Johannesburg - Independent Media chairperson Iqbal Survé is suing political commentator Rhoda Kadalie for R1m, claiming a letter of hers that was published in the Mail & Guardian and in which she criticised him was defamatory.
In court papers, the former Sekunjalo Investments Ltd chairperson claims that Kadalie's letter, which followed his resignation from three bodies at the University of Cape Town (UCT), left him "embarrassed and degraded" and "disturbed in his mental tranquillity".
He also claimed he was "injured in his good name, reputation and standing", "is liable to be treated with aversion, suspicion, distrust and hostility", and that he "will be prejudiced in his professional and private endeavours as an entrepreneur, philanthropist and global business leader".
"As a result of the defamation, the plaintiff has accordingly suffered damages in the sum of R1 000 000," the papers say.
They say Survé is a "principled person of high standing" and "an opponent of discrimination".
On December 15 2014, Survé resigned from the UCT advisory board of the Graduate School of Business, the UCT Foundation Trust and the UCT Alumni Association because of a "lack of transformation" at the university.
An article on the resignation appeared in the Mail & Guardian on January 23.
A letter by Kadalie was published by the Mail & Guardian on January 30 which, according to the court papers, "received coverage throughout not only South Africa but the world".
Sections of Kadalie's letter are included in the court papers with some extracts reading:
"As a former University of Cape Town council member, it would be remiss of me to ignore the fallacious headline [Iqbal Surve dumps UCT over 'lip service'] in last week's Mail & Guardian. I bet my bottom dollar Survé jumped before he was pushed.
"No university of UCT's calibre can stand idly by when someone who chairs the advisory board of the business school is embroiled in a wide-spread media scandal."
Kadalie said Sekunjalo's purchase of the Independent group was not only controversial, but "Surve's purge of editors and journalists raised the nation's ire to histrionic levels if letters to the editor and social media commentary is anything to go by".
She also mentioned Sekunjalo's "dubious ties to the ruling party" and the awarding of an R800m tender to operate maritime vessels managed by the department of agriculture.
Surve's court papers claim Kadalie's allegations would have been understood by "reasonable and informed readers" to mean that he lacked honesty and integrity in advancing a false reason for leaving UCT, is hypocritical on issues of transformation and abused his position to interfere in the editorial independence of the Independent Group and to fire several editors, including former Cape Times editor Alide Dasnois.
A summons said Kadalie had 10 days after she received the document to file her intention to defend. She will then have 20 days to file her court documents.
Kadalie told News24: "I instructed Werksmans Attorneys to oppose the action and we shall file in due course."
When asked if Kadalie's comments are not regarded as freedom of speech, Independent's chief of staff Zenariah Barends told News24: "Freedom of speech does not protect the publication of falsehoods. Unfortunately Ms Kadalie overstepped the bounds when she expressed opinions that were not based on fact. Her comments caused severe hurt and damage to Dr Survé and his family."
When asked if Survé was concerned that the case could be seen by some as further "interference" by him in the country's media sphere, and that the case would bring more attention to Kadalie's letter, she said: "He [Survé] has been the victim of many articles that criticised him, since he took over control of Independent Media.
"Ms Kadalie has taken this one step too far. Dr Survé has tolerated much, but he will not allow himself to be victimised with impunity."
Dasnois was axed as Cape Times editor in December 2013.
Survé claimed at the time that she was offered different positions in the company.
Dasnois claimed that she was fired after the newspaper reported on the public protector finding that the awarding of a fisheries' tender to Sekunjalo was improper.
Survé later said it was because the Cape Times failed to lead with the death of former president Nelson Mandela.
In papers filed at the Labour Court at the beginning of the year, Dasnois detailed how Survé made "rants and threats" against her during her disciplinary hearing.
Dasnois says the May 2014 disciplinary hearing was “hijacked” by Survé, who accused her of being a racist, liar and threatened to sue her.
He also accused Dasnois of “being so consumed by anger, by a hatred... [for him]".
According to initial papers filed last year, Dasnois claims the disciplinary hearing into her alleged misconduct was "nothing more than the rubber-stamping of a decision taken some time before then by Survé to engineer the removal of the applicant as editor of the Cape Times".