By A'yesha Kassiem

Unfair discrimination, harassment and hate speech were among the reasons for the Equality Court being set up. And, in the first case it has heard since its establishment last year, these are exactly what have been exposed - at a popular Cape Town nightspot.

The owners of Sliver in Green Point acknowledged on Tuesday that racial discrimination lay behind the assault on a coloured man, Marcus Pillay, and his white partner, Pierre de Vos, after Pillay was refused entry to the bar last year.

The two men involved in the assault, Marius Cronje and Ian Coetzer, admitted that it had been racially motivated.

According to a settlement reached by the lawyers for the two sides and made an order of the court, the bar is to pay R10 000 and Cronje and Coetzer are to give R1 500 each to Siyazenzela, a non-profit organisation nominated by Pillay.

Siyazenzela fights prejudice and discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and inter-sexed communities.

Under the agreement, the couple have withdrawn unconditionally all criminal complaints against Cronje and Coetzer.

In a letter to the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), Sliver said it would review its admissions policy and ask the couple to make suggestions.

"We, the owners of the Sliver Bar, admit that (Pillay's) exclusion on that night was based on his race, in contravention of the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act.

"We also understand that the exclusion was deeply hurtful (and) affronted his basic human dignity, sending out a signal that he was less worthy of respect than other patrons.

"We sincerely regret this incident and we apologise unreservedly."

Pillay had been told he could not enter the bar because he was "inappropriately dressed". An argument ensued and Pillay and De Vos were severely assaulted.

After being refused an apology from the club or a change in its policy, the couple, from Bantry Bay, approached the SAHRC last month and a complaint, one of the first, was lodged with the Equality Court.

Speaking to the Cape Times on Tuesday, Pillay said: "I am very happy with the outcome of the case and am glad Sliver has agreed to change their admissions policy. I was not confident about winning the case and the entire process has been difficult for me. Racial discrimination is intensely personal and goes to the core of human dignity."

Asked whether he would return to the bar, Pillay said it was back on his "list of options".

De Vos said he hoped the case would serve as a warning to all clubs and bars that regulated entrance according to "vague criteria" that were an excuse to discriminate among races.

Ashraf Mahomed, the provincial co-ordinator of the SAHRC and the couple's attorney, said the commission had taken on the case to deal with the question of whether people could be excluded, on the grounds of "vague and non-objective criteria", from private premises used as public entertainment venues.

"(Admissions) criteria with regard to dress code, funky attitude or sexiness may appear neutral on the surface, but could potentially be construed as unfair discrimination," he said.

"After 10 years of democracy, this case has been a victory for the constitution.

"It is confirmed proof that the mechanisms that have been put in place to deal with discrimination are working, giving people access to justice and fulfilling human rights."