Jacob Zuma maintains Derek Hanekom tweet was taken out of context

Former president claims 'known enemy agent' does not mean 'apartheid spy'

05 November 2019 - 15:57 By Lwandile Bhengu
Former president Jacob Zuma maintains he did not defame his former tourism minister, Derek Hanekom.
Former president Jacob Zuma maintains he did not defame his former tourism minister, Derek Hanekom.
Image: Jackie Clausen / Pool

Former president Jacob Zuma's lawyer, Advocate Mpilo Sikhakhane, remained adamant that his client's tweet, which referred to Derek Hanekom as an "enemy agent", was taken out of context.

Sikhakhane made this argument in the high court in Pietermaritzburg on Tuesday when Zuma applied for leave to appeal a previous court ruling that his July tweet about Hanekom was "untrue, defamatory and unlawful".

Zuma was ordered to issue an apology and to pay damages, the quantum of which is to be determined at a future hearing where oral evidence will be led.

"It [the tweet] happens in a political debate, started by Hanekom. Mr Zuma did not mention apartheid spy at any point. He did not mention that Hanekom was a spy. He doesn't by a long shot mention that," said Sikhakhane.

Hanekom said the tweet caused him “immense harm and damage” because it created the impression that he was an apartheid spy.

Sikhakhane said a reasonable person would not liken "enemy agent" to apartheid spy as it could be used in many different contexts.

Zuma said his context was in reaction to revelations that Hanekom had been part of a "grand plan" to oust him.

This, he said, made Hanekom his enemy and an enemy of the ANC, the party to which Hanekom claimed to be loyal.

Judge Dhaya Pillay, who had ruled against Zuma in the matter, said Zuma's legal team needed to persuade the court that enemy agent did not mean apartheid spy.

"The first hurdle is to persuade me and any other court that known enemy agent does not mean he is an apartheid era spy," said Pillay.

Hanekom's lawyer, Advocate Carol Steinberg, argued that any reasonable person reading the tweet would interpret it be making reference to an apartheid spy.

"The crisp question for the court is: Can the court say that there is a measure of certainty that another court would find that the sting [in the matter] is not apartheid spy," she said.

Steinberg also pointed out that it was not the first time an ANC party leader had been voted out of office.

"It is a well-known fact Mr Zuma voted Mr [Thabo] Mbeki out, but would he refer to himself as an enemy agent? No one would," she said.

Zuma was also ordered to take the tweet down. However, as of Tuesday it was still on his Twitter feed.

Zuma and Hanekom were not in court on Tuesday. It has not yet been established if the pair will be present when judgment will be delivered on Thursday.