Paralympic swimmer gets R50‚000 payout after wine estate denies him and his guide dog access

01 October 2018 - 15:46 By Dan Meyer
Blind Paralympic swimmer Hendri Herbst and his guide dog Stan were denied access to a Cape wine estate, but they won their case in the Equality Court.
Blind Paralympic swimmer Hendri Herbst and his guide dog Stan were denied access to a Cape wine estate, but they won their case in the Equality Court.
Image: SUPPLIED

When blind Paralympic swimmer Hendri Herbst and his guide dog Stan were denied access to a well-known Cape Town wine estate over four years ago‚ Herbst experienced the discrimination he had encountered all his life.

But his victory in the Equality Court has given him hope that people with disabilities will enjoy shared spaces with greater dignity.

The Equality Court ordered a settlement between the two parties‚ with Durbanville Hills told to issue a public apology and undertake “steps to ensure that all staff employed by Durbanville Hills will take part in sensitivity training from the Guide Dog Association of South Africa”.

They will have to pay R50‚000 in damages to Herbst‚ as well as make a R50‚000 donation to the Guide Dogs Association “for the purpose of a media campaign to be run by it in order to raise awareness in respect of guide dogs”.

“This goes a long way to achieving our goal‚” said Herbst. “This will hopefully raise awareness about the challenges we face and serve as a deterrent for establishments who engage in this kind of intolerance.”

He welcomed the undertaking of sensitivity training by the winery‚ saying that in the digital age “ignorance is no excuse”.

The wine farm had previously denied wrongdoing‚ suggesting that they had made an effort to move Herbst and his family to an outdoor table to accommodate his dog‚ Stan. But Herbst disputed this‚ saying that they denied him basic access based on their “no dogs allowed” policy.

“It’s an ongoing issue‚” said Herbst in May this year of the discriminatory practices of restaurants‚ shopping centres and other shared spaces towards people with disabilities‚ as he and his legal team from the Stellenbosch Law Clinic prepared to take the matter to the Equality Court.

“You are completely reliant on your guide dog‚ and owners are subjected to this kind of humiliation on a regular basis‚” he said. “It’s like telling a wheelchair user that they’re welcome to come in‚ but only if they leave their wheelchair behind.”

One of their aims in taking the matter to court was to set a precedent on the discriminatory practice. However Herbst believes that the acceptance of the court that the incident was unjust serves as a suitable compromise‚ and he hopes that it will assist in many more pursuits of justice going forward.

“It was never about me personally. I wanted to do something that would help many more people and stop the trend of discrimination‚” he said.

Theo Broodryk‚ head of the Stellenbosch Law Clinic‚ said that “the steps taken by Durbanville Hills are welcomed and will assist in raising awareness of the rights of people with disabilities not to be discriminated against”.

“The outcome of this matter should however also send a stern warning that discriminatory conduct towards vulnerable individuals such as Herbst will not be tolerated‚” he said.

In a statement released on their website‚ Durbanville Hills said that they “unconditionally apologise for the experience of Mr Herbst and his family on 30 December 2014 at its tasting and restaurant facilities”.

“Durbanville Hills’ conduct was discriminatory towards Mr Herbst and‚ amongst other things‚ we have taken steps to ensure that all staff employed by Durbanville Hills will take part in sensitivity training from the Guide Dog Association of South Africa.”

Durbanville Hills Managing Director Albert Gerbe said that they are “looking forward to putting the incident in the past and training staff so as for nothing like this to happen again”.

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