'Defamatory' posts by Manyi scare billionaire

Social media: Magdalena Wierzycka says she is living in fear

01 September 2017 - 06:50 By Nomahlubi Jordaan
Mzwanele Jimmy Manyi
Mzwanele Jimmy Manyi
Image: Gallo Images

Billionaire entrepreneur Magdalena Wierzycka says she is living in fear after a string of "defamatory" social media posts by new media owner Mzwanele "Jimmy" Manyi.

Wierzycka, the outspoken chief executive of Sygnia Asset Management and South Africa's wealthiest woman, has filed an urgent application in the Johannesburg High Court. She is seeking an order declaring statements Manyi made against her on Twitter and Facebook - including that she was guilty of "terrorism" - defamatory.

Wierzycka said Manyi's social media posts amounted to harassment and wants the court to interdict him from publishing any further "defamatory" statements.

She also wants the court to direct Manyi to issue an unconditional apology and retraction on social media and remove the statements on all the platforms they were posted.

But Manyi is fighting back, denying his comments were defamatory and claiming he was no friend of the Gupta family, only that he had once hosted a talk show on their television station ANN7.

Manyi's company Lodidox recently bought ANN7 and The New Age from Oakbay, a company belonging to the controversial Gupta family, for a combined R450-million. The deal is a vendor-finance transaction which means the funding for the transaction will come from Oakbay.

In her affidavit, Wierzycka said Manyi's utterances followed her public condemnation of the current state of the South African government.

"I have called upon big business in South Africa to stand up against corruption and state capture," Wierzycka said in her founding affidavit.

In one of the tweets Wierzycka quoted Manyi as saying: "This CEO should be investigated for economic terrorism."

"In fact, this @Magda_wierzycka is downright RACIST. She objectifies black people as things that can be bought," another of Manyi's tweets posted on August 2 reads.

Manyi, charges Wierzycka, also questioned whether she was related to Janusz Walus, the man who assassinated SA Communist Party leader Chris Hani.

Wierzycka said Manyi's statements had made her fear for her personal safety and that of her children.

This @Magda_wierzycka
is downright RACIST. She
objectifies blacks as
things that can be bought

She also argued that his statements had caused her company reputational damage.

"Given the threats I have received, I have been forced to hire, at a high cost, personal security for myself and for my family. Those threats cannot be taken lightly."

She said on August 7 her security team advised her that they had "overheard two businessmen, purportedly involved in state capture, in a lengthy conversation about me threatening my safety".

"The words, 'She is poking her nose where it doesn't belong, she is going to get hurt' were used," she said.

Wierzycka said the following day "a suspicious individual" was found lurking around Sygnia offices in Cape Town. The person had followed her later when she attended a protest march.

Wierzycka said there was a "racially charged atmosphere created by the Gupta family and their UK PR firm Bell Pottinger".

She believed "the campaign by Mr Manyi is designed to silence me in my opposition to corruption and the Guptas and I reasonably apprehend that it may directly or indirectly cause me and my family physical harm".

Her children required armed protection.

In his responding affidavit, Manyi denied any link to the security concerns she detailed.

He said Wierzycka's case was not about defamation, harassment or hate speech. He said she wanted to "suppress fair comment on socioeconomic issues in South Africa that does not accord to her world view".

Manyi denied the posts targeted Wierzycka for her efforts at fighting corruption or that the posts were unlawful.

In his affidavit Manyi denied being "a close defender" of President Jacob Zuma or the Gupta family.

"I defend anybody who is unfairly treated and there are numerous examples of my doing so that are unrelated to the President and the Gupta family," he said.

Manyi said: "The only link that I have had with the Gupta family is that I was once the host of a current affairs programme at ANN7 on contract which was until recently owned by a company in which members of the family had a majority shareholding."

Manyi said granting Wierzycka the relief she sought would have "the chilling effect of sending a message to South Africans that the political and socioeconomic views of the well-heeled enjoy more protection of the law than the views of the less financially secure which are anchored in the constitution".

The application, said Manyi, was not urgent and should be struck off the roll.

The case is due to be argued on Tuesday.