Outcry over gym group's response to racism
Johannesburg - A muted response by gym group Virgin Active to a racist incident at its Morningside branch caused an outcry on social networks on Monday.
The woman, Liz Hleza, 51, told The Star newspaper that she was called a "bloody kaffir, a cockroach and a selfish bitch" by a man in her spinning class on December 31 after she continuously shouted "yebo" to the music and exercise.
"I was so scared and thought he was going to hit me, he was very angry. He said I should keep quiet and kept saying this bloody kaffir, you kaffir. He was pointing fingers at me. He said bloody cunt and that I was a selfish bitch.
"He also told me that I was born walking on four legs with a tail, and I should go back to the bushes where I belong and make that noise there.
After the class, Hleza went to the manager on duty to complain and when that manager called the man and his friend to her office, they refused to go.
The man, she said, swore at her again. "He said 'You bloody kaffir, you are a cockroach and next time I come to the gym I will bring Doom to spray you with'."
The woman was reportedly unhappy with the way Virgin's management handled the situation.
Virgin Active's Karen Gordon told The Star that the franchise did not tolerate discrimination and that "the member that allegedly misbehaved also received formal correspondence… which included a final warning".
Regarding the instructor’s failure to intervene, Gordon said he had claimed he had been unable to hear the verbal exchanges.
The man apologised on Saturday in a meeting convened by the club, and Hleza accepted the apology.
However, she said she wanted her story to be told "because… there are still people like that out there".
Twitter users such as Elana Williams said: "I train at this branch of VA. Unfortunately, I'm not surprised by anything I have read."
Victor Dlamini tweeted: "In the end they will have no choice but to do the right thing. They must terminate the membership of the bully."
On Virgin Active’s Facebook page, Lindiwe Thabethe, wrote: "I have very angry by the story on IOL about racism at Virgin Active. At this day and age we still get people who get away with racism. Virgin Active was supposed to solve the issue immediately and a final warning is definitely not the appropriate reaction. [sic]"