The High Court in Pretoria has dismissed Mpumalanga Premier David Mabuza’s R10-million defamation claim against former top ANC executive Mathews Phosa.
Judge Bill Prinsloo in addition granted a punitive costs order against Mabuza.
The premier, a close ally of President Jacob Zuma, claimed Phosa had fabricated a so-called spy report implicating him Mabuza as an apartheid spy.
He claimed Phosa and his business associate, Nick Elliot, had cooked up and distributed the report to harm his reputation and cost him his position as premier.
Phosa, a former Mpumalanga premier and former ANC treasurer-general, strenuously denied the allegations and said an anonymous person had dropped off the spy report in an unmarked envelope at his house in White River.
He testified that he had out of concern sent the report to ANC deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte in September 2014, who in turn forwarded it to the ANC’s top six officials.
Phosa said he felt betrayed by the ANC leadership for leaking the report to the media.
Judge Prinsloo rejected the evidence of Mabuza’s main witness, Phosa’s former house manager, Jan Venter, who claimed he had seen and overheard his boss and Elliot plotting the spy report, which Phosa drafted on a piece of paper.
The judge said if one considered the nature of the spy report, the extraordinary amount of detail it contained and all the names mentioned in it, Phosa would have had to exhibit “phenomenal powers of recollection and an exceptional memory”, considering that the events had taken place years before.
He said if Venter, a “self-confessed liar”, had to be believed, it would have to be accepted that Phosa had embarked on this “extraordinary exercise” on his veranda one evening, despite the fact that he, as a former member of the ANC’s Top 6, was an extremely well-known and highly respected official of that movement and a respected lawyer.
Judge Prinsloo said there was no credible evidence to persuade him that Phosa had created the spy report, and it was also inherently improbable that he could have done so.
Granting a punitive costs order against Mabuza, the judge said it was difficult to overlook the uncontested evidence about large sums of money channeled to Venter through Mabuza’s attorney Ian Small-Smith.