An apparent former trade-unionist from the North West wants R5 million in damages for being labelled a “businessman” and “trade unionist” in media reports linking him to the ongoing domestic drama between former Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba and Gigaba’s estranged wife, Norma Mngoma.
Peterson Siyaya has launched a urgent court application against The Citizen, eNCA, City Press, Sunday Times and the Sunday World over reports from earlier this month identifying him as apparent the owner of a G-class Mercedes Benz that Mngoma allegedly damaged during a violent outburst.
He says the car is in fact not his. According to eNCA, the vehicle has since been booked into Renewit panel beaters in Sandton, with Siyaya responsible for the insurance.
He also says while he is listed as a director of five companies, he is in fact currently unemployed, and that he left the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) last year.
Another point of contention is the Sunday World having repeated a jibe Mngoma allegedly made at Siyaya: that “he was a dog and that he contracted HIV/Aids because of sleeping with cougars” – prompting him to lay a charge of crimen injuria against her. This as per his complaint. Siyaya denies that he has Aids or HIV.
He wants the reports declared defamatory, R1 million from each of the media houses, and an order that they take down their reports and publicly apologise. He also wants them interdicted from publishing any of the offending content again.
When the case came before the North Gauteng High Court on Thursday, the argument put forward by advocate Jack Ferreira – acting for all the media houses – was simple: The offending reports cast no aspersions on Siyaya.
“Does it undermine someone’s reputation to say he owns a vehicle or is a trade unionist? They’re simply neutral facts,” Ferreira said, adding it was “only in one’s paranoid fantasy” that these assertions suggested anything improper.
Ferreira also pointed to pictures showing Siyaya standing next to luxury cars – including a G-class Mercedes Benz – and leading an NUM march, which Siyaya had himself posted on social media.
“His own social media includes repeated portrayals of himself in both those roles,” Ferreira said.
Siyaya said, though, the offending reports were “designed and intended to mislead the public”.
“I am continuously insulted and labelled as a corrupt ‘tenderpreneur’ and ‘trade unionist’ who loaned [his] Mercedes Benz G-Class to a former minister,” he said.
“My friends and social acquaintances continue to perceive me as a corrupt, murderous, and HIV/Aids positive individual.”
Of the social media posts, advocate Snethemba Vobi – for Siyaya – told the court they were several years old.
But the media houses argue that while The Sunday Times tried to solicit direct comment from him ahead of publication, he chose not to respond.
They slammed the extreme urgency with which Siyaya had brought the application – giving them less than a week to respond – and pointed out the offending reports had now been published more than three weeks ago, arguing for the matter to be struck from the roll for a lack of urgency alone.
Of the delay in launching the application, meanwhile, he claimed to have been too broke to appoint a lawyer.
“I had to approach family members and friends in order to raise legal fees before I could give instructions,” he said.
But the media houses described this as “questionable given that he is an active director of five companies and a founding member of two companies…
“On his own version, he owns a BMW 3-series. His social media photos also show that he is far from being without means,” they said.
Judgment was reserved but the South African Editors’ Forum (Sanef) has in the meantime expressed its opposition to a gagging order.
The forum’s Hopewell Radebe said the seeking of a gagging order, typically suggested there was “something to hide” and that the media was free to report on anything in the public interest.
The South African National Editors’ Forum’s Media Freedom Chair, Mary Papaya, said yesterday that while the forum encouraged aggrieved parties to approach the Press Ombudsman, they also had a right to go through the court process.
She said, however a gag order would be “in flagrant disregard of media freedom”.
“And per the constitution, journalists have a right to report on matters of public interest,” she said.