Gonubie businessman Garry Rieger has been branded a racist and must pay R60,000 in damages plus legal costs for pepper-spraying fellow motorist Clint van der Westhuizen, calling him the P-word and telling him to “go back to Duncan Village and drive there, you p***”.
Van der Westhuizen has said that, as “a coloured man”, the racist overtones of the degrading and insulting comments by Rieger, a white man, in sending him to Duncan Village troubled him most, reminding him of his first experience of apartheid as a young child.
The heat of a 2016 Saturday afternoon road rage incident in Gonubie continued through a lengthy court process, with adverse findings against both men, but a full bench of the high court in Makhanda has now dismissed Rieger’s appeal against the initial damages awarded by the high court.
The appeal court held that Rieger’s racist words had no place in the new SA.
The use of such language was “thoroughly demeaning”, with the insinuation that Van der Westhuizen’s behaviour was acceptable in Duncan Village.
It placed Van der Westhuizen and residents of Duncan Village in an inferior group of people from those in Gonubie, with a highly objectionable racial connotation.
The court confirmed Rieger’s words to Van der Westhuizen represented an insult, constituting an infringement of his dignity and self-respect.
But the court also said that neither of the two “mature adult males” would benefit from the “unfortunate series of events” which “both participants, whether they win or lose, must regret”.
The two men were involved in a heated exchange of words after Van der Westhuizen, on his own admission, drove his BMW recklessly and at high speed along the Gonubie main road.
Van der Westhuizen shrugged off reprimands by two other drivers in a parking lot, but took umbrage at Rieger’s words.
Initially Rieger, from the driver’s seat of his Toyota Landcruiser, asked Van der Westhuizen why he drove like a “madman”, then stated: “Go back to Duncan Village and drive there, you p***. You will get f***ked up here.”
When an extremely angry Van der Westhuizen walked to Rieger’s car in a threatening manner, Rieger pepper-sprayed him.
Rieger admitted he had a pepper spray can but claimed it was empty. He also initially denied mentioning Duncan Village, but in evidence in court admitted he had referred to Duncan Village.
He denied his comment was offensive, telling the trial court he mentioned Duncan Village because “there are lots of coloured people that stay in Duncan Village and around Duncan Village and I presumed he came from Duncan Village”.
Van der Westhuizen reported the assault at the Gonubie police station, although no criminal prosecution resulted. Rieger followed the BMW driver to the police station but said he did not lay a charge of reckless driving against Van der Westhuizen “because I did not feel like it”.
Van der Westhuizen’s reputation did not emerge unscathed from the legal proceedings. The trial court found he had exaggerated and given false evidence, was driven by hatred of Rieger, and engaged in courtroom theatrics and emotional displays.
However, this did not mean other aspects of his evidence must be rejected, especially in relation to Rieger’s deceit.
Judge Murray Lowe, with judges Gerald Bloem and Sunil Rugunanan concurring, found Van der Westhuizen would not have gone directly to the police station to lay a charge against Rieger for pepper spraying him and uttering the abusive and hurtful words, had this not occurred.
He said the word “p***” was not meaningless abuse, and the unpleasant reference to Duncan Village was not neutral but hurtful and objectionable in light of “our unequal historical and racial past and entrenched racism”.
The appeal court confirmed the previous damages judgment against Rieger, of R50,000 for injuria and R10,000 for assault, plus costs.
The judges on appeal found that R50,000 in damages was not an unreasonable amount of money for Rieger to pay for “a highly objectionable racial connotation, demeaning and hurtful” utterance.
By Ray Hartle – DispatchLIVE