Tiso Blackstar asks default judgment to be set aside in Fana Hlongwane R300‚000 defamation case
Media company Tiso Blackstar on Wednesday asked the high court in Pretoria to rescind a judgment it passed in March last year in which it ordered the company to pay businessman Fana Hlongwane R300‚000 for defaming him.
Hlongwane obtained a default judgment in March after Tiso Blackstar failed to defend the suit brought by Hlongwane in 2017. The company said it failed to defend the suit because it was unaware of the summons.
Hlongwane issued a summons against Tiso Blackstar in 2017 for articles published during 2016 and 2017 which he claimed were untrue‚ defamatory and unlawful allegations against him.
He said the articles‚ published on online platforms SowetanLIVE and TimesLIVE‚ were intended to convey that he was dishonest and corrupt by claiming he facilitated lucrative transactions by using unlawful tactics and obtained unlawful benefits.
Hlongwane had initially sued for R2m and costs of the suit.
The high court in March last year - after perusing the papers and after hearing counsel for Hlongwane – granted a default judgment against Tiso Blackstar for the payment of R300‚000 plus costs.
Tiso Blackstar went to court on Wednesday to argue that the March 2018 judgment obtained by Hlongwane be rescinded or cancelled.
In its heads of argument‚ the company said the statements in dispute related to Hlongwane’s conduct regarding his involvement in scandals concerning public procurement for armaments and scandals concerning illegalities around cabinet appointments.
Tiso Blackstar said the effect of the default judgment was to restrict Tiso Blackstar's ability to publish content in future concerning Hlongwane's alleged involvement in these scandals as the judgment found the statements made by him to be defamatory.
Tiso Blackstar counsel John Campbell SC said the company had given its reasons on why it was not able to defend the action by Hlongwane last year and that it was now desirous to defend the action.
Campbell said Tiso Blackstar had a bona fide defence to the action. He said Tiso Blackstar denies that the statements Hlongwane complained about were defamatory and said a trial court was better placed to decide the issue in due course.
He said if the court in future found the statements were defamatory‚ Tiso Blackstar had two further defences: that the statements were true and publication was for the public benefit.
Advocate for Hlongwane‚ Jaap Cilliers SC‚ opposed Tiso Blackstar's application.
Cilliers said Tiso Blackstar failed to provide a proper explanation for its failure to defend the proceedings after the summons had been properly served on the company in 2017.
Cilliers said after attorneys for Tiso Blackstar had refused to accept service of summons from Hlongwane's lawyers in September 2017‚ there was a proper and personal service of the summons by the deputy sheriff on the personal assistant to the head of human resources of Tiso Blackstar on September 28 2017.
Cilliers said a proper explanation must be given by Tiso Blackstar on why it failed to respond to the summons.
The company had said in its heads of arguments it was not clear what happened to the summons after they had been served on the personal assistant. of the head of human resources.
"Extensive enquiries were made to determine why the summons was not brought to the attention of Tiso Blackstar's management or editorial staff‚" the company said.
Cilliers said the personal assistant of the human resources manager and the human resources manager stated only that they did not recall receiving the summons.
"If the applicant (Tiso Blackstar) cannot pass this first hurdle‚ it is the end of the matter‚" Cilliers said.
On the merits of the defamation claim by Hlongwane‚ Cilliers said there was no basis that the allegations made against Hlongwane by the company were true.
Cilliers said the Arms Procurement Commission found there was no evidence to suggest that Hlongwane was involved in any decisions relating to the armaments acquisition or that he conducted himself in an unlawful manner.
Judge Ronel Tolmay reserved judgment.