Cape Town - A Kenilworth swimming school owner and well-known cyclist was arrested this week after he allegedly beat up a middle-aged domestic worker in broad daylight – without the two ever having met or even exchanged a single word – then excused his behaviour by saying he had believed she was a prostitute.
A shocked and traumatised Cynthia Joni, 44, of Khayelitsha, said she was on her way to work in Kenilworth on October 2 when an unknown man leapt from his car and slapped her repeatedly, then threw her to the ground, without any explanation.
He was traced after people in the neighbourhood responded to her screams, and took down his registration number.
Her alleged attacker was later identified as local swimming coach Tim Osrin. He made a brief appearance in the Wynberg Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday on a charge of assault with the intent to do grievous bodily harm. The case was postponed to November 27.
Osrin, 41, who is a committed member of the neighbourhood’s “security committee” and lives close to where the incident took place in upper Kenilworth, claimed he had assaulted Joni because he had mistaken her for a prostitute.
Weekend Argus was alerted to the case when one of Joni’s employers, Sheila Wilson, posted on Facebook that her domestic worker had been attacked. Wilson described the assault as “a hate crime in the middle of suburbia”.
Joni, a single mother of two children and a grandmother of three, told Weekend Argus the incident took place on October 2 after 9am. She had been walking from Harfield Road station to the home of another of her employers, Iain Anderson. As she turned left into Greenfield Road, a man drove towards her from the opposite direction, swerved to a halt, got out of his car and started striding towards her.
“He got out of the car and came straight up to me and just klapped me. Then he kicked me hard and I fell down.”
“He hit me hard on my arms and legs. I fell hard on to the ground. My joints are all still sore – two weeks later.”
“Each time I would fall to the ground, he would pick me up again and throw me hard down again.”
“My shirt was ripped and the buttons came off it. I still have an (open) wound on my elbow.”
After hitting her, he left.
“Then I started panicking. I thought he was going to get something out of the car and come back,” Joni said.
“That was when I started screaming … and a few people came out of the houses nearby. One of them was a man called Bernard.”
“Another was a woman who I had been walking with from the station. She ran back to find out what was going on. By that time I was crying and crying.”
Joni said Bernard took down the man’s number plate, which contained the word SWIM.
He had shouted to the driver, who had yelled back that Joni was “a criminal”, before racing off.
Joni opened a case at the Claremont Police Station on October 6, after being told she needed a medical report.
On Tuesday the woman officer she dealt with called her to say they had “found that man”.
Joni learnt later that Osrin had called her employer “Anderson” to ask whether he could meet her to apologise, and to explain that he had thought she was a prostitute.
“I said, no. I am not ready for that now… He thought I was a prostitute because this is the place where prostitutes walk. He embarrassed me. He took my dignity away,” Joni said.
On Wednesday a pale and exhausted-looking Osrin, 41, told the court he would have legal representation when he appeared again next month.
During an adjournment, he told Weekend Argus he had wanted to speak to Joni to tell his side of the story, but had “not been given the chance”.
He was not sure “why I am being victimised”.
The married father of two, who lives close to where the attack on Joni took place, described himself as a “clean-living guy who loves sport, and who is completely involved in my community”. He also said he had never hit anyone before, and was prepared to face the consequences of his actions.
“It has never even crossed my mind to hit a prostitute,” he added.
“I hate people thinking that I am a monster because of this … I am not sure why Cynthia has trumped up all sorts of injuries either. I can only think she is going for some sort of payment, where she can leverage some cash…
“She’s probably thinking, ‘this white guy slapped me, great … here comes my Christmas box’. People do these things, you know.”
Veering between anger and remorse, Osrin at first categorically denied hitting Joni, but later said he had “felt terrible” afterwards.
He first said: “No, I did not beat her up. I promise you that. Hearing what she claims I did to her makes it sound so terrible…”
But then he added: “I just slapped her once … and she did fall to the ground. She fell awkwardly and if she sustained any wound it would have been from falling. I picked her up afterwards as she had started wailing…” said Osrin.
His neighbourhood was “full of prostitutes”, he said.
“I thought she was a prostitute. She was walking in the street at ten to ten in the morning. I told her to get out of my street and she laughed, and I thought she was giving me the finger again. For four years these prostitutes have been giving us the finger.”
Osrin alleged further that prostitutes in the area “flash their genitals at our kids, they lift their shirts and show the kids their boobs”.
He said that after the incident he had seen a WhatsApp message from Anderson saying that his domestic worker had been beaten up.
“I phoned him and said it was me. I felt terrible the whole day,” Osrin added.
“I just want people to know the truth, where I was coming from and what led to the emotional meltdown. It was not a racist or gender thing … nothing like that.
“I just snapped. It is a result of the years of stress of having these people in our area.
“I only hope some people will understand. I don’t expect forgiveness. I know I did the wrong thing. I am here at court to face the whole thing and I will accept what happens.”
This white man really said his reason for beating up this Black woman is that he thought she was a prostitute, as if that makes it fine. He says it so casually, like beating up a sex worker is justifiable. She’s a domestic worker going to work to clean homes and this asshole jumps out of his car to beat her up. This man saw a Black woman in his neighborhood and flew into a rage. Her mere existence put him over the edge. Despite beating the poor woman up, this guy thinks he’s the one being victimized because he’s white. That’s a synopsis of race relations in a nutshell.
Dude said “I’m not sure why I’m being victimized”