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Ramaphosa loses court bid to halt publishing of potentially damaging story

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa’s last minute court bid to prevent the Sunday Independent newspaper from publishing a story alleging several extra-marital affairs failed on Saturday night.

The case came after very detailed questions – sent from Sunday Independent editor Steven Motale to Ramaphosa on August 31 – were leaked and widely circulated on social media.

The leaked questions were asking him to respond to “dozens of emails … that link you to extramarital affairs with several young women”. The comprehensive questions listed eight names, adding that it seemed from the emails that he had had unprotected sex with some of them and that one of them was still in university.

Over the weekend, Ramaphosa released two press releases saying this was a smear campaign, a distortion and that the emails were illegally obtained. He said that he and his wife were supporting 54 young students and that evidence of bank transfers to them “have been used to make scandalous allegations”. He added that the privacy of the young women had been violated.

In court, his legal adviser Nokukhanya Jele said in an affidavit that at least one of the young women whose name was listed in the editor’s query had written to Ramaphosa’s spokesperson to “convey her distress at being so mentioned seeing that she has no personal relationship with him. She is extremely concerned about how this story will impact her future employment opportunities as well as her personal relationships.”

Jele said: “The respondents have no right, even in the name of freedom of expression, to invade private email accounts and seek to publish material therefrom. There is no public interest for such publication.”

But in his answering affidavit, Motale said that one of the young women referred to in the Sunday Independent’s intended story had “confirmed the authenticity of the emails and their contents”.

“We have also done intensive investigation confirming the contents of the emails and have confirmed the contents of the emails,” Motale said.

In court, counsel for the newspaper, David Unterhalter SC, said Ramaphosa could not build his case for an interdict around privacy because the leaked questions – which revealed what was going to be in the story – were already in the public domain. “The horse has bolted,” he said.

Ramaphosa’s political adviser Steyn Speed said in his affidavit that Ramaphosa had been given an undertaking by executive chairman of Independent Media Iqbal Surve that the story would not be published on Sunday.

It was only at midday on Saturday that it was made clear that the story was to go ahead – hence the late court application, said Ramaphosa’s counsel Joe Nalane. This was immediately refuted by Unterhalter.

Judge Vally took a dim view of the explanation, saying there was a difference between the proprietor and the editor and asking why Ramaphosa did not seek an undertaking from the person who sent the questions. He said that Ramaphosa’s team had not given enough of an explanation for why the application was so late. “There is far too little information before me to come to the assistance of the applicant,” he said.

Vally said prior restraint – interdicting something before it was published – was “far-reaching relief”. Ramaphosa had not brought enough evidence to court to justify it and had not satisfied the requirements of an urgent case.

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Franny Rabkin
Franny Rabkin
Franny is the legal reporter at the Mail & Guardian

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