Mpumalanga Social Development MEC and provincial ANC Deputy Secretary Lindiwe Ntshalintshali had been awarded R200 000 in damages after she won a civil claim against a former DA councillor.
Ntshalintshali launched the lawsuit against the DA and its former councillor, Naritha Naidu, in the Witbank Civil Court in 2018 when she was executive mayor of the Emalahleni Local Municipality.
Naidu had written a press release, which claimed that:
- Ntshalintshali’s leadership whilst she was the executive mayor was corrupt;
- The then executive mayor was the reason Emalahleni currently owed Eskom over R2 billion, and service delivery continued to decline;
- Ntshalintshali’s performance as mayor was dismal, but she did, however, excel at rewarding herself and her connected comrades with public funds; and,
- She fraudulently increased the salaries of the Emalahleni municipal manager, Sizwe Mayisela, the chief financial officer, Jabulile Hlatshwayo, and the director of corporate services, Mandla Vilane.
During the court judgment on Friday, Magistrate Daleen Venter found that Naidu, who had since joined Action SA, failed to satisfy truth and public interest in her testimony.
“Literally,” said Venter in her judgment, “all the comments made in the statement are defamatory, as already conceded. Although the defendant failed to establish that the comments she made in her statement were based on facts, she repeatedly confirmed that she stood by her statement. This clearly indicates and confirms the defendant’s malice in publishing the statement.”
Ntshalintshali testified that Naidu did a credit check on her after her husband purchased a new vehicle. She, said Venter, testified that during the publication of the DA’s statement on social media and local newspapers, she was hijacked twice.
Venter said: She was traumatised by the allegations that she was stealing people’s money. Whenever she went to shops, people made derogatory remarks on her and her children were bullied at school. This incident almost killed her emotionally and spiritually.
The magistrate said there are various platforms to express ourselves, and in terms of our Constitution, we ought to have that freedom of speech. However, we must be very careful in weighing our right to freedom of expression against the rights of others, by not harming their dignity and reputation.
Venter found that Ntshalintshali was entitled to an award of general damages to compensate her for the impingement on her dignity and reputation. She added that Ntshalintshali was acting ANC secretary and acting mayor at the time the defamatory allegations were made, and there were rumours that she should not be voted into the posts because she assisted “in the collapse of the municipality”.
Venter said: It was damaging to her reputation. She is a mother and wife, and this statement had a devastating impact on her private life and that of her children who were bullied at school.
“The nature of the defamatory statement, which implied that the plaintiff was dishonest, corrupt, untrustworthy and a thief is demeaning and must have caused a great hurt to the plaintiff when considered against her standing at her place in the political sphere, her political career and her standing in the community,” she added.
Venter said that the allegations contained in the media statement were publicised as facts and all reasonable readers would have understood that Ntshalintshali was corrupt.
“The allegations made in the statement were not fair and could not have been in the interest of the public. The allegations in the statement made were not the truth and, therefore, they could never have been seen as reasonable.”
Mpumalanga DA leader Jane Sithole said that even though the court had made a judgment against Naidu’s statement, evidence from a forensic report in Emalahleni had proved some of the allegations to be true.
“She had to sue because the allegations were not proved anywhere. Now, it’s 2022 and there’s a forensic report that even recommends criminal charges against Ntshalintshali,” Sithole mentioned.