Judge’s ruling against Zuma opens a can of worms

Jacob Zuma
Jacob Zuma
Felix Dlangamandla

Losing the defamation case filed against him by former tourism minister Derek Hanekom at the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Pietermaritzburg on Friday morning may have opened a can of worms for former president Jacob Zuma and his defence team.

Zuma faces another defamation lawsuit brought by former communications minister Siphiwe Nyanda, as well as a possible court showdown with former public service and administration minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi. During his testimony at the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture in July, Zuma said Nyanda and Ramatlhodi were spies.

After this, Zuma took to Twitter following utterances by EFF leader Julius Malema that he had met with Hanekom ahead of the ANC’s 54th elective conference. During that meeting, Malema said Hanekom agreed to vote against Zuma in the DA’s motion of no confidence.

Zuma posted on Twitter that Hanekom was “a known enemy agent”.

Hanekom said this slur had a greater impact than the “spies” comment regarding Nyanda and Ramatlhodi because it was posted on social media, and was therefore in the public domain forever.

Last week, Nyanda took a leaf out of Hanekom’s book and filed court papers at the Johannesburg High Court to sue Zuma for defamation. He is demanding R800 000 in compensation as well as an apology.

Hanekom wanted R500 000, a public apology and for Zuma to take down the tweet, which was on Friday deemed to be “untrue, defamatory and unlawful” by Judge Dhaya Pillay.

The KwaZulu-Natal High Court ordered Zuma to apologise to Hanekom, remove the tweet and publish an apology on Twitter within 24 hours.

He was also ordered to pay damages, though the amount is still to be determined.

Hanekom argued that the accusations made on Zuma’s official Twitter account had caused “immense harm and damage” to his reputation, and would continue to cause harm as long as “this statement remained published without censure”.

Hanekom has welcomed Pillay’s judgment. The judge also found that the phrase “enemy agent” amounted to being called an apartheid spy.

Zuma’s defence argued that “Hanekom wrongfully combines Zuma’s utterances at the Zondo commission regarding Ramatlhodi and Nyanda with his tweet calling Hanekom “a known enemy agent”.

His defence had also argued that Hanekom was attempting “to fudge the two”, which was “mischievous as he sought to prevent Zuma from continuing with the revelations he sought to make before the Zondo commission”.

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