Pretoria - A farmer described as well known and very successful in the Western Cape is set to receive R350 000 in damages from his pastor, who had defamed him.
The spiritual leader defamed him via two letters – one to his wife’s attorneys and the other to the University of Stellenbosch – in which he claimed the farmer often abused alcohol.
The farmer, Frederick Becker, turned to the Western Cape High Court where he initially claimed R500 000 in damages from his long-standing family pastor, Gysbert Brits.
Becker told the court that Brits’s allegations were both harmful and hurtful towards him. He said he has been a farmer for more than 20 years in the Cape, and was also an alumnus of the University of Stellenbosch.
He had been a member of Brits’s flock for the past seven years and they knew each other well.
The defamation mainly related to two letters written by Brits. He wrote the first letter to the university in support of Becker’s son for his readmission to the university. The second letter was sent to Becker’s now former wife’s attorneys.
Both letters made accusations about Becker’s alleged abuse of alcohol, claims which he said were false and defamatory as they harmed his good reputation. In defending the claim, Brits said the statements were true and constituted fair comment.
In the letter to the university, Brits said one of the reasons why Becker’s son was unable to advance with his studies was that his father (the plaintiff) had, during this time, abused alcohol. He said this made it impossible for Becker’s son to focus on his studies, adding that the son was fearful of his father. Becker told the court that this meant that he (Becker) was a failure to his son.
The divorce letter that was sent to his former wife’s lawyers made similar accusations about his alleged abuse of alcohol. Becker said there were a host of unnecessary statements in both letters, which caused him harm.
Judge Derek Wille commented that “It is difficult to discern why these letters were necessary at all (and, particularly, the detail as set out in these letters). In my view, unnecessary information was recorded in these letters.”
Becker testified that the university letter was especially harmful to his reputation and dignity. This was, among other reasons, because his student number was visible, and it was publicised in some university academia.
Regarding the divorce letter, he said in his view this was “part of the well-orchestrated stratagem to ensure that he received a non-favourable financial settlement”.
Becker called several witnesses, who all said he was a good father and definitely did not abuse alcohol.
The judge, in finding that Becker had indeed been defamed by his pastor, noted that Becker was a successful and respected farmer in the area. He grew up amid a small farming community. “His good reputation and dignity are deserving of protection,” he said.
He added that the defamatory statements made by the defendant were totally unnecessary and were “extremely unkind”.