Former workers renew claims at ANC event – just days before local election
The ANC paraded eight former Bedford farmworkers who claim they were mistreated by DA mayoral candidate Athol Trollip and his family in Port Elizabeth yesterday, reigniting the feud between the two parties just days before the hotly contested municipal election.
Trollip dismissed their claims later as “desperate lies”, saying some of these “workers” had never been employed on the family’s farm.
Hours before the gathering at the Atheneum, where the supposed former workers made claims of unfair labour practices by the Trollip family, the DA provincial leader issued a statement urging the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) to conduct a thorough investigation of what he termed “baseless and defamatory allegations” against him.
The allegation that Trollip and his family abused workers’ rights is also the subject of two lawsuits that he launched against former DA PR councillor Knight Mali and ANC councillor Lawrence Troon.
Trollip is suing them for R1-million and R5-million, respectively, for coordinating what he called a smear campaign and damaging his reputation.
At the press conference yesterday, coordinated by ANC national spokesman Zizi Kodwa, the “workers” told about the alleged human rights abuses.
Trollip has continuously denied the abuse allegations, describing them as baseless and politically motivated.
Senzeni Ntsendwana, 70, said she had been forced out of school by Trollip’s family at the age of 14 to work for them as a maid.
“My teacher told me I cannot continue with schooling. He said I have to work for the Trollip family,” she claimed.
“I was taught to do housework as a maid.
“Trollip’s mother was very cruel.
“One day she found me sitting down eating my lunch and shouted at me and reported me to Mr Douglas [Trollip’s father].
“I was fired because of that,” she said, crying.
Another worker, Jane Ngalo, said she had not been aware of her rights at the time.
She also alleged that Trollip’s mother was cruel.
“It was easy for her to ride with the dog in the front of her bakkie and put me at the back with cows.
“When Trollip took over the running of the farm, we worked well with him because he liked to speak isiXhosa.
“He used to joke around and call me ‘Bhinqa’ [female] and other guys he called them ‘Zithunzela’ [ghosts].
“At first we did not realise we were treated badly – we took what we got from them.”
Ngalo claimed her children had been paid R5 a year by Trollip to herd cows.
Vusumzi Kota said he had worked at the farm until it was sold in 2005.
“I first worked for his father, Douglas,” he said.
“I was paid 50c a month in the beginning and then it increased to R6 a month.
“We worked under difficult conditions – no lunch or tea breaks. If you were found sitting down you got fired,” Kota said.
Richman Ngalo, 39, also claimed to have been abused by Trollip, claiming he had worked for him at the age of seven.
“He used to call us dogs and got angry when we wanted an increase from R5 to R10 a year,” he alleged.
“The Trollip you see on TV is not showing his true colours. He needs to redress and transform.”
Asked if all those paraded at the Atheneum had, in fact, worked on the farm, Trollip’s spokesman, Kristoff Adelbert, said: “Some worked for Athol, and some didn’t.
“We will share all the relevant information and expose the lies at an event in due course.”
In response to the claims yesterday, Trollip said: “These are all a pack of lies, each one more outrageous than the next.
“My staff all had free electricity and tapped water at their houses.
“All salary records, provident fund and severance payments are available and in my possession.
“My interactions with Mr Kota in correspondence, on SMS, by phone and in public are all on record since I sold the farm.
“He attended my father’s funeral and we recently attended together the funeral of Mrs Maggie Nkawu, the mother of the lady who raised my kids, in Cradock.”
The ANC, meanwhile, took exception to questions about the timing of the press conference – just 11 days before the election – insisting it was not a political gimmick.
While several parties are gunning for control of Nelson Mandela Bay on August 3, the real battle is expected to be between the ANC and DA.
Kodwa said his party had become involved with the farmworkers when it heard about the alleged abuse.
“This is not a gimmick or propaganda,” he said.
“Today, we have people who have suffered [at] the hands of one man.
“It is important to tell those stories so that no one else suffers.”
Trollip had urged the SAHRC earlier to investigate the allegations against him.
“I urge the commission to conduct a comprehensive investigation into these baseless and defamatory allegations against me,” he wrote.
“Because then the ANC will be shown up for their gutter politics and defamatory lies.
“I do this because I have nothing to hide.
“I hope that the SAHRC will now pursue the investigation so this spurious matter can finally be put to rest.
“I will no longer sit by and allow the ANC to forge on with such gutter politics.
“This is why I am, for the first time in my life, also litigating against those ANC individuals responsible for coordinating this slanderous smear campaign against me,” he said.
The former farmworkers had previously laid a complaint with the SAHRC through their legal representatives.
SAHRC spokesman Isaac Mangena said towards the end of March that it had dropped the probe into claims of human rights violations on the basis that the alleged incidents were said to have taken place before the establishment of the commission and before the democratic constitution was adopted.
But Trollip immediately challenged the commission for failing to properly investigate the claims against him, sending a letter through his attorney urging it to either properly investigate the claims or retract the statement.
Commission chairman Advocate M L Mushwana then apologised in a letter to Trollip in May, saying Mangena should never have referred to it as an investigation, as it had merely been a preliminary assessment of the workers’ affidavits.
In a letter to the workers’ legal representative, Kuban Chetty, the SAHRC said it had found after careful assessment that the complaint should be dealt with by another institution.
“The commission has no jurisdiction to deal with complaints where the conduct occurred prior to April 27 1994,” it said.
The commission could also reject any complaint lodged three years after the alleged violation of a fundamental right occurred.
Chetty and attorney Vinesh Naidu said they were appealing against the SAHRC’s decision and would approach the high court should it fail to investigate the matter.