DURBAN - THE CENTRE for Analytics and Behavioural Change (CABC), the Daily Maverick and City Press newspapers have been taken to the South Gauteng High Court over defamation of character.
Daily News journalist Thabo Makwakwa and social commentators Zamaswazi “Sphithiphithi Evaluator” Majozi, Modibe Modiba and Land Noli have filed a court application to review and set aside various adverse findings made by the CABC against them in their reports.
The CABC published its two reports titled: “Democracy 2021 Project: Online RET Network Analysis” and “Democracy 2021 Project: The Dirty Dozen & the Amplification of Incendiary Content during the Outbreak of Unrest in South Africa July 2021”.
The applicants stated in court papers that both reports were published without them being given the right of reply.
In an affidavit, the first applicant, Majozi, said the CABC reports were tainted by factual errors. “In publishing the reports, the CABC made irrelevant considerations and failed to account for relevant considerations and the CABC’s decision to publish the reports was unconstitutional, unlawful, irrational and unreasonable.”
Majozi also stated that the applicants in this matter were all labelled as instigators who incited the violence and looting in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng in July this year.
“This occurred as a result of several allegations that were made first by the CABC through its reports, and subsequently published by the Daily Maverick and City Press,” Majozi said.
According to the court papers, Makwakwa’s self-esteem and confidence had been diminished due to the attacks made on him as being a purported political lobbyist. He had to undergo counselling because of cyberbullying as a result of the false claims made first by the CABC and further exacerbated by the Daily Maverick and City Press, he said.
“These continuous attacks have negative implications on my person, and also affect my chances for future employment, as my name is tainted,” the affidavit reads.
Modiba said the CABC and newspaper reports had negatively affected his family, especially his 82-year-old grandmother, with whom he lived.
“My self-esteem has taken a knock as wherever I go I am associated with purported political factions which have instigated and incited the violence, looting, deaths of persons and the destruction of businesses.”
Meanwhile, Land Noli received a call from an unknown number and an unidentified person claiming that there was a warrant out for their arrest.
The applicants are also seeking that the court declares the newspaper articles – published as a result of the CABC reports and on the basis of the information contained in the CABC reports – as amounting to publications that are defamatory, false and unlawful for contravening the applicants’ rights in terms of the Constitution.
As a result of the CABC reports, the Daily Maverick published articles titled: “Disinformation, misinformation and barefaced lies: The online war of words in the battle of Nkandla.”
It was followed by “A tale of two networks: 51 accounts for JZ and 25 for Ramaphosa.”
“Meet the instigators: The Twitter accounts of the RET forces network that incited violence and demanded Zuma’s release.”
“Hawks arrested two Twitter users allegedly linked to the incitement of the July looting and unrest.”
“The evolution of social media influencer Sphithiphithi Evaluator.”
Daily Maverick founder and editor in chief Branko Brkic said there was no need to ask for comment, and called the lawsuit ridiculous.
The City Press, on the other hand, published an article titled: “The Tembisa 10 and RET forces.”
The editor in chief, Mondli Makhanya, said they had not received any papers. Both the Daily Maverick and City Press are alleged to have published their articles without getting a response from the applicants.
One of the basic principles of practising journalism worldwide is to give a person the right of reply. When asked for a comment on why the applicants were not given the right of reply prior to the publication of articles, both editors did not answer the question.
The applicants said they used Twitter as a platform to reflect their opinions and ideas, with no intention of misleading the people and/or online entities that followed and viewed the applicants’ Twitter platforms.
CABC’s director of communications, Neeran Naidoo, said the organisation was not aware of papers being filed in any court.
“All our reports are evidence-based, factual and use publicly available information on social media platforms.
“All reports on social media narratives are based on tweets that are already in the public domain … This is a test case that will set a precedent. The CABC has confidence in the South African judiciary and will abide by the decision of the court,” said Naidoo.
The applicants' attorney, Godrich Gardee, of Gardee Godrich Attorneys, said they were officially on brief and the lawsuit had been filed at the Johannesburg High Court.
"We have served electronic court papers to the respondents through their lawyers. But the hard copies are still being served," Gardee said.
He said Mabuza Attorneys were handling the criminal matter of “Sphithiphithi Evaluator” at the magistrate’s court, which was a separate matter from the lawsuit.