Lawyer wins 1st round in libel suit

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PN_pn cynthia pretorius0 Etienne Creux Judge Cynthia Pretorius

Sapa

The PRETORIA High Court has granted an interim interdict pre-venting the Higher Education Transformation Network from defaming AfriForum attorney Willie Spies.

Judge Cynthia Pretorius granted the interim order in terms of a settlement reached between Spies and the network.

Spies’s application for a final interdict against the network was postponed indefinitely and would be heard at a later stage, once further affidavits had been filed.

The court order declared that the network’s allegations about Spies’s conduct as a university student between 1990 and 1994 were defamatory.

The network and three of its members were also interdicted from making any further defamatory allegations about Spies and were ordered to remove the claims about Spies from its website.

Judge Pretorius also turned down the network’s application for her recusal. The judge said she could not find any factual basis on which a reasonable, objective person could conclude that she would not be impartial.

The network has lodged a case in the Equality Court against the University of Pretoria, Tuks Alumni and Spies, claiming black former UP students were being excluded from Tuks Alumni.

The group claimed Judge Pretorius, as a University of Pretoria graduate, was a member of Tuks Alumni and was “already prejudiced against its attempts to include the participation of black alumni” in the body.

Spies, in turn, lodged an urgent high court application against the network claiming it had embarked on a public campaign aimed at defaming him and harming his reputation.

The network has condemned Spies’s appointment as chairman of the Tuks Alumni Board, and has claimed he was responsible for the deliberate exclusion of black alumni from its management structures.

It has also accused him of humiliating, excluding and abusing black students at the Sonop men’s hostel, and of being involved in the violent disruption of meetings by Nelson Mandela and former minister Roelf Meyer in the 1990s.

Spies alleged the network was deliberately and wrongfully sending false information about him into the world which portrayed him as a racist, violent and lawless person.

The network wrote several letters to Pretoria High Court Judge President Dunstan Mlambo requesting Judge Pretorius’s removal from the application and the appointment of an “objective judge”.

In one of its letters, the network alleged that AfriForum’s legal victories in the Pretoria High Court had led it to the assumption that there was judicial sympathy among white judges for the AfriForum-allied Vereniging van Regslui vir Afrikaans.

It issued a press statement condemning Judge Pretorius’s “unfair, subjective conduct” before the case had even been heard.

Judge Pretorius said she graduated from Tuks in the 1970s and had not participated in any of the university’s activities for the past 43 years.

Judicial officers had a duty to preside over cases where they were not disqualified, she said.

“Judges do not choose their cases and litigants do not choose their judges... I cannot understand how the respondents can issue a press statement setting out untruths as facts without any substantiation.

“It is preposterous and scandalous to make these allegations against certain white judges without any substantiation,” she said.

The network’s executive director, Reginald Legoabe, said it would comply with the court order, but it fully stood by its assertions. “Judge Pretorius still needs to recuse herself, but we accept her judgment as a judge.”


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