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ANC councillors in the Nelson Mandela Bay are working with a DA rebel in a campaign to smear mayoral candidate and national chairman, Athol Trollip, as a racist ahead of next year’s local elections.

Political power in the metro hangs by a thread and Trollip, also the DA’s Eastern Cape leader, has uprooted and moved to Port Elizabeth to lead the party’s charge to wrest control of the ANC stronghold.

This week, ANC councillor Lawrence Troon, working with renegade DA councillor Knight Mali, fed the Dispatch with eight statements from retired farming men and women who spent most of their lives labouring on or close to Trollip’s former Mount Prospect farm outside Bedford.

The statements, drawn up by Mali and Troon, make claims of exploitation, cruelty, racism, violence, land dispossession, abandonment, poor living conditions and long hours meted out to farmworkers by four generations of Trollip men between 1914 and 2004, when sold by Athol, who worked on the farm since 1985 and managed it from 1995.

Trollip was given the statements by a Saturday Dispatch team on Thursday. He said he was “aware” of the statements but had not seen them.

A shocked and angry Trollip said: “I will sue everyone who has anything to do with this! You had better have your facts straight. All I have is my name.”

He followed up on Friday with a text message: “I have written to my attorney already and I will not only litigate against those peddling these lies, I will prove that my staff all received severance packages, that they all had provident funds that were paid for by me and paid out by Agri East Cape.

“They all had continued employment on the farm by the first purchaser and the second and current one. The allegations of mistreatment and abuse will also systematically be disproved. This matter will be challenged with all I have because all I have is who I am and what I am. Athol Trollip. (You will be hearing from my attorneys).”

Eastern Cape ANC secretary Oscar Mabuyane was quick to distance the party from the campaign. He said Troon was acting in the public interest as a “whistle-blower” and not speaking on behalf of the party.

Troon had said in his letter to the Dispatch that a firm of attorneys had taken the statements of “public importance” because Trollip was “the second highest official in South Africa’s second largest political party”.

Mabuyane said: “If Trollip has abused people you should not cover that up and make it about the ANC trying to discredit Trollip. You should investigate and see if the allegations are correct.”

Saturday Dispatch independently tracked down seven of the eight farmworkers this week. Six of them said their words were translated by Mali and written down by ANC councillors and a legal person.

The workers denied the most serious allegations against Trollip, except for former housemaid and nanny, Nondini Regina Ntabeni, 75, who repeated allegations that Trollip called her “stupid”, “mad” and used a racially-charged term when he became angry about her work, or could not find his belongings.

Another woman, 77, said she expressly told Mali that she did not want to see her name in the media and only spoke to the statement takers because they said they were from “concerned people from the DA and ANC” who wanted to find out what happened to “people working on farms. They misrepresented themselves”.

She claimed an official from the provincial government had also come to see her some time after she had her statement taken down, but declined to say more.

At least two of the workers claimed that when they made their statements they were promised their demands for compensation would be taken forward.

In an extraordinary coincidence on Wednesday, Social Development MEC Nancy Silhwayi appeared in Bedford’s townships at lunchtime and proceeded to visit the same farmworkers.

She visited three houses in the same order as the Saturday Dispatch. When asked if she knew about the Troon statements she denied it, saying the ANC local “leadership” had provided her with the list of homes.

“They were naughty,” she quipped.

The MEC’s visit was ostensibly to hand out pamphlets and encourage people to attend premier Phumulo Masualle’s November 17 “16 Days of Activism” rally in Middelburg.

She said the plight of ill-treated farmworkers would be highlighted at the rally.

Their names were taken down and they were promised social assistance.

Trollip said he was particularly hurt by the statement from a childhood friend and farm labourer, Vusumzi David Kota, 57, whom he had helped all his life, even after the sale of the farm.

Kota said that although Trollip was not a racist, there were times when he was “rude” and “evil”.

He said parts of the statement were not his words and were probably from other statements “mixed in”.

Mali was open about his conflicting role and said he became disaffected with the DA after he stood up to Trollip and was marginalised.

He claimed that when he heard stories from farmworkers which echoed his own alleged mistreatment, he personally started tracking them down and gathering their stories.

He admitted he was aligned to the ANC.

Troon said he entered the fray while in Bedford investigating DA councillors who were not paying their municipal bills.

He denied that Mali was with him when the statements were taken. “I did it all on my own.”

However, Mali, and most of the farmworkers, said Mali was there and did the translation from Xhosa to English.

Trollip said Mali was facing a disciplinary hearing which would had one possible outcome – his dismissal from the party.


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