Court has final say in badmouthing war over feeding homeless during Covid-19

Homeless people being fed during the Covid-19 pandemic. Picture: African News Agency (ANA)

Homeless people being fed during the Covid-19 pandemic. Picture: African News Agency (ANA)

Published May 25, 2023


Pretoria - A resident who claimed he was bad-mouthed on social media tried to claim R250 000 in damages from the author of the messages.

Paul Jaboson claimed compensation from Shelly Finch in the Western Cape High Court – this in spite of Finch having apologised to him on numerous occasions. According to Jacobson her apologies were insincere.

It all started with the feeding of homeless people, which played out on social media platforms such as Facebook during the Covid-19 pandemic among some residents of the Atlantic Seaboard.

These residents were divided on how to deal with the issues of acute poverty and homelessness at the time. They chose to express their views on social media.

Jacobson and some of his supporters believed that homeless people had to be removed from the streets and housed in shelters in line with Western Cape government policy. He was against those who fed homeless people on the streets, and advocated for responsible giving to NGOs that housed homeless people.

On the other hand, Finch and some of her supporters shared a different view. Peter Wagenaar, a resident of Mouille Point, shared her view and had the plight of people experiencing homelessness at heart.

He prepared meals for the homeless and distributed them from his Sea Point residence. This provoked the wrath of certain residents, including Jacobson.

At the time, the police rebuked Wagenaar for feeding homeless people and acting in violation of the lockdown rules. Amid the rising tension on social media platforms on this issue, Jacobson publicly shared Wagenaar's personal details on Facebook, including his identity number, address, vehicle description, and vehicle registration numbers.

Immediately after this, Wagenaar’s vehicle was torched by unknown people. Finch meanwhile wrote on her Facebook page about the incident. She tagged her friends and journalists, and the incident was widely reported on various media platforms.

In her post, she called for people to refrain from hateful comments and sought to use the incident to raise funds for Wagenaar’s feeding scheme. Consequent thereto, Jacobson applied for and obtained an interim protection order against Finch.

He argued that she accused him of a hateful crime that he had not committed, and of spreading rumours about him on social media. In an attempt to resolve the conflict, the parties decided to come together and discuss the matter. Subsequent to those discussions, Finch apologised in writing to him for insinuating that he was responsible for torching Wagenaar’s vehicle.

This culminated in Jacobson withdrawing his application for an interim protection order against her.

In November 2020 an event was held to commemorate the torching of Wagenaar’s vehicle and the shell of the vehicle was brought back to the Atlantic Seaboard area. It was painted and decorated and was used to raise funds for charity. Pictures of this event were shared on Facebook.

This opened up old wounds, and Jacobson sent a demand to Finch in which he said her apology to him was insincere. He demanded that she further apologise, which she refused to do.

Jacobson then launched an application in which he sought an interdict restraining her from publishing defamatory statements against him, and for R250 000 in damages.

The court found that Jacobson’s incessant misgivings and discontent with her apology were unjustified.

It was found that Jacobson himself also published certain sensitive information on social media, and was thus not blameless. This was not a case where damages were to be ordered. The apologies that Finch tendered were adequate, the court concluded.

Pretoria News