Former president Jacob Zuma. File photo by Doctor Ngcobo/African News Agency(ANA)

DURBAN - The Pietermaritzburg High Court has rejected former president Jacob Zuma’s application for leave to appeal a ruling that required him to delete and apologise for a tweet calling ANC member Derek Hanekom a “known enemy agent”.

Judge Dhaya Pillay said in handing down judgment on Thursday that even if it was accepted that the court finding infringed on Zuma’s right to freedom of expression, Zuma in his own interpretation of the tweet failed to admit that it also infringed on Hanekom’s right to dignity.

On July 25, Zuma tweeted: “I’m not surprised by @Julius_S_Malema revelations regarding @Derek_Hanekom. It is part of the plan I mentioned at the Zondo Commission. @Derek_Hanekom is a known enemy agent.”

Pillay called on Zuma and Hanekom to deal with the matter through their political party, the ANC, instead of taking part in “lawfare”.

“If South Africa could negotiate itself outside of the quagmire of Apartheid and into a constitutional democracy, the starting point should be no conflict is unsolvable. Such an approach could shift litigation beyond dispute resolution and conflict management to problem solving. 

"How this can be accomplished in this context, is for the litigants, those advising them and their political party to resolve. That is if they so choose. This is not a directive of the court but an option for the parties to consider,” said Pillay.

Reading her approximately 20 minute judgment into the court record, Pillay said Zuma had to convince the court that his chances of having the ruling overturned on appeal were not remote and had a realistic chance of succeeding.  

“The appeal would have no reasonable prospects of success before another court,” said Pillay.

She said the case was about the natural meaning of Zuma’s tweet and what a “normal, right thinking reader with normal intelligence” would understand it to mean. Hanekom had argued it implied he was an Apartheid-era spy. 

Zuma had told the court he chooses his words wisely and if he wanted to call Hanekom an Apartheid spy he would have done so. 

He said his comment was made in the context of "robust political debate". The former president claimed the tweet referred to Hanekom working with opposition parties in the National Assembly to have him removed as president.

However, Pillay said even if this was true, it was clear from other statements made by Zuma on this matter that "he uses innuendo to further his ends”.

“Even if it is possible to stretch the interpretation that readers may arrive at the interpretation that Zuma seeks to place on his tweet, it is not a probable or dominant impression that readers would have been left with after reading the tweet. Nor is it a probable interpretation that reasonable readers would have arrived at,”  said Pillay.

EFF Leader Julius Malema had prior to Zuma’s tweet revealed that Hanekom attempted to lobby opposition parties to help push through a motion of no confidence against Zuma. 

Prior to this revelation, Zuma had told the Zondo Commission of Inquiry looking into corruption within state institutions that there were several senior political leaders within the ANC that had worked with the Apartheid government during the liberation struggle, although Hanekom was not mentioned by name at the time. 

African News Agency (ANA)