Former president Jacob Zuma. File picture: MASI LOSI.
Former president Jacob Zuma. File picture: MASI LOSI.

Former president Jacob Zuma has been denied leave to appeal against a ruling that a tweet calling former cabinet minister Derek Hanekom “a known enemy agent” was defamatory, false and unlawful.

Durban high court judge Dhaya Pillay made the ruling against Zuma in September, ordering that he remove the tweet and publicly apologise. She also interdicted him from publishing any further statement “that implies that Hanekom is or was an enemy agent or apartheid spy”, but said this did not apply to any future evidence Zuma might give at the Zondo commission into state capture.

The judge ordered that Zuma pay Hanekom damages, the amount of which would have to be determined at a trial at which oral evidence would be led. The leave to appeal argument was heard this week.

Zuma’s legal representatives submitted that the tweet was made in the context of “heated and robust” political debate.

They persisted with the claim that he had not intended to mean that Hanekom was an apartheid spy, but that he was an “enemy agent” because he had worked with people within and outside the ANC to oust Zuma as president.

It was also argued that the court order was “drastic” and limited Zuma’s right to freedom of expression.

In her ruling on Thursday, Pillay said neither party had wanted to lead evidence.

“They narrowed down the issue as to whether or not a reasonable person would understand the tweet to mean that Mr Hanekom was an apartheid spy.

“Counsel for Mr Zuma accepts that the tweet is open to several interpretations. But they said he chose his words carefully and if he intended to call him an apartheid spy he would have done just that.”

She pointed out that in Zuma’s affidavit in the case, he had insulted Hanekom, saying his entire life had been “duplicitous”, describing him as a two-faced person, the antithesis of a struggle activist.

“These embellishments fortify the interpretation [of the court] about the tweet ... It is not probable that ordinary, right-thinking readers would have been left with the interpretation Zuma said he wished to say.”

She said the order would not stifle debate or freedom of expression.

Regarding criticism by Zuma’s legal team that she had stepped into the political arena, she said the ongoing war between the two veteran ANC members, “with each fingering the other for all sorts of bad conduct”, had been referred to during the hearing and in the papers.

She said the appeal had no prospects of success and dismissed the application, ordering Zuma to pay the costs.

Zuma's lawyers have notified Hanekom's attorney's that Zuma will petition the Supreme Court of Appeal for the right to appeal against the ruling.

With Karyn Maughan 

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