Holomisa, UDM lose ConCourt case against Lebashe

Court says there's insufficient proof of party leader's claims

UDM leader Bantu Holomisa
UDM leader Bantu Holomisa
Image: Simphiwe Nkwali

The Constitutional Court on Thursday held that an interim order granted to Lebashe Investment Group and others against UDM leader Bantu Holomisa in 2018 was correctly granted.

Lebashe owns Arena Holdings. Lebashe, Harith General Partners, Harith Fund Managers, director of Lebashe Warren Wheatley, chair of Lebashe Tshepo Mahloele and nonexecutive director of Lebashe Jabulani Moleketi had approached the high court in Johannesburg for an interdict restraining the UDM and Holomisa from making or repeating any allegations defaming or injuring their dignity.

The ConCourt on Thursday agreed, noting that Holomisa and the UDM had circulated harmful information without establishing its veracity.

“They did not even make a feeble attempt to ascertain the truth of the allegations before publishing the defamatory material, notwithstanding the fact that they had asked the president to inquire into the allegations,” said acting justice Mjabuliseni Madondo in a unanimous judgment.

This saga started when Holomisa sent a letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa in June 2018 containing allegations that Lebashe and its directors had conducted themselves unlawfully in various ways in relation to the Public Investment Corporation.

In the letter, Holomisa said: “President‚ these companies and individuals have links — past and present‚ directly and indirectly — with the PIC. It makes for uncomfortable reading when one considers the possibility of a very complicated and opaque scheme that will put at risk the Government Employees Pension Fund.”

He said “possible corruption” at the PIC could make alleged “state capture” graft “look like chump change”. He further suggested “front companies” seemed to have been created with the aim of getting into business with the PIC. Holomisa requested an investigation into the allegations.

The damning letter was also published on the UDM's website.  Lebashe and its directors contended the remarks were devoid of truth and were defamatory. They sought interim relief in the high court pending an action for damages for the alleged defamation. The high court granted them an interim interdict pending the determination of an action for damages for defamation.

The high court ordered Holomisa to cease and desist from defaming or injuring the respondents’ dignity, and to remove and delete the letter from the UDM’s website and from Holomisa’s Twitter account.

Holomisa sought leave to appeal the interim interdict to the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) on the grounds that the letter was not defamatory, that the allegations were true and that the publication thereof was in the public interest.

However, the SCA struck the matter off the roll in 2020 on the grounds that the interdict was interim in nature and therefore not appealable. Holomisa had argued that the interdict was appealable because it was final and definitive in effect.

This led Holomisa to apply to the Constitutional Court for relief. In its judgment on Thursday, the Constitutional Court said the “takedown” order from the high court was simply an interdict against continuing to publish the defamatory material on the platforms, pending the determination of the defamation action.

“By allowing the defamatory material to remain accessible on these platforms, the applicants are in fact continuing to publish it.

Madondo said the UDM and Holomisa allegedly received defamatory information from whistle-blowers then published it in the mistaken belief that it was for the benefit of the public to do so, without having verified the information they had received.

Madondo said Lebashe argued that the effect of the interim order was to regulate the UDM’s conduct in a circumscribed, specific and limited manner for a certain period pending the finalisation of the defamatory claim.

Madondo said Lebashe succeeded in establishing a prima facie right, the injury inflicted and reasonably apprehended, and the lack of adequate alternative remedy.

“Accordingly, the interim interdict was the only appropriate remedy that could be granted to protect the respondents’ rights and reputations pending the final determination of the action for damages. The present respondents were thus correctly granted an interim interdict,” Madondo said. 

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