Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe has filed a R5 million lawsuit against Independent Media for allegations, published in a newspaper last year, that he was plotting against suspended ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule.
“Alternatively, in the unlikely event that the court is of the opinion that the allegations referred to above and in the publication as wilfully published by the defendants are not of a defamatory nature, the defendants’ conduct by publication of the article injured the plaintiff’s dignity and self-esteem,” said Mantashe through his lawyers, Phosa Loots Attorneys.
He asked the court to order that the article be removed and a retraction and apology published, as well as that he receive payment of R5 million plus interest in damages in respect of defamation or injury and impairment to his dignity. He also wanted the publication to pay his legal fees.
According to the Daily News report, the information was contained in “an explosive letter written to President Cyril Ramaphosa” by a whistleblower, complaining to him about the use of state resources by the minister and his official to fight internal ANC battles.
It was alleged that the mineral resources and energy department was embarking on wasteful expenditure when Mantashe appointed auditing firm SizweNtsalubaGobodo Grant Thornton to initiate a forensic investigation into R171 million worth of tenders that were awarded to Central Lake Trading in 2016, despite the department having a report compiled by Vernitos Consulting, which found no wrongdoing.
“According to the whistleblower, known to the Daily News, the intention is to implicate Magashule whom the report will find failed to prevent corruption while still the premier of the Free State,” the newspaper reported.The defamatory and false utterances reached millions of readers throughout South Africa and abroad [and] the publication remains easily accessible to the general public as a whole.Gwede Mantashe
At that time, Magashule was already on the back foot politically, having been suspended by the ANC.
Mantashe stated in court papers through his lawyers that “the defamatory and false utterances reached millions of readers throughout South Africa and abroad [and] the publication remains easily accessible to the general public as a whole”.
The statement added that he had not been “provided with a right of reply, nor has an apology article been published purging the harm caused … From the words, tone, manner and context, it is clear that wilful harm and injury to the plaintiff’s reputation and dignity is intended.”
Mantashe claimed that the article had been written in an antagonistic manner and was riddled with tainted, unfounded and hurtful allegations against him.
“The defendants most conveniently hide behind a so-called whistleblower and by no means substantiate the injurious averments in the article,” he stated.
He further argued that it was unreasonable in a democratic society that the newspaper’s statements about him were permitted to be published and widely circulated.
Those statements, he repeated, included false implications that he was dishonest and therefore could not be trusted.
Further, he said, they carried the innuendo that he had not acted with the required due diligence in his position and that he had applied “less than satisfactory standards to issues of importance and was lackadaisical, noncaring and unprofessional with regard thereto”.
The publication, he added, had further accused him of being unable “to act in the best interests of the republic and its citizens”.
Mantashe said that Independent Media had an online readership of more than 10 million and a print readership of more than 5.4 million, while its subsidiary published media had a combined readership of 17.1 million local and international readers, all of whom had been exposed to the “false and defamatory allegations”.
The article had been further circulated by smaller news outlets digitally and subsequently spread on all major social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter, “causing serious defamatory harm, injury and impairment to the plaintiff’s dignity”.