Hilton, KwaZulu-Natal Midlands. The name conjures up images of (mainly white) privilege. Private schools attended by trust fund brats in cheese cutter hats, shorts, blazers and ties who are studiously making their way into the old boys club. Green rolling hills shrouded in mist and covered by exclusive golf courses where old boys negotiate deals over G&T after shooting nine holes while their wives detox from all the botox in upmarket spas. And horses….. yes where wealth flows, horses seem to follow. When all is said and done, this is the story of a young man who was enamoured by horses, who loved horses so much that he made it his career.
Martin Mhlongo hails from Lions river, a farming area in the Midlands. The farm on which he was born and raised and lived until the new landowner evicted his family is located right next to the polo club. Thoroughbreds were bred on the farm and riding was a way of life. Martin became a professional Jockey and made quite a name for himself with his “Mhlongo Magic” on the national racing circuit and was all set to go places but alas, Martin enjoyed a smoke. Like hundreds of millions of people all over the globe, Martin used Cannabis recreationally with no ill effects and when a random blood test was performed on him, the powers that reside over these matters, while sipping champagne and Harvy Wallbangers in the club house, decreed that his jockey license was to be forfeit as punishment for the heinous crime of ingesting a plant.
Martin made his way back home to Lions River, found work as a supervisor in a small factory to help support his elderly mom and young daughter and settled in to a life of drudgery which he accepted uncomplainingly despite the view of the polo fields from his place of work being a constant reminder of his true passion.
Through the grapevine he became aware that an upmarket housing estate in nearby Hilton was looking for experienced horsemen and grooms, he jumped at the opportunity to work with horses again and applied for the position even though the wage was less than what he was earning at the factory.
Martin’s credentials and experience secured him the position of stable supervisor. He resigned from the factory, donned his riding boots and set of for the gleaming gates of Garlington Estate where colourful Nguni cattle graze the green meadows in front of pearly white mansions. His elation was short lived however. One would assume that an estate packed with multi million Rand houses and a monthly levy which is more than the average South African’s salary would adequately accommodate the workforce which is being exploited to support the occupants’ elaborate life style. One would assume so but one would be terribly wrong. In the good old colonial tradition, the dingy slaves quarters were tucked away out of sight of the bosses and madams view along a dusty dirt road which turned to soap in the rain. One could argue that the nature of the work required Martin to be near the horses and it would be a valid point but how would you justify the lack of a bed? Martin was expected to sleep on the floor on a spunge mattress. His work hours were nothing short of draconian and he wasn’t allowed to receive visitors without applying for permission from the estate manager.
He was expected to sign an employment contract which lacked a job description, required him to do whatever the estate manager told him to do and required him to be on ‘standby’ after hours but he wasn’t allowed to leave the premises during ‘standby’. By signing the contract he would give up his constitutional right to privacy as he would concede the right for his person and living quarters to be searched at any time. Martin asked for time to have the contract assessed by a legal advisor but was forced to sign it by Brad Mack, the estate manager.
In desperation Martin contacted me as a friend and confidante and asked for advice. I read his employment contract, identified issues and agreed to assist him to have it resolved. I contacted Brad Mack and queried aspects of Martin’s contract. His response was highly unfavourable and his reaction even more so. Brad stormed into Martin’s room unannounced and without knocking, shouting and demanding to know who I was and why Martin had let me see his contract. Martin wasn’t in the room at the time but was in fact sitting outside behind the room under the window. Brad left the room, and approached Martin, trying to grab a hold of him but he jumped out of the way. Brad then noticed a piece of paper on the ground near where Martin was sitting and grabbed it. Folded in the paper was ……… dagga!!
Here was Brad’s chance to get rid of the ‘troublemaker’. Violating procedures described by the Labour Relations Act, Brad suspended him immediately and had him thrown off the property. No investigation, no notice of suspension, reason for suspension, notice of disciplinary hearing date or any of the legal requirements for suspension. Just a good old colonial cultural supremacist authoritarian chucking out.
The story would have ended there in good old colonial fashion too. Just another insolent black dagga smoker dealt with by the white boss but I contacted Brad on Martin’s behalf. Only then was a notice of suspension and hearing date furnished post haste. Martin was denied his right to representation at the kangaroo trial where the trumped up charges were heard by Jean Allen from Allen HR Consulting who acted as presiding officer in her capacity of outsourced HR person for Garlington. Her bias in favour of her client was apparent from the outset. She curtly dismissed Martin’s motion to dismiss and supporting affidavit and when he refused to plead, stating that there is no evidence against him, madam Jean called him “cheeky” and concluded that he should be dismissed.
Interestingly, madam Jean has written an article on how to deal with “Dagga in the workplace” in which she states: “You should be aware that an employee who suffers from an alcohol and/or drug problem might also be suffering from a health problem and should consider offering counseling (sic), treatment or rehabilitation as an alternative before or in addition to disciplinary action.” I guess that sentiment doesn’t extend to cheeky black boys………
I was sitting outside the glass doors of the hearing room watching and monitoring at the time when boss Brad suddenly jumped up, came into the lobby where I was sitting and aggressively demanded that I hand over my phone and laptop. He got a piece of my mind……….
Next thing I knew I was being escorted off the estate by Ellington.
Readers of this blog know very well how lives are destroyed by unlawful arrests under prohibition laws but how many countless more lives are impacted every day in the workplace where archaic remnants of the colonial era justify their violation of human rights and petty harassment with prohibition? Nobody bats an eyelid when an employee drinks a beer after hours and many companies ply their staff with alcohol at ‘team building’ events yet a small quantity of Cannabis found near where a man was sitting off duty in his private living space is enough to have him suspended and dismissed. Hypocrisy anyone?
Where to from here? The CCMA papers are filed, commercial liens are being bought against Brad and Janet…. oops… Jean… and social media will be leveraged to expose the rocky Hilton horror show for what it is.