No merit in allegations of sex assault by UCT lecturer, finds court
Cape Town - The Western Cape High Court sided with UCT actuarial science lecturer Malizole Mdlekeza, who sought damages after a member of the public tweeted defamatory allegations of a sexual assault on her.
The judgment, by judge Hayley Slingers this week, made it clear that there was absolutely no merit to the allegations posted on Twitter on June 24, 2020, and brought to an end the nearly 10-month process.
The allegations were levelled after UCT shared social media posts across their platforms recognising the lecturer's contribution to the Actuarial Science department. In response, a social media user alleged that the lecturer attempted to force himself on her in 2012.
In a Twitter thread, the user, Megan Gallie, explained that she knew the lecturer through mutual friends. He had allegedly offered her a lift home one night, but drove past her stop and straight to his home instead. He then allegedly locked her in his home and tried to force himself on her. She said she was able to get away and call for help.
In response to the allegations, UCT removed their posts, saying that the matter was being "urgently" investigated.
Mdlekeza welcomed the court judgment, and warned members of society against opportunistic false accusations and “social media trolling”.
He said while he supported the fight against GBV, the misuse of social media to opportunistically air false and baseless allegations of sexual violence caused problems for all in society, and unfortunately trivialised the pain and suffering of victims, detracting from the genuine fight against GBV.
The court determined that the accuser deliberately and maliciously published those tweets, despite being aware that they were untrue and would cause damage, and ordered that she publish an apology on Twitter, pay damages and bear the costs of the application.
Gallie said she has received and read the judgment and was still considering it’s contents with her legal team. However, she said: "At this stage, I have intentions of appealing the judgment.”
UCT spokesperson Elijah Moholola said the university did not investigate the matter as the alleged sexual assault occurred off-campus in a private residence, and therefore the matter required investigation by the police.
Moholola said the university noted the High Court outcome on the finding of defamation, and that the allegation and related investigation of sexual assault has not been concluded. He said UCT awaited the outcome of the investigation.
"While the alleged incident did not happen on campus, we recognise the deep impact of sexual and GBV on our society, and that allegations such as these can be deeply distressing," said Moholola.
Dr Cobus Jooste, Post-doctoral Fellow in Law at Stellenbosch University, said social media does not create a safe space for reckless, vindictive, vitriolic, hateful or otherwise anti-social statements or behaviour.
Jooste said by now, the law expects social media users to exercise the same level of care during their online communications as they do in everyday personal encounters.