The Eastern Cape High Court (Grahamstown) has awarded R20 000 damages to a man who was party to encouraging a mass occupation of municipal land in Mdantsane, after it found the Daily Dispatch had defamed him. The court found that while Mzukisi Soyi may have acted unlawfully by encouraging the illegal occupation of municipal land and use of electricity, the newspaper had defamed him by incorrectly reporting he had sold the plots to people as part of a ‘scam’.

Soyi sued the Dispatch for R1m, saying the newspaper had defamed him by reporting in 2013 that he was scamming unsuspecting people out of money by divvying up municipal land in Mdantsane and selling off plots for R300 each.

While the Dispatch acknowledged the article was defamatory, it argued it was true and in the public interest to expose it, says a Saturday Dispatch report.

But Judge Murray Lowe said the newspaper had not succeeded in proving the defamation defence of truth and public benefit.

He found the newspaper, which had acquired its knowledge via an undercover reporter who had taped conversations with Soyi, had ignored Soyi and other committee members’ explanations for why they required the R300. Soyi and another committee member claimed the R300 was to clear plots for people.

However, Lowe said the courts had consistently rejected that damages in such cases should be punitive. The newspaper and the reporter had acted out of a sense of duty. ‘In my view, an award of damages of R20 000 would be more than adequate in all the circumstances, especially having regard to (Soyi’s) role in what must certainly be regarded as the encouraging of unlawful land occupation, let alone reference to encourage unlawful electrical connection.’

He ordered the Dispatch to foot the legal costs but only on the lower Magistrate's Court scale.

Full Saturday Dispatch report (subscription needed)