His shirt is dust-stained and the waistband of his shorts is hidden under an ample belly. Walking with a distinct limp, Gary Allpass seems an unlikely hero.
But looks can be deceiving. This award-winning riding instructor and horse trainer has just won a landmark legal battle that has given hope to millions of South Africans suffering from chronic diseases who face discrimination at work.
In 2008 his employers fired him after he revealed he was HIV-positive. Gary (48) decided to take them to court for unfair dismissal.
In terms of the judgment Gary won’t be reinstated but will be paid a year’s salary (R150 000) and his former employers must pay his legal fees.
It’s a huge relief. “For the first time in two years I can afford jam on my bread,” Gary says.
When he applied for the post of stable manager at Mooikloof Equestrian Estate in Pretoria he’d become used to living with his HIV status. He says his condition didn’t affect his work, which included supervising the stables, training and grooming the horses, managing the staff and assisting the vet.
“It was my dream job,” he says. But two weeks after starting the job things took an unpleasant turn. All hell broke loose when his manager, Dawie Malan, called him in.
“He told me I was being fired because of my HIV status. He said I’d been untruthful and there had been a breakdown in our relationship.”
Gary’s legal battle may be over but his health is concerning. These days he struggles to walk, every step requiring effort. The antiretroviral medication he originally took has caused nerve damage so he’s slowly losing feeling from his hips down. Doctors say he will eventually lose all mobility in his hips.
His only consolation is that he can now compete as a disabled rider. With his experience he stands a good chance of being included in the 2012 Paralympics team.
Being HIV-positive has made him even more determined to follow his dreams.
“Every day after I was infected is a second chance,” he says. “I decided that I was going to live my life for me and achieve all the goals I set myself. If I get to help others along the way, great.”
Read all about Gary's battles in YOU, 3 March 2011.