War of words goes to high court

2009-08-12 00:00

AN ongoing feud between the director of the Rural Women’s Movement (RWM), Sizani Ngubane, and former president of the Hilton and Howick Rotary Club Rick Baratta (79) has come under scrutiny in the high court in Pietermaritzburg .

Ngubane and the RWM have launched a civil application in the high court for an interdict to restrain Baratta and his wife, Elisabeth (also a former Rotarian), from “harassing, intimidating, threatening or defaming” her as well as from “slandering or in any manner inciting violence” against her or any member of the women’s movement. No court order has been granted yet.

Rick and Elisabeth Baratta are opposing the application and deny the allegations Ngubane has levelled against them in court papers.

The case came before Judge Pete Koen yesterday who adjourned it indefinitely pending the filing of further court papers.

The dispute between Ngubane and the Barattas — who are former U.S. citizens — has come under the spotlight internationally as well. A number of projects under the control of the Rural Women’s Movement, as well as projects run by the Barattas under the auspices of Rotary, received international sponsorship.

Last year Baratta stood trial in the magistrate’s court on charges of housebreaking and theft which Ngubane brought against him. He was discharged at the end of the state’s case by magistrate W.N, Langa, who found that none of the allegations had been proved.

Ngubane was meanwhile arrested in February this year and charged with fraud and defeating the ends of justice in connection with an allegation that she filed a false burglary and insurance claim. It was alleged that property she reported stolen was discovered hidden under blankets at her home.

The Witness is aware that she is due to go on trial in the magistrate’s court on September 30 in connection with the fraud charge.

In an affidavit filed in support of the high court application, the president of the Rural Women’s Movement, Sibongile Shabalala, said the allegations against Ngubane (for which she blamed Baratta) are “spurious, false and defamatory”. She alleged that they had been published by Baratta who had e-mailed copies to a number of donors of the Rural Women’s Movement.

Shabalala alleged the Barattas had embarked on a “campaign of harassment and intimidation” against Ngubane and her organisation.

In an opposing affidavit, Rick Baratta said he and his wife are prepared to settle the dispute if each party gives an undertaking not to make any more statements about the other, but he said the offer was refused.

Baratta said he and his wife had initially befriended Ngubane and invited her to participate in the successful quilting project started by Elisabeth Baratta.

However, as time progressed she had undermined their integrity and destroyed the trust and good relationships that had existed between members of their Quilters Guild, he alleged.

Baratta said he believed the cause was a rental dispute and Ngubane’s “desire to take control of the quilting project”.

He said he and his wife had closed down a number of community projects in Sweetwaters, including a feeding scheme, due to the dispute, but relocated the quilting project to their home in Merrivale.

He said that recently all but four of the original 30 quilters had returned to the guild, which is continuing its activities in the “same pleasant atmosphere” that existed before Ngubane’s intervention.

He said Ngubane’s “deceit, maliciousness and dishonesty” had prompted him to send e-mails to some funders informing them of the findings of his investigations into Ngubane. He maintains all the information he sent is true.

ingrido@witness.co.za

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