Hanekom vs Zuma defamation case rests on one issue ...

23 August 2019 - 16:43 By Tania Broughton
Derek Hanekom is suing former president Jacob Zuma for R500,000 in damages.
Derek Hanekom is suing former president Jacob Zuma for R500,000 in damages.
Image: Russell Roberts

The Derek Hanekom versus Jacob Zuma defamation case rests on one issue.

When the former president tweeted that the ANC stalwart was a "known enemy agent", what would the reasonable person assume he meant?

Hanekom said Zuma was implying that he was an apartheid-era spy, evidenced by some insulting and demeaning tweets by those following the former president on social media.

Zuma, however, argued that he did not mean that at all. He was reacting 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 Hanekom claimed to be loyal to.

Hanekom is suing Zuma for R500,000 in damages.

In the urgent application, argued before Judge Dhaya Pillay in the Durban High Court on Friday, Hanekom is seeking a ruling compelling Zuma to remove the tweet, publicly apologise for it and be interdicted from ever again claiming he was an apartheid spy.

The advocates for each side, Carol Steinberg for Hanekom and Musi Sikhakhane for Zuma, agreed on one thing - that the case rested on the interpretation of the tweet.

Sikhakhane said the context of it had to be taken into consideration.

This was that two days prior, EFF leader Julius Malema had tweeted that Hanekom had been in contact with a member of his party to discuss the removal of Zuma from office.

Zuma had responded that he was not surprised, it was part of the plan he had mentioned at the Zondo Commision and that he was a "known enemy agent".

Sikhakhane said it was a "leap" to suggest that Zuma was saying he was an apartheid spy because this is not what had been said.

He said his client, when talking about the "plan", had been referring to the recent ructions in the party about his presidency and it had nothing to do with apartheid days.

He said those who had tweeted in response were "not reasonable people" and the "vagaries of social media could not be the the test" of the matter.

"The word enemy was used to imply political foe. The word agent refers to the EFF and the fact that he has become an agent of them. It might not be nice but it was colourful political speak and you cannot find against my client for something he did not say or mean."

But Steinberg said it was important to "look beyond" what was expressly said.

She questioned whether the average person would consider political adversaries to be "enemies", rather than opponents, in a multi-party democracy.

She referred to Zuma’s evidence at the Zondo Commission where he named two apartheid spies and threatened to name more when he next testified.

In his opposing affidavit, she said, Zuma had made "veiled threats", saying he had not named Hanekom yet, and he may or may not.

He had also said that "by assisting political enemies to weaken the ANC to topple the leadership, he had acted like an apartheid spy".

"This is not Mr Hanekom’s fantasy ... his [Zuma’s] affidavit is littered with these innuendos."

She said should Hanekom win the case, he would donate whatever damages he was awarded to Corruption Watch “because he has no interest in making money out of it”.

Judge Pillay asked Sikhakhane what his views were on the amount of damages, should she find in Hanekom’s favour.

He said he did not believe the matter could be debated on the present papers before the court and it should be referred to oral argument.

Judge Pillay indicated that she would hand down her judgment next week.

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