His defamation case against The Citizen newspaper was never about the money, former Ekurhuleni metro police chief Robert McBride said on Monday.
“The money was not important, it was about the principle,” he said in reaction to the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) ruling on the case, which went mostly in his favour.
The court held that The Citizen was wrong to call McBride a murderer and criminal in a series of editorial comments and a column by a freelance journalist in September and October 2003.
The articles were written when it became known that McBride would become the head of the metro police.
The newspaper stated that he was not suited for the position because he was a criminal: a murderer who had allegedly been involved in illegal activities with gun dealers in Mozambique.
The High Court in Johannesburg confirmed McBride’s contention that the articles were defamatory and ordered that the newspaper pay him R200 000 in damages.
On Monday, McBride said the SCA’s ruling had confirmed that it was “illegal” for the newspaper to write about him in such a manner.
“Their appeal (to the SCA) was not in good faith,” he said, adding that he felt vindicated.
He said the SCA’s ruling had wider implication than just the defamation issue. It would contribute to reconciliation in South Africa.
It was “good for all people who went through the TRC process”.
The SCA held that McBride could no longer be branded a criminal and murderer in relation to the bombing of the Magoo’s Bar/Why Not Restaurant in Durban in 1986, in which three women died.
McBride was sentenced to death for the bombing, but was granted amnesty in 2001 under section 20 of the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act.
The SCA’s judgment held that the purpose of amnesty provided for in the interim constitution was to advance reconciliation and reconstruction of the South African society on the basis that there was no need for retribution or victimisation.
The court had no doubt that the Reconciliation Act intended that people granted amnesty not be held criminally and civilly liable for the offences they committed, that they should be considered not to have committed the offences, and that those offences should not be held against them.
The court upheld the newspaper’s appeal only in relation to comments in the articles about the alleged gun-running in Mozambique.
The SCA also lowered the high Court’s R200 000 damages award to R150 000.
McBride said the defamation case had not been about the money, but because the “principle was important”.
“The legal fees in the matter far out-reach the reward,” he said.
McBride said he had been prepared to “go all the way” with the matter from the start. — Sapa