'I apologise', former councillor to Athol Trollip over farm abuse claims

Former ANC councillor Lawrence Troon apologised unconditionally to Nelson Mandela bay mayor Athol Trollip for allegations of gross human rights abuses, racism, cruelty and exploitation that he had levelled against him.

Troon and renegade Democratic Alliance councillor Knight Mali had produced statements they claimed were from several men and women who had once worked on or near Trollip’s farm in Bedford in the build-up to the 2016 municipal elections.

Among the claims made by the farm workers, ten years after Trollip had sold the farm, were that they had been exploited and treated badly by the Trollip family.

Trollip subsequently launched a R5m defamation suit against Troon, which he has since withdrawn following the apology.

Formal apology

Troon's apology was made an order of the court, and reads: "I, Lawrence Troon, hereby unconditionally apologise to Athol Trollip, the DA mayor of Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality.

"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.

"I further agree that this apology may be published to whomsoever Mr Trollip chooses to advise."

Was never about the money

Trollip said Troon's apology was a long overdue vindication that the allegations were all part of a political smear campaign.

"This underhand 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," he said.

He said he had withdrawn the defamation suit as it had never been about the money.

"I have always only wanted my reputation and good name to be restored. I have no interest in being paid any money by Mr Troon," he said.

"The court order to apologise is an important precedent that should be noted by all politicians that they should not and cannot be allowed to do and say as they please in order to besmirch political opponents and maliciously defame them with impunity," he said.

Sorry not sorry

Troon did not, however, come across as contrite when he took to social media later that day, immediately accusing Trollip of attending to personal matters at the rate payers expense, as he had used a municipal vehicle, driver and bodyguard to accompany him to Grahamstown.

"If it was a black ANC mayor, the DA would have said its irregular, wasteful expenditure. I wish I was a white man," he wrote.

In a separate post on Saturday, Troon challenged Trollip to a public debate on radio or television, to discuss his statement.

Mali, who is facing his own defamation case in the High Court in August, came to Troon's defence, saying Troon had not had the financial resources to fight the legal battle, and was facing losing his home to pay for legal fees.

"Typical of Trollip the farmer, he bullied Troon to pay his legal fees into submission. He then offered him a court settlement in a desperate attempt to avoid a trial on this case," he wrote on Troon's Facebook wall.

"Furthermore, let me once again remind the public, this case was never about Troon vs Trollip nor Mali vs Trollip. In fact this case is Poor Black-Farmworkers vs Trollip.

"The claims of racism, human rights abuse and atrocities were all based on evidence and statements that were signed by those farmworkers. Nothing more and nothing less. I was personally called by those farmworkers to assist them," he wrote.

"In this context, the case which is under my name on behalf of the farmworkers, is going full steam ahead and I have absolutely no intentions to withdraw the claims," he posted on Facebook.

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