Why I took Shivambu to court

2012-04-28 16:03

Every dog gets her day, and on Tuesday it was my turn. As the poetry of fate would have it, ANC Youth League spokesperson Floyd Shivambu apologised in the Equality Court for calling me “stupid” and “white bitch” on the same day he got a three-year suspension from the ANC.

He actually turned up for the court case on time after trying to ignore previous hearings. His lawyers, whom he’s failed to pay so far, tried to argue for a postponement, saying they couldn’t get hold of him before. The ANC’s disciplinary proceedings apparently kept him busy.

During the break, while the magistrate was deciding about a postponement, Shivambu, popping out of his ill-fitting black trenchcoat and walking with the swagger of a heavy, came out for a smoke on the veranda where I was chatting to my counsel.
“How much do you want?” he asked me, patronisingly.

“It’s all there in the papers,” I said. “Plus I want an apology.”

“I will not apologise,” he retorted.

Barely an hour later he did, after much deliberation with his impatient lawyers. Straight after, he issued a press statement from the iPad he was playing with in court, saying the case was a “non-issue” and a waste of time.

This angered me a bit, but at least showed he was embarrassed – a small step towards remorse.

Equality Court procedures are more pleasant than the normal court, but it still isn’t a day at the spa.

Even examining the reasons why I went so far to get a simple “sorry” out of Shivambu left me with some discomfort.

Most journalists will tell you Shivambu isn’t pleasant. One of the reasons the ANC suspended him was for telling a journalist “fuck off”.

Going through my texts to prepare for the case, my lawyers were horrified at a separate exchange a few days before the incriminating one. There Shivambu said my husband should take a pill, apparently to satisfy me better.

Whether or not I had a husband was immaterial. Shivambu intended to imply I was asking him persistent questions, not because I’m a journalist on the job but because I’m sexually frustrated.

Proper spin doctors don’t do this.

Other female journalists also had their “husbands” insulted.

Still, Shivambu’s text – “I do not want to earn respect from white bitches . . . So dream on” – shocked me. I felt humiliated, dirty, and realised that, although in my mind I was talking to Shivambu in a professional space, all he saw when he spoke to me was an annoying white vagina.

My advocate pointed out to me that rapists often use the words “white bitch” and “bitch” while committing their crime. Rather unsettling.

Taking the court route wasn’t an easy decision. My editor at the time, Moshoeshoe Monare, suggested it. He was outraged at Shivambu’s behaviour.

Female colleagues were more hesitant. Putting the exchange out into the public domain in a court case, instead of, say, writing a piece over which I’d have control of the content, could result in the label “white bitch” sticking.

At the time, many more journalists were getting the foul-mouthed Shivambu treatment and we felt someone should do something, because the ANC and the youth league weren’t. Also, the Equality Court is there to be used for cases such as this.

Shivambu ignored initial letters of demand to apologise, so we went to court and attached an amount of R100 000 to my claim.

But an apology was what I really was after, not revenge, which is why I didn’t demand damages in our settlement talks.

Shivambu agreed to pay all the legal costs, which will be close to this amount anyway.

Besides, my dignity can’t be measured in money.

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