Con­trac­tor nailed for de­fam­ing judge, mayor

The Herald (South Africa) - - Front Page - Devon Koen [email protected]­soblack­

A Port El­iz­a­beth busi­ness­man who ac­cused a high court judge of cor­rup­tion, called mayor Athol Trol­lip a racist and ac­cused city manager Jo­hann Met­tler of drunk­enly pen­ning a let­ter, has been found guilty of con­tempt of court.

Sipho Gcora – who has been bat­tling the Nelson Man­dela Bay mu­nic­i­pal­ity for al­most a decade – has also been in­ter­dicted from de­fam­ing or mak­ing deroga­tory re­marks about the mu­nic­i­pal­ity, its of­fi­cials and le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

The saga be­tween the mu­nic­i­pal­ity and Gcora and his wife, Khuselwa Goba-Gcora, who own Goba-Gcora Con­struc­tion, dates back to when the com­pany was em­ployed as a sub­con­trac­tor for WK Con­struc­tion, which had been ap­pointed by the metro to build RDP houses in KwaNobuhle.

Goba-Gcora Con­struc­tion claimed later it had not been paid what it was owed.

But the mu­nic­i­pal­ity was ab­solved in a court judg­ment of any blame or any need to pay out­stand­ing fees.

The mu­nic­i­pal­ity said in court pa­pers at the time that all the money had been paid over to the main con­trac­tor.

Fol­low­ing this judg­ment, Gcora ap­proached the of­fice of then pub­lic pro­tec­tor Thuli Madon­sela to in­ter­vene.

In Jan­uary 2016, Madon­sela’s of­fice re­leased a re­port ti­tled Cost of De­vi­a­tion, which or­dered the mu­nic­i­pal­ity to take cer­tain re­me­dial steps in favour of Goba-Gcora Con­struc­tion aimed at com­pen­sat­ing the com­pany for losses it had al­legedly in­curred.

The re­port also found the ap­point­ment of WK Con­struc­tion un­law­ful.

Shortly af­ter this re­port, Gcora launched the first of sev­eral court ap­pli­ca­tions to force the mu­nic­i­pal­ity to im­ple­ment the rec­om­men­da­tions of the pub­lic pro­tec­tor.

At least four such ap­pli­ca­tions were dis­missed dur­ing the course of 2016.

Gcora’s re­view ap­pli­ca­tion and the ap­pli­ca­tion to com­pel were heard by Judge Jeremy Pick­er­ing in Septem­ber 2017.

Pick­er­ing again dis­missed the ap­pli­ca­tion and ruled that parts of the re­me­dial ac­tion be set aside.

Last week, in the Port El­iz­a­beth High Court, Judge Selby Mbe­nenge found that Gcora had been “dis­pleased with the out­come of [these] cases”.

“Be­sides un­suc­cess­fully seek­ing leave to ap­peal [against] the rel­e­vant judg­ments, [Gcora] re­sorted to pen­ning a plethora of com­mu­ni­ca­tions to wide-rang­ing re­cip­i­ents con­cern­ing judges of this di­vi­sion, es­pe­cially Pick­er­ing J, the [mu­nic­i­pal­ity], cer­tain of the [mu­nic­i­pal­ity’s] func­tionar­ies and other pub­lic of­fice­bear­ers,” Mbe­nenge said.

In just more than a three­week pe­riod be­tween De­cem­ber 23 and Jan­uary 19, Gcora sent at least 17 e-mails per­son­ally at­tack­ing Trol­lip, Met­tler and Pick­er­ing, among others.

In some of the e-mails sent to Trol­lip, Met­tler, the pub­lic pro­tec­tor’s le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tives and the mu­nic­i­pal­ity’s at­tor­ney of record, among others, Gcora wrote:

● “... racism es­pe­cially with your [Trol­lip’s] ar­rival is ter­ri­ble in PE”

● “I have been ap­proached by busi­ness peo­ple in PE and they told me that they are shocked with your racist man­age­ment style”

● “Spend an­other cent de­fend­ing cor­rup­tion at your peril. Your con­duct is evil from any front, po­lit­i­cal, le­gal and morally. But let (sic) see how far you can stretch without sink­ing with this Ti­tanic.”

● “All you are do­ing you are drink­ing ex­pen­sive booze while ratepay­ers’ money is at risk, where is your con­science?”

And a minute af­ter the above e-mail:

● “[City manager] has no right to take the [pub­lic pro­tec­tor] on re­view un­less he was in­sane or drunk when he wrote the let­ter.”

A few days later, Gcora ac­cused Pick­er­ing of mis­con­duct.

“I have ap­peared be­fore Pick­er­ing J [two] times be­fore the re­view ap­pli­ca­tion, I could not gather that he is a racist

he wrote. “And my heart is sore about what he has done to his name.

“But surely some­one did some­thing that led him to mis­con­duct­ing him­self.

“What did you do to this judge? Why are you cor­rupt­ing the judges, Trol­lip and Met­tler?”

In the same e-mail, Gcora ac­cused the mu­nic­i­pal­ity and its of­fi­cials of be­ing “cor­rupt and dis­hon­est” and lit­tered with thieves and liars.

At one stage, Gcora sent three e-mails in one day ad­dressed to the same par­ties as well as DA leader Mmusi Maimane and DA fed­eral chair James Selfe, in which he ac­cused Met­tler of be­ing in­com­pe­tent and com­pro­mised, be­fore lash­ing out at Pick­er­ing.

“The High Court set aside the find­ings of the Pub­lic Pro­tec­tor in para­graphs 8.2.1 and 8.3.1. This was in­ter­est­ing as these were not the only find­ings, was the judge drunk or what?” he said in one e-mail.

Af­ter the mu­nic­i­pal­ity took the mat­ter to the Port El­iz­a­beth High Court, seek­ing an or­der that Gcora was in con­tempt of court, Gcora sub­mit­ted an ad­di­tional af­fi­davit in which he claimed that the com­ments he had made about the court, its judges and mu­nic­i­pal of­fi­cials were made “fool­ishly and without proper ap­pli­ca­tion of mind”.

He ten­dered an apol­ogy, adding that he had “acted out of frustration and pain”.

Mbe­nenge said: “He [Gcora] specif­i­cally apol­o­gises to Pick­er­ing J and claims to lack suf­fi­cient words to ex­press his em­bar­rass­ment to­wards the judge.

“[But] In the same af­fi­davit, he seeks to jus­tify his con­duct in cer­tain re­spects.”

Mbe­nenge found that al­though Gcora ad­mit­ted that he had made the state­ments without re­flec­tion and ex­pressed his re­gret, this did not, in the cir­cum­stances of the case, trans­late into an un­equiv­o­cal ad­mis­sion of guilt on his part.

Gcora was sen­tenced to six months in prison, sus­pended for five years, for con­tempt of court.

He has fur­ther been in­ter­dicted from mak­ing any defam­a­tory re­marks about the mu­nic­i­pal­ity, its of­fi­cials and le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

Gcora’s counter-ap­pli­ca­tion was dis­missed with costs and he was di­rected to pay the costs of the ap­pli­ca­tion.

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