Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola says the R5 million defamation lawsuit filed against him by the Gauteng Radical Economic Transformation (RET) Support Group for President Zuma is “misconceived.”
Lamola filed opposing papers at the Johannesburg high court last week. MKMVA spokesperson Carl Niehaus, who is also the Gauteng RET group’s spokesperson, filed the lawsuit in March last year.
‘Thieves that have stolen money’
Niehaus approached the court after Lamola criticised unnamed RET proponents while addressing an ANC workshop on land expropriation without compensation in Midrand in February last year.
Lamola said at the time, “These thieves that have stolen money now they want to claim that they are RET and they are forces that are supposed to serve our people.
“This RET that they talk about, which is a clear ANC resolution which President [Cyril] Ramaphosa is committed to, is not the one that you think is the resolution. Their RET was the one of looting state resources. It was benefitting them.”
In his affidavit, Niehaus denied that he and the other applicants had “stolen government money,” adding, “The respondent has no evidence to support his statement.”
In his responding affidavit, however, Lamola said his speech was not about Niehaus and his group. Instead, it was “designed to reclaim RET from those who intend to hijack its legitimate objectives for their own personal gain.”
He argued that the applicants had failed to meet the requirements for defamation, adding that he did not mention them by name.
The Minister added, “In any event, the application is misconceived. I am advised that defamation is about the impingement of an individual’s dignity – our law does not recognise ‘group’ defamation or defamation on the basis of ideology.
“Defamation is about the person and their individual self-worth. This is the fundamental error in the applicants’ case: they have assumed that criticism on the basis of their associated beliefs axiomatically means criticism of their person. Put bluntly: to criticise believers of RET is not defamatory.
“Rather, it is free speech that is permissible in a country where the contestation of ideas is healthy and encouraged to build a vibrant society.”
Lamola slammed “RET forces” for “appropriating RET, a national policy of government, to themselves,” adding this his speech was responding to public attacks on the state capture commission of inquiry from some RET proponents.
“At the time I gave the speech, there were groups and individuals who were claiming government’s efforts at eradicating corruption were an attack on RET. In particular, these individuals alleged that the cleaning up of the state was directed at those who intended to further RET,” he argued.