AfriForum sue Lesufi for defamation over ‘assassination’ claims

Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi briefs media at Bryanston High School in Johannesburg, 25 May 2020, after checking the readiness on schools reopening. Picture: Nigel Sibanda

The legal action revolves around comments where Lesufi claimed in November last year that AfriForum has been following him, his children, and had been trying to assassinate him.

AfriForum has filed papers in its defamation suit against Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi following his televised claim in November that they were trying to “assassinate” him.

AfriForum threatened to sue Lesufi over the claims last year, and filed papers this week.

In a tweet on Saturday morning, Lesufi implied the court papers were prompted by his comments about Orania. Earlier this week, at a ceremony honouring late struggle stalwart Harry Gwala, Lesufi reportedly called for an end to the Afrikaner enclave, as it was neither a symbol of inclusivity nor democracy, according to TimesLive.

Posting a picture of the court papers, a copy of which News24 has in its possession, Lesufi tweeted: “My sin was to speak against #Orania like other previous attempts, this one will also fail. I hate racism with a passion but I am addicted to non-racialism.”

However, AfriForum CEO Kallie Kriel told News24 that the case was filed before Lesufi’s comments about Orania.

“He is thus blatantly lying by linking it to Orania, just as he lied when he created the assassination conspiracy theory,” said Kriel.

News24 attempted, via phone call and several text messages, to obtain comment from Lesufi and his spokesperson Steven Mabona on Saturday. No response had been received at the time of publication.

The legal action revolves around comments broadcast during a media briefing in November last year, in which Lesufi claimed AfriForum has been following him, his children, and had been trying to assassinate him.

AfriForum head of policy and action Ernst Roets told News24 at the time that the organisation had done “none of the things” that Lesufi alleged.

The court papers, filed on 22 June this year, allege that Lesufi accused the organisation of “devious attempts to build an Afrikaans only university”, as well as that he said “non-racialism is foreign” to AfriForum, and that the organisation was “promoting racist tendencies”.

The defendant at all times knew that the reporters and representatives would publish that which the defendant would state at the media conference, AfriForum said in court papers.

“During his address, the defendant elected to digress from the subject matter of the media conference and out of context published the words and phrases regarding the first plaintiff.”

Alongside the allegation of an assassination plot, the papers claim Lesufi also implied the organisation was persecuting him and his family, and would be willing to “cause seriously bodily harm to the defendant and his family”.

According to a transcript of the press conference, attached to the AfriForum court papers, Lesufi said: “Now what have they been doing before? They have been following me, and they have been following my family. They have been following my children, and they have been trying to attack me, and they have been trying to assassinate me. They have been trying to go through all of my bank accounts.”

Lesufi was responding to a question about AfriForum, during which he also said the organisation abused the Constitution for racist tendencies, according to the transcript.

He said: They will target me because I am vocal on the issue of non-racialism that is something that is foreign to them.

AfriForum insists these allegations are both false and defamatory, and that the statements were made to willfully defame and injure the reputation of the organisation.

The suit calls for a public apology to be made at a media briefing called for that purpose.

The apology would require Lesufi to list the allegations made against the organisation, and for him to apologise in his personal capacity as well as in his role as Gauteng Education MEC.

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