A man who falsely accused a general in the police of having an affair with his wife, a constable, will have to pay the general R230,000 in damages for defamation.
The general, who is not identified as the allegations against him were sexual in nature, turned to the North West Division of the High Court, sitting in Mahikeng, where he initially claimed R1.5 million in damages from the husband.
While the sheriff of the court attached the initial summons relating to the claim on a door to the home of the husband, the latter never defended the matter. The general subsequently launched an application for a default judgment, in which Judge Samkelo Gura awarded him the damages.
The husband landed in hot water after he had sent an email to a division of the SA Police Service (SAPS) which dealt with complaints against officers.
In the the email, the husband said he wanted to lay a complaint against a general stationed at a police station in the North West area. The husband also mentioned the general’s surname in his email.
He said in his complaint that the general was “having an affair in public” with a junior officer, which the husband said was his wife, who was stationed at a different police station.
The general testified that at the time of the complaint he was in charge of 12 police stations.
He said the email accusing him of infidelity came to his attention through the Office of the Provincial Commissioner of SAPS in North West. He was told that there was a complaint against him which had been found in a nodal point for complaints.
Another major-general was delegated to investigate these allegations against the plaintiff.
The investigations revealed that the husband’s wife, who was also a police officer, had been having telephone communications with a person whose name she did not reveal. She, however, had been referring to that person as “General”.
The investigation also revealed that the conversation between “General” and the defendant's wife was of a sexual nature.
That communication was in Setswana. The only languages which the plaintiff said he knew were Afrikaans and English.
The plaintiff told the court that he cannot say how many junior officers saw the defamatory information, but many have access to the modal point where members of the public deposit their complaints against members of the SAPS.
He said that he noticed that some police officers no longer had the same respect for him as before. This adversely affected the way in which he communicated with female police officers. He said the allegation of infidelity “dented” his reputation to both his juniors and his superiors.
The general said he was a father of two young daughters and his wife was also a member of the SAPS. He took the court through his working career before this incident to demonstrate that he was a highly respected commissioned officer of the police, who was dedicated to his work.
He said in his more than 30 years experience at work he had an untainted record. He had never been charged with misconduct.
He said his impression after reading this email was that the husband portrayed him as a person of low morals and who engaged in love relationships with junior police officials.
He also said that the implication was that he was using his high rank to solicit sex from his subordinates. It harmed his confidence because these allegations came unexpectedly and out of the blue, he said.
Judge Gura said he was satisfied that the defendant made these derogatory allegations against the plaintiff without just cause.
“The words used did actually defame the plaintiff’s character. His appearance in the witness box was that of a person who felt humiliated and belittled with what he called false allegations against him,” the judge said.
He commented that the general was trusted and respected by his peers and his subordinates looked upon him for guidance.
His reputation in his career was untainted prior to this incident.
“The direct result of the defamatory words on this respectable career officer, a husband and a father was to dent his image.
“His morale dwindled and he lost confidence in himself. I have no doubt that a high degree of harm was caused to his esteem and integrity.”
But, the judge added that he was not convinced that the defamatory information reached the ears and eyes of many police officers.
“However, the judge said, the few who had seen it could have ‘spread this ugly news to more people’.”