Johannesburg - Steve Hofmeyr went to court to protect his dignity, but his bid to be protected against a puppet’s “obsessional tweeting” against him fell flat on Thursday.
Outside the court, his visibly annoyed supporter and Afrikaner rights activist, Dan Roodt, took out his frustrations on Chester Missing, slapping him around.
As Roodt squeezed and pulled Missing’s face, the puppet screamed out: “Why are you hurting me? You’re molesting me!”
The controversial Afrikaans musician had obtained an interim court order prohibiting comedian and ventriloquist Conrad Koch and his puppet, Missing, from harassing him. Koch then challenged the interim order.
On Thursday, Magistrate Naren Sewnarain dismissed the application, saying Hofmeyr had exposed himself to “criticism, satire and ridicule” by his racist tweets.
Roodt, who is not a lawyer, argued on Hofmeyr’s behalf in the Randburg Magistrate’s Court that Koch had orchestrated a social media campaign against the singer.
He said the campaign was harmful to Hofmeyr’s dignity and had jeopardised his chances of earning an income, as sponsors had been warned not to associate with him.
“His tweeting is obsessional. His intention is to harm Mr Hofmeyr,” Roodt said.
Koch had taken it upon himself to challenge Hofmeyr’s tweet that “blacks are architects of apartheid” when the people targeted had not been offended by the tweet.
“It (the tweet) did not affect black people, but white leftist liberals in this country. It cannot be interpreted as racism,” Roodt said, before venturing into an argument about how English-speaking white South Africans felt they were superior to white Afrikaans speakers.
“He says Mr Hofmeyr is of low intelligence. The only reason the respondent says Hofmeyr is of low intelligence is because the respondent himself has an elitist Anglophone perspective on Afrikaners, so he’ll consider a person like Steve Hofmeyr to be of lower intelligence than white English speakers.
“There is such a perception among white English speakers that Afrikaans people are of low intelligence,” Roodt said.
He cited tweets in which Koch had mentioned an “ugly face”, and said the puppeteer’s tweeting was vindictive and amounted to harassment and was harmful to Hofmeyr’s reputation.
“That particular tweet… Even your dog… everyone in South Africa, when he’s done with him (Hofmeyr), will have a negative opinion against him,” Roodt said, adding that Koch had orchestrated a social media campaign to harm Hofmeyr’s dignity.
“He comes out vindictive, says he’s ugly. He’s not interested in any form of rational debate. His intention is to harm the reputation of the applicant,” Roodt said.
But, Advocate Steven Budlender – arguing on behalf of Koch – dismissed the harassment argument.
“He wants to have his cake and eat it… wants to have free reign and when people respond, he seeks a court order. He misunderstood what harassment is.
“We are not dealing with a case where a boyfriend harasses an ex-girlfriend… who is a private person. We are dealing with two public figures debating matters of importance,” Budlender pointed out.
He added that Hofmeyr, as a public figure, invited criticism by posting his tweets, and ought to have anticipated a backlash.
“Public figures knowingly lay themselves (open) to public scrutiny. Mr Hofmeyr had publicly advocated for racism. There’s no basis for any order,” he said.
Budlender also dismissed as unreasonable Hofmeyr’s application, adding that he would forgive Sewnarain for dismissing the matter as laughable.
“I don’t know how your worship reacted when he read those tweets and I suggest if you laughed, you shouldn’t feel bad about it,” he said.
Sewnarain concurred with Budlender’s argument that a strong case had not been made for harassment.
“The statement published by Mr Hofmeyr was of such a nature that it lended itself to interpretation… conclusions that Mr Hofmeyr had conducted himself as a racist.
“The court is not satisfied that he should be accorded the protection in accordance with the Harassment Act of 2011. The interim order is set aside,” Sewnarain said.
Hofmeyr was ordered to pay all legal costs.
Outside court, Koch said: “I think Steve has exposed his own racism. It’s not about him being Afrikaans, but being a racist. We need to expose all racism.”
Roodt said he harboured no hatred against black people.
Hofmeyr, who was said to be performing in Cape Town, tweeted that the setting aside of the interim protection order signalled the end of freedom of expression.
“Die einde van Vryheid van Uitdrukking. Die media is darem volgende.” (The end of freedom of expression. The media is next at least), Hofmeyr posted on Twitter.