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Pretoria - An email containing questions about the alleged involvement of funeral giant Doves in apartheid-era burial agreements has caused a stir.

Doves has turned to court for an interim interdict to prevent any “vexatious” and defamatory comments against the company on social media. Doves asked for an order to gag the Funeral Industry Reformed Association and its representatives.

The company fears that if further gossip and “malicious” rumours are being spread on social media, it will tarnish its good reputation.

Doves told the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, that Reyno Dawid de Beer, the legal adviser of the association, and a man identified only as Rosseau in the judgment were publishing damaging statements regarding the company.

But it now feared that following an email asking Doves questions such as whether it was paid during apartheid times to bury death row prisoners, its name would be tarnished.

Defending the matter, De Beer said the respondents had not published anything. Doves could not at this stage prove to the court that whatever the respondents might publish in future would be defamatory, he argued.

Doves said it received an email in July last year with "a number of queries about the alleged involvement of the company in apartheid era agreements” One of the questions was whether Doves “had at any stage during the period 1983 to 1994 received funding from the government of the time which was either not paid back or required to have been paid back”.

Another question was “whether Doves received any contract during that time from the government to bury prisoners, death-sentenced prisoners or political activists”. The email stated that if Doves answered yes, it wanted to know whether it kept proper records of where these people were buried. It also wanted to know whether Doves “operated a crematorium directly or indirectly funded by the government”.

Doves told the court it was indicated that if it refused to answer or provide improper answers, the respondents would write their own “fair” comments on social media.

Doves' lawyer issued a letter to the respondents asking them to stop harassing the company through threats of defamation. The respondents replied that they would publish Doves' “lame response” and write an article under the heading "Doves group refused to respond to apartheid questions".

Doves said these posts were not in the public interest, even if they were true. Doves said it was difficult not to construe the respondents’ conduct as malicious. The respondents denied there were any posts on Doves or malicious intent. The same email was sent to other funeral businesses, which had responded, they said.

Turning down the application, Judge Pierre Rabie said it was clear the respondents had not posted anything Doves feared it might. Doves had failed to prove any wrongful act by the respondents.

Pretoria News