A former Ekurhuleni councillor who sued City Press newspaper for R1.4 million for publishing an article containing allegations he “bought votes” with chicken packs, money and alcohol, has lost his claim.
Judge Wendy Hughes dismissed the massive damages claim instituted by John Thaba, former ANC councillor for ward 60 in Ekurhuleni, against the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Ferial Haffajee, and owners Media24.
Thaba claimed damages for his loss of earnings and the damage to his reputation, allegedly caused by two articles published in the newspapers in January and March 2011 under the headings “One Chicken, one vote” and “Chicken man axed from ANC”.
He alleged the articles were untrue, wrongful and defamatory as they led readers to believe he was allegedly buying votes in the Sphamandla informal settlement and exploiting the poor for his own selfish needs. He claimed the articles had resulted in him being withdrawn as a candidate for re-election as a councillor.
When confronted in court with the fact that the ANC’s screening committee had met and recommended his removal as a candidate prior to the publication of the first article, Thaba had no comment.
Hughes said the decision to remove Thaba as a councillor had taken place before the articles were published and could not have been the cause of his removal. He had failed to make out a case regarding his loss of earnings.
City Press conceded the articles contained defamatory allegations, but insisted its publication had been reasonable. The journalist who wrote the articles, Cedric Mboyisa, testified that the first article was written in a political climate during a highly contested local municipal election.
After receiving a tip-off, he had interviewed members of the community, spoke to the ANC spokesperson, verified the purchase of the chickens and phoned Thaba.
But the councillor refused to comment, saying it did not matter if the allegations were published as he “would win anyway”.
Hughes said Thaba was given an opportunity to comment and failed to do so at his own peril. The allegations were not conclusive and were still open to robust debate.
“The plaintiff has not dispelled these allegations … that the defendants view as being reasonably true … The defendants have succeeded in demonstrating … that it was reasonable to publish the allegations at that particular time and manner,” she said.