Bonginkosi Nkosi: By definition a groom is a person who is responsible for the care of racehorses and their environment.
Following concerns raised regarding the living conditions in grooms’ hostels, particularly at the North Rand Training Centre at the Randjesfontein racecourse in Midrand, Phumelela have embarked on an expensive project that will result in all nine hostels at the centre being completely renovated and refurnished.
On Monday morning grooms from hostel one were handed the key to their “temporary” accommodation, which cost approximately R450 000, and the plan is to house these 45 men while their hostel is being given a makeover.
This process will be repeated until all nine hostels are fully completed.
“The plan is that this temporary accommodation will house visiting trainers and grooms from all over the country once we’re done with the hostels,” explained Jay Harrielall, GM of Racing Operations at Phumelela.
“We had this accommodation completed in about three weeks and we’re planning on completing the renovations of phases two (hostel 1) and three (hostel 2) by the end of this racing season, in July, and the remaining seven hostels during the next racing year.”
After a tour around his new accommodation, Johannes Honon, a member of the Grooms Elders Committee said: “This place is so beautiful. I doubt you guys will be able to kick me out when it’s time to go back to my hostel.”
The Elders also gave members of hostel one a lengthy speech reminding them to take good care of their temporary home because they might not get another one.
The safety of grooms is among the major concerns for Phumelela and as a result they have installed a turnstile finger access control gate so grooms no longer have to take a long and unsafe route to and from the stables every morning.
“It’s a short cut so it makes life easier for them, plus they won’t be walking on the road anymore,” said Harrielall.
“There will also be access control in living quarters so that only hired grooms have access into these hostels – we really can’t have overcrowding.”
“I’m very happy with this initiative,” said Diane de Kock, who stood in for Trainers’ Representative Mike de Kock.
“I’m very surprised it’s moving so quick but I’m also glad. These guys (grooms) deserve to live in better accommodations. I also have to say well done to Phumelela for this.”
The Parliament Portfolio Committee had issues with the living conditions of grooms and as a result they got the Department of Labour involved.
“The Department of Labour have assigned a certain gentleman to keep tabs on horseracing country wide so they get answers to questions like why grooms work during the weekend, night racing and so forth – he focuses on horseracing,” explained Harrielall.
The horseracing community will be kept in the loop and a follow-up story will be provided once the two hostels are completed at the end of July.