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The DA welcomes the judgment of a defamation case brought by the Leader of the Official Opposition in the Free State Legislature Dr Jankielsohn against the ANCYL in the Free State and ANC Member of the Legislature Mr Thabo Meeko.In his ruling, Judge Johann Daffue ruled in favour of Dr Jankielsohn with an award of R300 000 in damages with costs. Read the judgment here.
On 5 October 2017 the ANCYL in the Free State released a media statement in response to a Member’s Statement made by Dr Jankielsohn regarding an honorary doctorate received by Ace Magashule from the Bahcesehir University (BAU) in Turkey, which was a substantial beneficiary of the Free State governments bursary programme.
Magashule received the honorary doctorate in 2016, while the Provincial Government paid R32,6 Million to BAU in the 2016/2017 financial year. This is in sharp contrast to the R8 Million paid out in the 2015/2016 financial year and the R12 Million payment in the 2017/2018 financial year.
In reaction to the Member’s Statement, the ANCYL referred to Dr Jankielsohn as a “racist”, “clown”, “irrelevant white supremacist”, “Chihuahua”, and “political red neck”.
In his judgement on this case, in the Bloemfontein High Court Judge Johann Daffue indicated that:
“It must be one of the biggest insults to accuse a politician, or for that matter anyone else in our diverse society, of being racist or a white supremacist. People are sent to jail for making racist remarks. Racism is an extremely sensitive issue”.
“There is no justification for the publication of untruths. The statement was published recklessly and with indifference as to whether it was true or false”.
“Plaintiff is labelled and even stigmatised as a racist and white supremacist and it is highly probable that some people might have been incited to cause him and/or his family harm. We experience this on a regular basis on this country”.
“I am not prepared to accept that a political party or one or more of its members may use absolute freedom of speech in order to say whatever they want to say about opposition political parties or their office-bearers merely because an election is around the corner. Surely, parties may contest for votes and do that fairly and squarely within their rights as such. Our country will erupt into chaos if it were otherwise”.
This case is crucial for our democratic interaction with each other as politicians in South Africa. During sittings of Legislature and Parliament the presiding officers are able to rule immediately on points of order regarding defamatory comments. Outside of these structures the courts have to play a vital role in determining the rules of political engagement between politicians who represent different political parties.
This case has contributed to the entrenchment of our democracy by interpreting freedom of speech for politicians and determining the rules of political engagement.
The Democratic Alliance is grateful to have been able to contribute to South African jurisprudence regarding the use of the term “racist” in our transitional society. We are grateful to our legal team advocate Kristle Peterson and attorney Marius van Rensburg for their support and representation during this case.