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Thu Oct 23 10:02:47 SAST 2014

No country for fat men

NASHIRA DAVIDS | 30 July, 2013 00:12

Albert and Marthie Buitenhuis from Pretoria moved to New Zealand in 2007.

Six years down the line the couple are without a home and have had to stop working at a restaurant - for which Albert designed a gourmet burger - because he is too fat.

In May, the two were told that their work visas would not be renewed because Albert, who weighs 130kg, is medically obese and his weight was likely to place a strain on the health system.

Albert was a chef and Marthie a waitress at the Cashmere Club, in Christchurch. But they had to stop working when they received the notice. Marthie said they are appealing the decision. Their plight has made international headlines.

"The whole story escalated to a point that we never thought possible. We survive on the goodwill of others, mainly Albert's sister, our church and also by selling our things," said Marthie.

The CEO of the Cashmere Club, Donald Whyte, says he is "devastated" but if he had continued to employ the Buitenhuises he could have been fined more than R475000.

"They have had to move out of their rental property because they can't afford to pay rent . and they had to sell some personal belongings. They are struggling . it is terrible," he said.

He employed Albert in 2008 and Marthie a year later. Albert conceptualised the Albert's Gourmet Burger, which is sold for R71 at the Cashmere Club.

What baffles Whyte is that, since moving to New Zealand, Albert has shed 30kg - he was heavier when he was given his visa. Whyte said the authorities should have explained their health criteria to the Buitenhuises long ago.

"For six years they paid tax. They are honest, hard-working people. They are good people being dealt with very badly."

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