The legal tussle between a manufacturer of natural haircare products and a former employee, whom it was said bad-mouthed the company on social media, is continuing. The haircare company claimed that hot on the heels of an interdict against the social influencer, the woman continued to bad-mouth the company.
Native Child Africa (Pty) Ltd – a small business that makes and sells natural haircare products – turned to the Gauteng High Court, in Pretoria, in December.
It obtained an urgent interim interdict against Mary Akinwale, who was in its employment for about two months.
Akinwale is a quantity surveying student at the University of Pretoria and a social media influencer with more than 108 000 social media followers across Instagram, TikTok and X (formerly known as Twitter).
She appears to live a lavish lifestyle, based on her social media posts, and, according to her rate card, she charges brands as much as R10 000 for a 60-second video posted on her social media.
In November last year, she began publishing a series of what are said to be defamatory statements and videos against the applicant to her more than 108 000 social media followers.
It was said that she accused the applicant of, among other things, exploitation and unethical business practices.
She also called called on her followers to harass the applicant on its various social media pages and repost her defamatory posts and told them to go to the applicant’s major retail clients to tell them to stop selling the applicant’s products.
The applicant had previously employed Akinwale to market its products on various social platforms. A dispute arose regarding payment, and she thus turned to the social media platforms to vent her opinions regarding the applicant.
The court issued an interim interdict earlier ordering her not to defame the applicant, to remove her posts and to issue an apology on social media.
Eight days later, the applicant was back in court alleging that Akinwale was in contempt of the order.
The haircare company (applicant) said that if the court did find her to be in contempt of the court order, Akinwale should provide reasons as to why she should not be jailed for 30 days and why she subsequently should not have a criminal record.
The applicant said she was clearly earlier told to desist from actions infringing on their reputation and goodwill, yet she continued to act contrary to the order.
Hot on the heels of the interim interdict against her, Akinwale posted on Instagram – a picture of herself apologising to her followers for not posting earlier because she was "fighting for her life" and trying her best to be strong.
A picture of the courtroom where the urgent application was heard was also posted alongside her statement that she had been in court "fighting for her life so that she does not end up in jail for standing up for herself".
After the haircare company posted a media statement on its Instagram account noting that they were successful in their application, Akinwale posted on social media that the applicant had lied about her in court and that she could do nothing to defend herself.
A few minutes later, on the same thread, she made further comments of how all the “lies” about her made her cry. She also posted “f…. them and their products”.
In defending herself, Akinwale submitted that the content of the posts was not defamatory because it does not reduce the applicant’s status in the community. She also raised truth and public interest as a defence.
The court said that by stating that she was not wrong and that the applicant lied, Akinwale conveys to the public that her previous averments regarding the applicant remain true and, in so doing, continues with the defamation she was ordered to cease.
It was found that her non-compliance, in posting both the first and second posts, was wilful beyond a reasonable doubt.
The court, however, found that she was probably not in wilful non-compliance with the order that she had to post a video and written apology on social media regarding the applicant.
The court found that she may have not been able to glean the court’s true intention from the wording of the order.
The issue of whether she is in contempt of court for not complying with the court order and if so, what sanction should be meted out to her, was reserved pending further submissions on her behalf.