It’s not personal, Mr Premier

2011-08-13 00:00

FORMER Msunduzi deputy mayor, Mervyn Dirks is to defend a R200 000 defamation claim instituted against him in June this year by KwaZulu Natal Premier Zweli Mkhize and his wife, Dr May Mkhize.

The premier and his wife are claiming R100 000 damages each from Dirks in connection with an article published by The Witness in which Dirks spoke out against alleged corruption within Msunduzi Municipality that had led to its near collapse.The allegations, which the premier and his wife strongly denied and which they allege to be defamatory, concern a claim by Dirks that Dr May Mashego-Mkhize was a co-director of a company, Mantombazane Holdings. The company benefited from a multi-million-rand “smart meter” contract awarded to Unique Mbane. Dirks claims she resigned after the Msunduzi executive committee and the media began to raise questions about the tender.

The premier and his wife say she had resigned as a director of Mantombazane by the time the Unique Mbane Consortium was in place.

In a plea filed in defence of the defamation claim, Dirks indicates that he does not know whether Dr May Mkhize resigned as director and divested her shares in Mantombazane Holdings on May 21, 2007 (as they allege). Alternatively he states that even if this is proved to be correct, when he issued the press statement he believed she had only resigned after the contract was awarded.

Dirks also denies that the statement he made to the paper alleged that the public interest issue raised by the executive committee and the media caused Dr Mkhize to resign from Mantombazane Holdings.

He further denies his statement alleged or carried any innuendoes to the effect that the premier or his wife in any way influenced the award of the contract (to Unique Mbane); or that the “provincial government or its political heads participated, consulted or intervened” in the award of the contracts.

Another defence he raises is that the words contained in the press statement are capable of “an acceptable non-defamatory” meaning, namely that the contract was influenced by members of the ANC regional executive committee (REC) without the knowledge of the premier and his wife, and that when it was exposed that the contract was awarded “unlawfully”, May Mkhize resigned her membership of the empowerment company.

Dirks maintains the object of the publication was to respond to public statements made by former city administrator Johan Mettler and provincial ANC spokesperson Makhosi Khoza and to call on the premier to launch a full investigation into corruption in Msunduzi Municipality and the REC.

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