'Joost kept his life in public' - lawyer

2013-10-02 23:15

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Pretoria - Ailing former Springbok rugby player Joost van der Westhuizen cannot rely on his right to privacy to stop the publication of a book about him, the North Gauteng High Court heard on Wednesday.

Frank Snyckers SC, for former celebrity reporter Gavin Prins and publishers Random House Struik, said Van der Westhuizen had actively kept his personal life in the public sphere.

Van der Westhuizen had not shown that Prins's book, titled Joost & Amor, would infringe on his rights to privacy, dignity or life.

Van der Westhuizen suffers from motor neuron disease, a fatal disease that attacks the motor-neurons in the brain and spine which regulate breathing, speech, swallowing, walking and gripping.

He has been in a wheelchair for some time and was unable to sign his affidavit.

He has asked the court for a final interdict to prohibit Prins and Random from printing, publishing, distributing or marketing the book.

Prins said 10 000 copies of the book had already been printed and were about to be distributed when Van der Westhuizen went to court.

Judge Eberhard Bertelsmann will deliver judgment on Friday.

Van der Westhuizen has accused Prins, who was the former celebrity reporter for a Sunday newspaper and is now deputy editor at Heat magazine, of "seeking sensation from the circumstances of a dying man".

Prins claimed in court papers he was a friend and confidante of Van der Westhuizen and his estranged wife, entertainer Amor Vittone.

Sex video

The couple's break-up following the revelation of a sex video featuring Van der Westhuizen received wide publicity, and he eventually confessed to being the man in the video in his authorised 2009 autobiography.

Van der Westhuizen said in court papers he still had a right to privacy, despite the fact that he was well known.

"A book about my life, in the light of my current circumstances with an estranged wife and two young children, has started to put undue pressure on me and is creating tension in my life.

"The fact that I have to bring this application already creates unnecessary stress in my life.

"This book has already had an adverse effect on my health.

"The effect of this is that I will have fewer days with my children and no right or privilege can be stronger than this," he said.

Alwyn Rossouw SC, for Van der Westhuizen, said his client was in a Catch-22 situation and could not say whether the facts in the book were true because he did not know what was in the book.

Prins had refused to give him a copy and had insisted he did not need Van der Westhuizen's permission to publish the book.

To a question by Bertelsmann, Rossouw conceded there was no suggestion that Prins would have had access to information about the couple, other than that which was already public knowledge.

However, he argued that to rehash Van der Westhuizen's life at this stage would not be of interest to the public or to the benefit of his client's health.

Defamatory matter

Bertelsmann remarked that he did not think anyone had been allowed to forget anything about Van der Westhuizen.

Rossouw said Prins could have avoided the whole dispute by simply giving them a copy of the book.

"There comes a time when the ashes of the past must be left to lie... A line has to be drawn somewhere," he said.

He argued that Prins had conceded that the book contained "defamatory matter" (referring to the sex video).

Snyckers argued that Van der Westhuizen could avoid any stress caused by the book by not reading it and by refusing to talk about it.

He said Van der Westhuizen was a public figure who had courted the media and had made public every aspect of his life, included his illness.

He could not complain that his privacy was being violated when he himself made public what was private, he said.

According to Prins, Vittone had given him a three-hour interview and collaborated in the publication of the book - an allegation she did not deny.

Snyckers said the fact that Van der Westhuizen's representative had suggested that the proceeds from the book should go to his J9 Foundation belied his claim that the book would kill him.

"They seem to say if we get a bit of money, we will stress less. Give me a copy and it won't kill me. With respect, that assertion [that the book will kill him] can't be taken seriously," he said.

Read more on:    joost van der westhuizen  |  media

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