.
Seven months ago, riotous protests erupted at Fairview after a groom was dismissed by Bremner for allegedly stabbing an unruly horse. Other employees were also fired in the wake of the protests.
The disaffected ex-workers were known to be living in an informal settlement adjacent to the training centre.
A recent CCMA hearing upheld the legality of the firings.
East Cape Horse Care Unit inspector Carla Hazel said all the horses had been rounded up, with some having fled into surrounding bushland.
All the horses would be retained at the Bremner yard under heavy guard for the immediate future, said Hazel, who described the scene of carnage as “horrific” and “unlike anything I’ve ever seen”.
Some photos of wounds by the Fairview Settlement barbarics who went on the frenzied Animal killing spree. pic.twitter.com/Or3lAxRh9z
— ???????????????????? (@TiaanJonker5) September 17, 2020
A team of vets were treating the injured horses.
One of Bremner’s charges, five-year-old gelding Mark The Doorman, died in the immediate unrest, suffering panga slashes before galloping into a fence and breaking his neck.
Michael de Haast, an owner of a number of horses in the Bremner yard, said two of his unraced fillies, Whisky Cavalier and Little Bit Naughty, had been slashed by pangas and struck on the head by a knobkerries. He was driving from his home in Bloemfontein to Port Elizabeth to assess the situation.
De Haast said his International Racing Club ownership syndicate had invested more than R20 million into South African horse racing and it was a “sad day” for the local industry and the country when such “incredible violence” could be inflicted on innocent animals.
Phumelela said it was liaising with the Department of Labour in a bid to resolve the dispute between Bremner and her former employees.