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Sea Point councillor’s damages claim rejected

Peter Wagenaar’s car was torched after he fed the homeless in Sea point from its boot. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA)

Peter Wagenaar’s car was torched after he fed the homeless in Sea point from its boot. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA)

Published May 24, 2023


Cape Town - An act of goodwill turned-cold has ended with the Western Cape High Court throwing out a R250 000 damages claim.

Central to the matter was when Mouille Point resident, Peter Wagenaar, fed the homeless from the boot of his car during the hard Covid-19 lockdown in Beach Road, Sea Point - to the disgruntlement of some residents.

According to the high court, the residents were divided on how to deal with the issues of poverty and homelessness during that time, and they chose to express their views on Facebook.

Sea Point councillor Paul Jacobson had aired his opinion that homeless people along the Atlantic Seaboard should instead be supported by shelters.

Jacobson had then approached the high court following a Facebook post by Shelley Finch, allegedly accusing him of committing a “hate crime” for sharing Wagenaar’s personal details on social media. Wagenaar’s vehicle was torched shortly afterwards.

Following the torching, Finch was accused of writing a defamatory and derogatory post about Jacobson on her Facebook page and tagging her friends and journalists.

Jacobson then obtained an interim protection order against Finch and also launched an application to interdict Finch from publishing defamatory statements against him, and for damages of R250 000.

In September 2021, the high court found that Finch’s statements made on Facebook about Jacobson and his business on Facebook and other community chat sites were defamatory and wrongful.

Finch was then ordered to remove them and the matter concerning costs was referred.

The court on Tuesday dismissed Jacobson’s claim for damages, and each party was ordered to pay their own costs.

“It cannot be disputed that the respondent (Finch) defamed the applicant (Jacobson). However, she sincerely apologised for her wrongful conduct.

Notwithstanding her apology, which the applicant publicly acknowledged, the applicant proceeded to institute this application against the respondent.

“As a result, I am of the view that this is a case where each party must pay its own costs,” Judge James Lekhuleni ruled.

Finch welcomed the judgement and said that she was “relieved and grateful to be able to finally put the ordeal” behind her.

“I am especially grateful to my legal team, including Rael Grootkin (Werksmans) and Advocate Luke Kelly, who have been so committed to this case and supporting me through it.

“I wish all parties involved the best going forward and hope that all the people that are working hard to improve the lives of Cape Town’s homeless community continue to be well supported by Atlantic Seaboard residents,” she said.

Jacobson said he was pleased that the September 2021 judgment found in his favour that Finch’s comments were defamatory and derogatory.

“Since that date, the courts have been trying to determine a quantum that she must bear for those consequences as damage as well as the style of apology.

In the proceedings, we were unhappy mainly with the style of the apology, it didn’t free my good name enough after I was severely targeted for incorrect allegations against myself which affected my credibility.

“I believe that this judgment was not a good one in which the courts are starting to set a precedent whereby, where there are abusive wording on social media, people must be held accountable for their utterances. I believe in this case, despite the extensive costs for both parties, Shelly Finch could have been demanded to offer a comprehensive apology.”

Cape Times