A R1 million damages claim for alleged defamation by an acting director who objected to a colleague’s implying in a memorandum that he was a “sex pest”, has been dismissed by the Pretoria High Court.
Solomon Maila brought the claim against Cynthia Ramulifho, who was an assistant director of policy services in what was formerly the Department of Safety and Security and which is now known as the Department of Police.
Maila’s claim related to a memorandum Ramulifho sent in September 2004 to the then-minister of safety and security, the secretariat of the department and to other heads.
In it Ramulifho said she would not be “comfortable” working with Maila, “given the historical experience and his unwelcome remarks about women”. She said the secretariat “has a duty to provide a workplace free of harassment and unwelcome sexual advances”.
Ramulifho confirmed she had written the memo, but denied that the statements were defamatory or had been meant in this light.
She testified that she had been working in the office of the secretariat since 2002. When she started there, Maila used to call her “a girl”. She took exception as she considered herself a woman, and being referred to as a girl in the work environment was demeaning.
She said that on one occasion, when she emerged from the women’s toilets, she met Maila and greeted him politely. He responded: “I’m fine and I am sexually excited.” She told him his comments and behaviour were unwelcome and unacceptable. He had laughed and left, she said.
Ramulifho said she felt uncomfortable and regarded his comments as unprofessional. She reported the incident to her supervisor, got no feedback and then wrote her complaint.
The Public Service Commission later informed the minister that it would be carrying out an investigation at the Office of the Secretariat that would include a probe into alleged sexual harassment by the deputy director, Maila.
Ramulifho said that while awaiting a response to her complaint, a press report appeared in which Maila was accused of being “a sex pest”. She said her memo had been meant only for the eyes of those to whom she had sent it and that she had been justified in raising her grievances. She was not the only person who complained about his “immoral conduct”, she said.
Maila, in his evidence, said the inference from the memorandum was that he was sexually abusive. He took exception as he had not been formally charged. When he was questioned by the Public Service Commission he told it he knew nothing about the allegations.
Maila said the memorandum caused his colleagues to isolate him and he feared he would not be promoted as he was regarded a “sex pest”. His marriage also suffered.
He said an anonymous letter was distributed in which he was branded a “sex pest”. He believed Ramulifho was the author of the letter, but she had denied this.
In his judgment, Judge Aubrey Ledwaba said it had become clear during Maila’s cross-examination that the “sex pest” label had begun in about 2000, not in September 2004 when Ramulifho wrote the memo.
Maila had testified he had “forgotten” that he had also claimed R1m in damages from another colleague who had branded him “sexually abusive”. The judge said he failed to understand how Maila “forgot” this, as the two summonses were issued by the same attorney.
Maila’s evidence was “weak” and Ramulifho a reliable and credible witness.
Judge Ledwaba said, however, he could not find that the court action by Maila was malicious. - Pretoria News