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Durban - Former Durban mayor Obed Mlaba is suing a local businessman for R150 000, claiming he defamed him by stating “untruthfully” in court papers that he had influenced the award of a R3 billion city waste disposal tender.
Tadek Tomaszewski, the managing director of Re-ethical Environmental Re-engineering (Re), is defending the action, saying his allegations against Mlaba - who has been tipped to be South Africa’s next high commissioner to the UK - were true and already in the public domain at the time.
Should Mlaba persist with his court application, he will have to give evidence and explain, for the first time, his role in the award of the tender to reduce waste volumes at the Bisasar Road landfill site - an issue he has never been prepared to speak about in any detail before.
The matter has its history in a court application lodged by Tomaszewski last year in which he claimed the city had unfairly cancelled his waste removal contracts for the Moses Mabhida football stadium and uShaka Marine World, alleging it was because he had exposed the “corrupt” award of the Bisasar contract to a company, EWS Pty Ltd, which had links to Mlaba.
He said he had reported his allegations to the Manase forensic auditors.
In essence, these were that after his company was ranked first and EWS third, he was asked to attend a meeting by EWS. Mlaba was present and he indicated he had a major interest in the company “which was his pension fund” and there were discussions about a partnership and the percentages involved.
But then EWS was suddenly awarded the contract and there was no further discussion about a possible deal.
Mlaba, in the summons filed with the Durban High Court, says he takes umbrage at certain statements made by Tomaszewski including a claim that at the meeting he (Mlaba) said “this meeting has never taken place”.
Other statements the former mayor cites as having been defamatory of him include Tomaszewski’s saying in court papers: “It was immediately obvious to me that there must have been interference by Mlaba in the process,” and “(former city manager Michael) Sutcliffe acknowledged that he was aware that Mlaba had been involved in unlawful and illegal activities”.
Tomaszewski also stated that the Manase report had vindicated his contentions about “Mlaba’s corrupt involvement in the bid process”.
Mlaba now says the statements were made “with intention” to defame him.
“They were intended to mean that I had abused my position by attempting to influence the award of public tenders, disregarding my legal duties as mayor and the rules and procedures of the bid adjudication committee.
“They were intended to mean that I had placed my own financial interests ahead of the implementation of the tender process and I had breached the trust placed in me as mayor.”
He said they carried an “additional sting” of making out that he was corrupt, not trustworthy, not capable of holding a position of trust and lacking in moral fibre.
“The statements are untrue and without foundation and were actuated by malice. The effect was to lower my reputation in the estimation of the public.”
Tomaszewski denies everything.
He points out that the statements were made in the course of judicial proceedings and were therefore privileged.
Apart from this, before the launch of the application, newspapers had published articles about Mlaba’s involvement with EWS and an edited version of the Manase report had been released.
The matter has not yet been set for hearing.