Democratic Alliance (DA) federal council chairperson Helen Zille has hailed her party’s victory over the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) in the Free State, in a defamation case brought by the DA’s leader in the Free State Legislature, Dr Roy Jankielsohn.
On Monday, Judge Johann Daffue ruled in the DA’s favour at the High Court in Bloemfontein, ordering that the ANCYL must pay R300,000 in damages for a statement which branded Jankielsohn a “racist”, “clown”, “irrelevant white supremacist”, “Chihuahua”, and “political red neck”.
Zille took to Twitter on Tuesday morning to call the judgement “excellent” and to express the view that it set “an important precedent”.
“You can’t just throw the ‘R’ word around when you have run out of arguments,” she said.
On Monday night, Zille said that the amount of money the DA could potentially earn from the many defamation cases they were pursuing could be significant.
“With all the defamation against DA public representatives, we would be able to fund an entire election campaign with a few more defamation cases,” she joked.
How the ANCYL will pay the damages, however, is unclear, as they are reportedly bankrupt and were liquidated in July, 2018.
Excellent. An important precedent. You can't just throw the "R" word around when you have run out of arguments.https://t.co/1N8VObJvgp
— Helen Zille (@helenzille) November 12, 2019
With all the defamation against DA public representatives, we would be able to fund an entire election campaign with a few more defamation cases. https://t.co/1N8VObJvgp
— Helen Zille (@helenzille) November 11, 2019
The ANCYL’s insults were in response to a member’s statement made by Jankielsohn about an honorary doctorate received by former Free State Premier Ace Magashule from the Bahcesehir University (BAU) in Turkey, which was a substantial beneficiary of the Free State governments bursary programme at the time.
DA legislature member David van Vuuren pointed out on Monday that Magashule received the honorary doctorate in 2016, and the provincial government had paid R32.6 million to BAU in the 2016/17 financial year.
Judge Daffue issued a damning judgment on Tuesday.
He said: “It must be one of the biggest insults to accuse a politician, or for that matter anyone else in our diverse society, of being racist or a white supremacist. People are sent to jail for making racist remarks. Racism is an extremely sensitive issue.
“There is no justification for the publication of untruths. The statement was published recklessly and with indifference as to whether it was true or false.
“Plaintiff is labelled and even stigmatised as a racist and white supremacist and it is highly probable that some people might have been incited to cause him and/or his family harm. We experience this on a regular basis in this country.”
The judge found that the ANCYL could not use freedom of speech or the accepted robustness of political discourse to get away with saying whatever they pleased.
“I am not prepared to accept that a political party or one or more of its members may use absolute freedom of speech in order to say whatever they want to say about opposition political parties or their office-bearers merely because an election is around the corner. Surely, parties may contest for votes and do that fairly and squarely within their rights as such. Our country will erupt into chaos if it were otherwise.”
The DA issued a statement, calling the case crucial for “democratic interaction with each other as politicians in South Africa”.
ANCYL spokesperson Sello Peterson told OFM News they would only comment after studying the judgment.
(Compiled by Daniel Friedman. Background reporting, Charles Cilliers)