*This story has been updated. An earlier version incorrectly reported Simon Davidson as the owner of Newspage. News24 apologises unreservedly for the error.
Durban - A Durban cleaning and clearing company claims, accused on social media of illegal dumping in a nature reserve, is now suing two Facebook sites and two individuals who posted and shared the "untrue and defamatory" posts.
Candy's Cleaning Services claims it has suffered damages of more than R335 000 because of lost productivity, harassment of workers and the loss of two contracts by major clients "who wanted to avoid negative business publicity".
It also had to hire vehicles for a week while its trucks were taken off the road to remove company branding.
The first post was made on April 17 this year on the "Durban Crime N All" site. It was published by Queensburgh resident Clint Nortje.
He said: "So apparently it's ok to dump your crap in a nature reserve? It's all been dumped into a river and now they burning it and smoking out our houses. When will people learn that it's not ok to do what you want???"
He attached photographs of the alleged dumping which clearly showed the company's logo and contact details.
In the ensuing comments, it was alleged the dumping was taking place in the Roosfontein Nature Reserve.
Dozens of people commented, calling it disgusting, one suggesting the owner of the company should be made to physically load it back onto his truck "even if it breaks his back".
"What no guns over there. Shootable offence I think," said another.
There was a call for the post to "go viral" and the company's official profile was added.
Nortje said he phoned the company and "they said they gonna stop. The trucks keep coming. Now I'm going to take it viral. [sic]"
The post was then shared on another website Newspage by Tisha Abrahams.
By now, any Google search of Candy's Cleaning would take people directly to the damning posts.
Candy's Cleaning attorney, Charmaine Schwenn contacted both Nortje and Abrahams demanding an apology and that the postings be removed.
She supplied documentation proving that the land was privately owned by Dayalan Odayan. In an affidavit Odayan said he had approached the company which had been clearing rubble at a house nearby.
Refusal to apologise
He had requested they backfill his land "as I wanted to level it and gain more space". He said he had no knowledge of any fire.
"Under no circumstances did Candy's Cleaning illegally dump in a nature reserve as the area being filled is my property and it is registered in my name," Odayan said.
A municipal building inspector Welcome Makhoba also confirmed that the property was privately owned.
Nortje complied with the demand and posted: "My previous post regarding Candy's Cleaning has, due to further investigations, been pointed out that same was dumped into private land and with owner's consent and knowledge thereof. Candy's Cleaning did nothing wrong and I apologise for any harm caused to their business."
But Abrahams refused to apologise.
In an email to Schwenn, she said prior to sharing the post, she had sent pictures to the company's website and asked for an explanation.
"I did not receive anything… affidavits mean nothing really, anyone can lie.
"I will get people who have stayed there for a number of years to confess that nobody owns that piece of land. Had this been the case why would Clint have taken the pictures in the first place. I have removed the post as per your request however I WILL NOT apologise for sharing the post."
Last week, Schwenn sent a further demand to Nortje, Abrahams, Durban Crime N All and Newspage.co.za, demanding they pay damages, which she sets out in detail and gives them seven days to jointly pay R335 232, plus legal costs, failing which they will be served with summonses.
Approached for comment, someone posing as Simon Davidson replied to News24’s requests for comment via email from the website. That person claimed Davidson had bought the domain on May 17 this year "and any prior complaints have absolutely nothing to with me. I cannot be held liable for any complaints prior to me purchasing it."
He said the company's attorney had been informed of this.
"If our domain name gets used in any way that can tarnish our brand, legal steps will be taken as the domain is being victimised for incidents we had no part of."
Andrew Pilly of Durban Crime N All, said: "There is nothing to comment about from my side. Someone posted pics about an alleged illegal dumping. The post was later deleted."
Attorney Derek Robins, for Nortje, said his client could not comment because of "potential impending litigation".
Abrahams did not respond to an emailed request for comment.