Durban - The eThekwini Municipality says its manager, S’bu Sithole, did not make false or defamatory comments about his predecessor, Michael Sutcliffe, who is suing the city for R10 million in damages.
In its response filed on Monday, the city denied any liability in the case, but said even if the comments were found to be defamatory, Sithole had just been doing his job and informing the public.
Sutcliffe filed the lawsuit against Sithole and the municipality over what he said were false and disparaging reports made about him in relation to the Manase report on alleged fraud and corruption in the municipality.
Sithole reportedly told the media the city had resolved to pursue criminal charges against Sutcliffe and take legal action to recover R1.1m which, he alleged, had been lost due to Sutcliffe’s failure to report fraud.
Sutcliffe said in the summons that the Manase report had not found that he had in any way been responsible for the loss of R1.1m or any other amount.
He also said Sithole’s comments falsely implied that he had been guilty of criminal conduct and in dereliction of his duties as city manager.
The municipality denied false statements were conveyed. It said a “disclosure” was made after the council asked Sithole to produce a report – under the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Activities Act – because, the municipality alleged, Sutcliffe had failed to report corruption.
The city also denied that Sithole had said the Manase report had found that Sutcliffe had caused the loss of R1.1m or recommended that the money be recovered from him.
The municipality said the Manase report had made no such finding or recommendation.
It said even if Sithole’s comments were found to have been defamatory, they had been “substantially true” and their publication was in the public interest.
“It was reasonable and justifiable. The first defendant did not regard it as wrongful and had no intention to injure the plaintiff, his intention having been to discharge the duty of reasonably informing the public of the affairs of the municipality.”
Sutcliffe’s attorney, Roger Knowles, said the city’s plea would be sent to senior counsel for consideration and then it would be “the long road to trial”.
The backlog on the high court trial court roll was about 30 to 33 months. However, the number of Road Accident Fund cases – which were clogging up the roll – was expected to drop substantially because of a change in legislation, Knowles said.
He said the two main players, Sutcliffe and Sithole, would have to testify, as might others who had attended the press conference at which the comments were made. - The Mercury