Story has been updated
DURBAN - A court decision taken this week has improved the odds of a Durban racehorse trainer, who has allegedly been unfairly discriminated against by the sport’s controlling body, to operate once again in South Africa.
Trainer Anil Maharaj has been locked in a long-running legal battle with local racing authority Gold Circle over his right to conduct racehorse-training activity at facilities it controls. Maharaj claimed that Gold Circle’s stance was racially motivated.
His training licence was suspended for five years in 2002 after he was found guilty of assaulting a person of the “white race” while at work.
He served his suspension and attempted a comeback in 2007, but Gold Circle denied him access to their stabling facilities. Thereafter, his fight to train has been playing out in the courts. It started in 2008, with failed bids in Durban’s Equality Court and subsequently in the Durban High Court. Gold Circle denied the unfair discrimination based on race allegations made by Maharaj and said he was refused because of his previous misconduct and his unpaid rental bill.
In 2013, he was once again unsuccessful at the Equality Court.
Maharaj approached the Equality Court in 2016 yet again. Even though Maharaj argued that his case had “five specific grounds”, Equality Court magistrate GH van Rooyen upheld Gold Circle’s plea of res judicata.
Gold circle argued that the matter was previously litigated by a competent court (res judicata) and the matter could not be pursued further, and the magistrate agreed..
However, Maharaj’s fortunes changed when he appealed against the decision at the Pietermaritzburg High Court. The court ruled in 2017 that Maharaj’s matter, based on the five specific grounds, must be heard at the Equality Court by a different magistrate. Gold Circle challenged that outcome at the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein and it was dismissed on Monday. Chief executive Michel Nairac said: “We will not take the matter to the Constitutional Court.”
On whether Gold Circle would now grant Maharaj a licence to operate or oppose Maharaj’s probable Equality Court action, Nairac said: “That decision has not been taken yet.”
Maharaj’s legal representative, attorney Narain Naidoo, welcomed the outcome and said he was happy to be part of his client’s struggle to correct the wrongs of the past and help with the transformation of the country.
“It is a stepping stone to go back to the Equality Court and complete the quest for opportunities to be given to the previously disadvantaged,” said Naidoo. Maharaj, 66, made his first bid to train racehorses in South Africa in 1989. Then, the Jockey Club of SA refused Maharaj’s application on the basis that it would be “setting a precedent because of Maharaj’s skin colour”.
He then relocated to Australia and worked in their horseracing industry.
Maharaj returned to South Africa in 1997 and made another attempt to secure a training licence.
He was granted that right, but not at a canter, as he claimed to have had many difficulties before he was allowed to rent 14 “boxes” and house his horses at Gold Circle’s Summerveld training facility in Shongweni.
Maharaj was suspended in 2002 because of two incidents of assault against a “white person”.
When Gold Circle denied him permission to train in 2007, allegedly without giving him a reason, Maharaj believed he was discriminated against on the grounds of race.
In his 2013 Equality Court action, he also cited the KZN Gambling and Betting Board and the premier as respondents because the board was mandated to financially assist previously disadvantaged individuals.
Magistrate Mohamed Motala ruled that the Equality Court had no jurisdiction in the matter. Van Rooyen was not convinced in 2016 that the five grounds Maharaj, who had represented himself, raised were new.
Maharaj argued that he had undergone anger management counselling and treatment, and said a white trainer had assaulted a black Gold Circle employee previously but continued to use their stabling facilities.
He said white trainers who committed other transgressions were licensed, white employees who held managerial positions who were dismissed were later re-employed and that Gold Circle was not transformed.
Judges Rishi Seegobin and Sharmaine Balton, who handed down the 2017 High Court decision, said Van Rooyen had failed to handle Maharaj’s complaint with sensitivity and the measure of dignity required.