The high court in Johannesburg on Friday ordered that the EFF must apologize to SABC journalist Thandeka Gqubule and the Weekly Mail’s founder, Anton Harber.
The court ordered that it must issue an apology within 24 hours and pay damages of R40,000, in addition to footing the journalists’ bills for the legal costs.
The matter relates to the apartheid government’s dirty tricks operation under Stratcom, short for strategic communications.
The EFF’s spokesperson, Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, had besmirched the journalists’ reputations in April 2018, shortly after the death of ANC veteran Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.
The evidence Ndlozi cited was a video clip filmed in 2017 and briefly published by HuffPost South Africa in which Madikizela-Mandela made false accusations against Gqubule and Harber about “doing the work” of Stratcom. After the broadcast of this clip, Ndlozi had threatened to start revealing names if confessions were not forthcoming.
The two journalists who challenged the EFF in court had actually worked to expose Stratcom during the apartheid era. Gqubule was at the forefront of reporting on the abduction and murder of Stompie Seipei at the hands of the Mandela Football Club.
In 1997, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission commissioner Dumisa Ntsebeza told Madikizela-Mandela on the record that he had seen the Stratcom 40 list, and that the people she was accusing, of being on the list were not on it, as she had claimed.
The judgment penned by judge Lebogang Modiba read: “I find that the impugned statements are defamatory. The respondents’ denial that they did not make the call that the applicants were Stratcom journalists is disingenuous.”
On Ndlozi repeating the allegations, Modiba said: “The statements peddle Ms. Madikizela-Mandela’s allegations against the applicants as factual truth, yet the respondents have not placed any evidence before this court in support of Ms. Madikizela-Mandela’s allegations.”
Modiba said the EFF had failed to try to verify the allegations and had no evidence which supported Madikizela-Mandela’s claims.
“They do not explain why they did not verify the allegations prior to publishing the statements or even after these proceedings were instituted. On the contrary, their version before this court illustrates they had no intention of verifying the allegations and that they had accepted the allegations as true as they were made by a person who, in their view, has credibility as she is of a high standard,” Modiba said.
“The standing of a person does not absolve them from the responsibility to back up allegations with evidence.”
Modiba said the allegations were harmful not only to the applicants but to their professions.
Harber and Gqubule had initially sought relief of R500,000 but were awarded R40,000 each, which will be donated to journalism-related projects.
The EFF was ordered to issue a public apology to Harber and Gqubule within 24 hours.