Sygnia boss sues Manyi for concerted 'smear campaign'

Syngia chief executive Magda Wierzycka. (Angie Lazaro, M&G)

Syngia chief executive Magda Wierzycka. (Angie Lazaro, M&G)

The Johannesburg High Court next week will hear an urgent application brought by Sygnia chief executive Magda Wierzycka against Mzwanele Manyi for statements she says amount to intimidation, harassment, defamation and hate speech.

In her founding affidavit, Wierzycka says Manyi – a former government spokesperson and the new owner of Gupta media assets – embarked on a concerted campaign against her, which has resulted in multiple threats to her personal safety and reputational harm to herself and Sygnia, a JSE listed asset manager.

It began on August 1 when Manyi posted a link to CNBC interview from April and tweeted: “This CEO should be investigated for economic terrorism.”

The part of the interview Manyi took issue with was where Wierzycka was asked about how to boost investor confidence. Having just explained that President Jacob Zuma’s actions had caused immense harm to the economy, Wierzycka said she would offer Zuma as much money as he would like and every immunity “because I think the damage that can be done to this country and this economy in a very short period of time is so much greater than any amount of money he could possibly want”, she said.

On August 2, Manyi tweeted that Wierzycka was a “downright RACIST” who “objectifies black people as things that can be bought”. Later that day he tweeted to say he wondered if Wierzycka was related to Janusz Waluś – who had killed SACP leader Chris Hani.
“Magda is willing to pay to get Zuma OUT,” he added.

The tweets continued in the days that followed, claiming Wierzycka was one of the faces of “White Monopoly Capital” and also wanted to make South Africa ungovernable.

Wierzycka says Manyi sought deliberately to pervert the interview to threaten, intimidate and stifle her in exercising her constitutional rights. She said she believed she was a target because of her stance against corruption and because she had spoken out against Zuma.

Wierzycka said Manyi’s followers then went on to defame her and Sygnia in tweets – some of these Manyi retweeted. All this has meant she has had to hire a security company for protection. On August 3, @proudlykhoikhoi responded to Manyi saying: “Where can we find this Magda? She needs to be stopped and eliminated.”

On 8 August, @Makhaya129 posted to Wierzycka’s account saying: “You take your wealth and plunge us into a life of poverty, we will take your lives. Rest assured it is only a matter of time.” Wierzycka further lists two instances where her security found suspicious individuals appeared to be observing her.

In his answering affidavit, Manyi said Wierzycka was trying to suppress “fair comment on social-economic issues in South Africa that does not accord with her own world view”.

He said the comments about paying out Zuma was offensive to him as a voter and to the Constitution and accused Wierzycka of using her substantial financial muscle to silence his views.

In her replying affidavit, filed on Wednesday, Wierzycka denied some Manyi’s statements were fair comment, noting the constitution did not protect hate speech.

Manyi said he viewed Wierzycka’s “offer to bribe the president” as corrupt and could well constitute terrorist activity. He has since laid a charge at Morningside Police station.

He strongly denied the tweets were unlawful and said he had no vicarious liability for tweets made by his followers. He also denied they were targeted at Wirerzycka for her efforts at fighting corruption or that there was a campaign against her. Manyi said he had encountered Wierzycka for the first time when he learnt of the CNBC interview.

He said the security threats described in Wierzycka’s founding affidavit did not demonstrate actual harm or harm reasonably apprehended, offering “nothing more than this skulduggery” and “imagined sightings of suspicious individuals”.

In the founding affidavit, Wierzycka noted that Manyi has been linked to the Gupta family – in respect of whom substantial evidence has emerged of their corrupt dealing with government.

In his opposing affidavit, however, Manyi claims the only link he has with the Gupta family is that he was host of a current affairs programme at ANN7 in which the family had a majority shareholding.

But Wierzycka said Manyi had neglected to say he has just acquired this stake with the help of financing from the family. He further denied forwarding a business person’s curriculum vitae to the Gupta family as was exposed by a series of leaked emails dubbed “the Gupta leaks”. “I never sent any CV from a Gmail account”, he said.

However, Manyi has previously responded to media reports to say there was nothing wrong in trying to help people get jobs.

Wierzycka has asked the court to urgently interdict Manyi from making or publishing further such statements about herself or Sygnia and that he be directed to remove the statements from his social media accounts.

Manyi responded that the matter was not urgent, that the requirements for an interdict were not met, and that any interdict granted would only have “academic effect”.

The case is set down to be heard on 7 September.

Lisa Steyn

Lisa Steyn

Lisa Steyn is a business reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She holds a master's degree in journalism and media studies from Wits University. Her areas of interest range from energy and mining to financial services and telecommunication. When she is not poring over annual reports, Lisa can usually be found pottering about the kitchen. Read more from Lisa Steyn

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