TWEET AT YOUR PERIL
The power of social media platforms to reach millions of people within a short space of time and the harm these postings can cause an affected person, is a reality of present day technology.
Being careful and responsible about what you post on any of the social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, What's App etc. is crucial if you want to avoid a defamation claim. These postings are said to transmit information instantaneously on platforms which are borderless and far-reaching.
Yet another high-profile case took centre stage in the Durban High court on 5 September 2019. Derek Hanekom applied to court to interdict ex- president Jacob Zuma from publishing tweets implying that Hanekom was an apartheid spy.
Hanekom denied this and told the court that as a result of the tweets, he was labelled as an 'askari' and an 'impimpi' and he now feared for his personal safety and that of his wife. He said the tweets were defamatory of him and that his name and reputation have suffered.
Zuma admitted making the tweet but denied it was wrong or that the tweet actually called Hanekom an apartheid spy. In delivering her judgment, Judge D Pillay set out what the test for defamation was. The Honourable Judge said that the question which needed to be answered was whether or not a reasonable person with normal intelligence would understand Zuma's tweet to mean that Hanekom is an apartheid era spy.
The court was careful to note that political utterances be allowed a wider berth and that politicians should be allowed to voice their opinions in a robust manner. In this regard, the court said the tweet needed to be looked at in the political context in which it was published it.
However, after having considered all the evidence before it, the court found that a reasonable reader would infer that Hanekom was an apartheid spy. The court further held that because of Zuma's position within the ANC, being it's chief of intelligence and the ex-president his "utterances are weightier than ordinary mortals. On matters of state security, Zuma's opinions count.
More so than many social media activists. Consequently, when Zuma refers to a political activist as 'a known enemy agent', reasonable readers of his tweet will understand that he is referring to an apartheid era spy". The court said that given the speed with which news and information is disseminated, a person anywhere in the world who does an internet search on Hanekom, would see the statement that he was an apartheid spy and view him as having no integrity and being untrustworthy.
The court found the tweets to be false, unlawful and defamatory of Hanekom. It ordered Zuma to apologise, remove the tweet within 24 hours from all media platforms and interdicted Zuma from making such statements of Hanekom in future (without limiting Zuma's ability to testify at the Zondo enquiry into state capture which is currently underway).
The court referred Hanekom's claim for compensation of R500 000 in damages, to be referred to the hearing of oral evidence.