Zuma faces damages hearing after his appeal bid over Hanekom tweet fails
Former president Jacob Zuma’s failed bid to appeal against the ruling that he defamed former minister Derek Hanekom by calling him an enemy agent paves the way for him to face a damages hearing and grilling on the stand.
Zuma’s lawyers are considering their options, after the Supreme Court of Appeal dismissed his efforts to challenge another court’s ruling in Hanekom’s favour with costs.
The high court in Durban found that “there is no reasonable prospects of success in an appeal and there is no other compelling reason why an appeal should be heard”.
Unless Zuma seeks to appeal against Judge Dhaya Pillay’s ruling in the Constitutional Court, the former president will have 24 hours to remove the tweets and to apologise for making the “false and defamatory statement”, according to Hanekom’s lawyers, Dario Milo and Pooja Dela-Cron.
In addition to the possible political humiliation of being forced to publicly apologise to Hanekom, any potential decision by Zuma not to appeal to the Constitutional Court means that he will face a defamation damages trial. Hanekom has argued that Zuma should be ordered to pay R500,000 in damages to him, which he said would be donated to charity.
Because so much of the evidence in the Hanekom defamation saga has been fundamentally disputed by both sides in the case, both Zuma and Hanekom could be forced to testify and face cross-examination.
The animosity between the two runs deep, with Hanekom emerging during Zuma’s scandal-scarred presidency as one of the most vocal critics within the ANC, often attracting the ire of other national executive committee members.
As far back as 2016, he tabled among party structures a motion of no confidence in Zuma.
Zuma’s lawyers had previously argued Pillay’s judgment, which barred the former president from accusing Hanekom of being a “known enemy agent” or “apartheid spy”, was an unconstitutional restriction of Zuma’s right to free speech.
They also contended that the judgment would have a “chilling effect” on his obligations to testify before the Zondo inquiry into state capture, where he has previously accused several of his former ministers of potentially being apartheid spies.
Inquiry spokesperson Mbuyiselo Stemela confirmed that the commission’s legal team was persisting with its application to compel Zuma to testify.
Stemela said commission chair, deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo had not yet met Zuma’s doctor about the alleged serious medical issues that had led to the former president previously failing to appear.
Hanekom took urgent legal action against Zuma after the former president referred to him as a “known enemy agent” on Twitter in July 2019.
During his evidence before Zondo, Zuma blamed all his legal and political difficulties on a three-decade plot hatched against him by two foreign intelligence agencies and apartheid agents.
He said these forces were intent on assassinating his character, and had attempted to kill him on several occasions because he knew the identities of “agents” planted in the ANC.
Days after giving that testimony, and in response to EFF leader Julius Malema’s statement that Hanekom had given his party a list of ANC MPs who would side with them in a parliamentary vote of no confidence against the then president, Zuma tweeted that he was not surprised because the latter was “a known enemy agent”.
Zuma’s lawyers have insisted his tweet about Hanekom was written “in the context of the undisputed allegations” by Malema that Hanekom had taken part in plots to topple Zuma, and that the former president had never said he was an apartheid spy.