Virgin Active has re-opened an investigation into a racist incident following an outcry on social networks.
A woman told The Star how a fellow gym member at Virgin Active Morningside in Sandton took offence to her enthusiasm in a spinning class by calling her a “bloody k*****, a cockroach and a selfish bitch”.
Liz Hleza, who is in her 50s, said the incident which occurred on December 31 had happened in full view of the instructor, who continued the class without defusing the situation.
Hleza said she was enjoying the music and kept shouting “yebo” as the instructor put them through the gruelling exercise.
However, a man in front of her was not happy about that. He got off his bicycle and confronted her.
“I was so scared and thought he was going to hit me, he was very angry. He said I should keep quiet and kept saying this bloody k*****, you k*****. He was pointing fingers at me. He said ‘bloody c**** and that I was a selfish bitch. He also told me that I was born walking on four legs with a tail, and I should go back to the bushes where I belong and make that noise there.”
Hleza claims that she did not return the insult.
"Thank God I did not lower myself to his level. But his friend sprayed me with water from his squeeze bottle. He said ‘shoosh, can’t you see you are upsetting my friend’, and I told him that I was also paying membership there.”
After the class, Hleza went to the manager on duty to complain and when that manager called the two men to her office, they refused to go. The man, she said, swore at her again. “He said ‘You bloody k*****, you are a cockroach and next time I come to the gym I will bring Doom to spray you with’.”
Hleza said someone from the disciplinary committee asked her about the incident, but kept asking her whether she was sure of her facts because the man whom she claimed insulted her was a lawyer and if it was found she was not speaking the truth, her contract at the gym would be terminated.
Hleza, who lives in Alexandra, said she was not happy about the way the management handled the situation. She claims she was told that the man had apologised. “However, he never apologised to me.”
The club then organised a meeting two weeks ago where the man was to apologise. However, he said he wouldn’t be able to make it.
“On that Saturday, he saw me in the class but did not even say anything to me. After the class, he just left,” said Hleza.
Virgin Active’s Karen Gordon told The Star that the health club franchise did not tolerate discrimination and that “the member that allegedly misbehaved also received formal correspondence… which included a final warning”.
Gordon also said nobody would be compelled to make an apology.
“However… VA has made every effort to arrange for them to meet up,” she said.
Regarding the instructor’s failure to intervene, Gordon said he had claimed he had been unable to hear the verbal exchanges.
The man apologised on Saturday in a meeting convened by the club, and Hleza accepted the apology. However, she said she wanted her story to be told “because… there are still people like that out there”.
After the story was published by The Star and IOL on Monday, Virgin Active members reacted angrily on Twitter and Facebook, calling for the company to “do the right thing”.
@victordlamini tweeted: “Truly disgraceful handling of racist bully by Virgin Active SA”, while @JoziGoddess said: “Virgin Active deals with racist patrons by asking them to apologise, as though an apology will fix racism. This whole country is not serious”.
Virgin Active confirmed through a statement on its Facebook page that an investigation into the incident would immediately be re-opened.
Virgin active managing director Ross Faragher-Thomas said: “I have been following this issue on Twitter and it is of real concern to me. I’ve asked my team to immediately re-open the matter as I personally want to get to the bottom of this.” - IOL