By Noelene Barbeau

KwaZulu-Natal University academic Professor Robert Morrell has dropped his pending R200&nbP;000 defamation case against the university and its vice-chancellor, Professor Malegapuru Makgoba.

Morrell said he had arrived at this decision for two reasons. The first was the death of his wife, Monica Fairall. A former Miss South Africa, broadcaster, journalist and media personality, Fairall had been battling blood cancer and died of heart failure last month.

The other reason was his own health and well-being.

The defamation suit arose from an e-mail Makgoba sent to Morrell and about 20 other UKZN staff in June 2006 about their meeting outside campus.

Makgoba apparently called Morrell a racist as this meeting was seen as a counter-discussion to a document that was submitted by the Black African Academics Forum to the university senate. The forum called for UKZN to make a conscious effort to employ black staff.

Makgoba apparently said Morrell's involvement in calling this meeting was unethical and a despicable method.

Morrell said the purpose of the meeting at Assagay Hotel, which Makgoba apparently tried to stop, was about a transformation document they were preparing that dated back to the time of university's strike in February 2006. He said it was not a counter-document to the forum's presentation.

Morrell said he felt he had been specifically targeted because he had been the note-taker at this meeting.

"The meeting venue was used in the days before the mer-ger for staff association meetings because of its proximity to the various campuses.

"(We felt) the path of transformation advocated by Makgoba and his supporters needed to be debated and we intended to put together an alternative vision," Morrell said.

Morrell married Fairall in 2007. He said his wife, who died a few weeks ago, believed in building harmony, avoiding confrontation and promoting peace and, with that in mind, he had decided to drop the defamation case.

His friends had also encouraged him to drop the case: "It has prevented me from exploring ways of teaching and caring for others that give me pleasure and makes the best use of my talents. I need to move from this toxic emotional place," he said.

Responding to the e-mail sent out yesterday by Morrell's attorney, Brett Purdon, on this matter, Makgoba said he was "taken aback" and had no knowledge of this email.

He said it was best for him not to comment because neither he nor the university's attorneys had seen the statement sent out by Purdon.