Pro-Zuma website loses defamation suit
The continued publication of the claims was a defamatory act
ARMS-DEAL whistleblower Richard Young this week won a defamation suit against the Friends of Jacob Zuma Trust and was awarded R270 000 in damages by the High Court in Cape Town.
The matter relates to two posts on the Friends of Jacob Zuma website in January 2008 that attacked Young and his company, CCII Systems. The posts called him a member of the Broederbond and a traitor and accused his military information technology company of receiving contracts by corrupt methods.
The trust and the website were set up to support Zuma and raise funds when he was fired as deputy president. Neither have been active since Zuma was elected, but the website remains live.
Young sought damages of R500 000 each for himself and his company from trustees Fikile Majola, Sizwe Shezi and Donald Mkhwanazi. The trust argued that the three men were not the administrators of the website and had no control over what was posted. The posts on the site were made in the spirit of debate and were protected by the constitutional right to free speech, they said.
But Judge Yasmin Shenaz Meer found “it is not possible for the trust to sustain the plea that it was not aware of the posting on the website, given that the posts have been there in excess of five-and-a-half years”.
She said the continued publication of the claims against Young was a defamatory act. “Even after the defence became aware of the postings, they were not removed,” Meer said.
She rejected the freedom of speech argument. The evidence “simply does not support” the argument that the claims were made “in the pursuance of a legitimate debate in the exercise of freedom of expression”.
Apart from the damages award, Meer ordered that the posts be removed.
Young said he had taken the matter to court as a matter of principle, and because he believed there was a public interest aspect to the case.
Although the award “was not that big money-wise”, the judgment was one of the first in which “a website like this has been found guilty of defamation”, he said.
With acknowledgement toBianca Capazorio and Sunday Times.