South Africa: Court Reprimands Shop Owner Who Denied Access to Child in Wheelchair

11 December 2019

A magistrate of the Equality Court sitting in Mitchells Plain, Cape Town, has reprimanded the owner of a superette in Woodlands for "wasting the court's time" and failing to see the "seriousness" of the complaint against him.

Salaudin Khan is accused of denying Liezl Haskin and her five-year-old son Connor, who uses a wheel-chair, access into his store in April. Connor has Down Syndrome and some developmental delays associated with West Syndrome. As a result, he requires constant care and uses a buggy.

On Wednesday, Khan, represented by his lawyer Thariq Orrie, appeared for the first time in court. He asked the court for a postponement so that he could file affidavits in response to the complaint. Orrie said he was approached by one of Khan's employees last week and only consulted with Khan moments before the hearing.

"Mr Khan is not usually in the superette, so we will also need to get an affidavit from the employees in order to file answering papers," he said.

Representing Haskin, Nkosinathi Thema of Webber Wentzel, told the court that Khan had failed to appear at four previous hearings.

Khan had also failed to file a response to the complaint despite being instructed to do so by the Chief Magistrate last month, said Thema. "We would like to put this matter to rest ... On 18 April this incident occurred. Subsequent to that Mr Khan visited Miss Haskin and took a chocolate for Connor. On 9 July, we sent a letter of demand to Mr Khan. On 6 August we filed our complaint to court," he said.

"We have taken it upon ourselves on numerous occasions to call Mr Khan and sent him letters via email to get him to appear so that this matter can be resolved as expeditiously as possible as is required by the Equality Act. He has been given ample opportunities to provide this court with reasons and respond to the complaint," he said.

To which Orrie said: "Mr Khan told me that he doesn't understand what is needed. He was under the impression that the matter was resolved because he personally went to apologise to the complainant."

After hearing the arguments, Magistrate Rene Hindley said that Haskin's application had "far reaching social context implications" and considered it to be a "serious matter".

The magistrate said: "No one should be allowed to waste the court's time unnecessarily. The court notes [Mr Khan's] disregard for the seriousness of this court." Khan sent somebody else to the last hearing, she said, referring to the fact that Khan had sent his store manager to appear on his behalf on 11 November. Khan had sent a message that he was sick, but no sick certificate has been provided to the court.

Hindely postponed the case to 14 January and ordered Khan to file answering papers by 18 December. She also ordered Khan to pay Haskin's legal fees.

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