Port Elizabeth - Former Nelson Mandela Bay ANC councillor Lawrence Troon has on Friday, made an unconditional public apology to Mayor Athol Trollip and withdrew allegations that Trollip was racist and abused his former farm workers near Bedford in the Eastern Cape.
The matter came before the Grahamstown High Court on Friday after Trollip brought a civil case to sue Troon for defamation.
Trollip was set on suing Troon for R5 million after Troon and former Democratic Alliance (DA) councillor Knight Mali produced statements from several men and women who claimed they had once worked on Trollip’s former farm, in Mount Prospect, outside Bedford in the Eastern Cape.
The group of men and women claimed that they had been treated without dignity while working on the farm.
The allegations first surfaced in 2015, more than a decade after Trollip had sold the farm. Trollip vehemently denied the allegations and called it “manufactured, baseless and politically motivated”.
In the run up to the local government elections in 2016, the allegations continued to surface with the African National Congress (ANC) calling a press conference at the time, parading the farm workers to give their side of the story.
Several former farm workers attended the press conference and claimed they suffered abuse at the hands of four generations of Trollip men. They alleged they were paid less than R100 a month and were forced to live in inhumane conditions, with no access to water, electricity, toilets or beds.
At the time one woman broke down in tears and was comforted by then ANC National spokesperson, Zizi Kodwa.
At the time Trollip dismissed the claims as a “ dirty smear campaign”, an “orchestration” by the ANC adding that some of the “workers” had never been employed on the family's farm.
Subsequent to the ANC's press conference with the former farm workers the DA called its own briefing with a distraught Trollip breaking down in tears dismissing the claims.
It was ordered by agreement at the Grahamstown High Court on Friday that Troon make an unconditional apology to Trollip.
"I unconditionally withdraw the publication of the allegations of gross Human Rights abuses, racism, cruelty, exploitation, violence, land dispossession, abandonment levelled against Athol Trollip, which were published pursuant to me being provided eight statements that were made by former workers of Mr Trollip," Troon said in the apology.
In a statement, Trollip said that the apology and withdrawal by Troon was long overdue vindication.
"This underhanded initiative was clearly orchestrated on the eve of the 2016 local government elections with the express intention to cause as much reputational and political harm to myself and the DA's electoral efforts," Trollip said.
"The court order to apologise is an important precedent that should be noted by all politicians that they should not and cannot, allowed to do and say as they please. In order to besmirch political opponents and maliciously defame them with impunity."
Trollip said that he only wanted his reputation to be restored and had no interest in being paid any money by Troon.
"The severity of his allegations and baseless defamation, however, did give rise to me suing him for the sum of R5 million. This indicates that the public harm caused to me by these unsubstantiated allegations was of such a nature and serious enough for me to sue him for a substantial amount of money."
African News Agency/ANA