Circumstances 'not compelling enough' for appeal – Judge to Zuma

At its core the case was about determining the interpretation of Zuma's tweet

Circumstances 'not compelling enough' for appeal – Judge to Zuma

7 November 2019

Former president Jacob Zuma's application for leave to appeal former minister Derek Hanekom's lawsuit against him was not compelling enough, Pietermaritzburg High Court Judge Dhaya Pillay said on Thursday.

"Mr Zuma does not invoke compelling circumstances or any other provisions to grant this application. He has to convince this court that his prospects of appeal are not remote [and] have a realistic chance of succeeding."

Judge Pillay, who was delivering judgment after hearing arguments on Tuesday, said that, at its core, the case was about determining the interpretation of Zuma's tweet.

"All other grounds of appeal are peripheral to this central question. Mr Zuma accepts that the tweet is open to several interpretations. If it was unambiguous, the parties would not have sought the court's opinion."

Judge Pillay previously found that his tweet was "false and defamatory".

The tweet, posted on July 25, read: "I am not surprised by @Julius_S_Malema's revelations about @Derek_Hanekom. This is part of the plan I referred to at the Zondo Commission. @Derek_Hanekom is a well-known agent of the enemy."

She said Zuma had chosen his words carefully.

"If Mr Zuma intended to say that Mr Hanekom is an enemy of [himself] and the ANC, he would have done so in clear and unambiguous terms. He would have said just that. Had he done so, he would not have aggrieved Mr Hanekom."

She said Zuma's interpretation of the tweet did not account for information in the public domain. Judge Pillay also said that Zuma had "gratuitously" insulted Hanekom.

'Mr Zuma uses innuendo to further his case'

She quoted Zuma commenting on Hanekom in papers: "His entire life as a duplicitous two-faced person is embarrassing. His entire life and conduct is of an antithesis of an activist and a new cadre that the ANC seeks to develop."

Judge Pillay said this cemented the court's interpretation of the tweet.

"These embellishments by Zuma fortifies the court's interpretation. As a man who chooses his words carefully, Mr Zuma uses innuendo to further his case."

She added: "Without evidence, the tweet was unjustified in the context of this case."

On September 6, Judge Pillay ruled that the tweet be removed within 24 hours and that Zuma apologise to Hanekom, who had filed an application to have it declared defamatory.

Hanekom also claimed R500 000 in damages, but an oral hearing has yet to take place to determine the amount of damages.

Zuma's tweet came after it was revealed that Hanekom had met with the EFF leadership to discuss a motion of no confidence in Zuma, who was president at the time.

Shortly before posting the tweet, Zuma had testified before the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture that there was a plot among local intelligence services and those of two other major countries to remove him from the ANC through character assassination.