The former executive mayor of the Vhembe municipality in Limpopo, Florence Radzilani, who allegedly “cried” for a Christmas present from fraud-riddled VBS Mutual Bank, is claiming R38-million for defamation, loss of income and reputational damage.
Radzilani, a former Limpopo ANC deputy chairperson, resigned as mayor earlier this year after that province’s premier, Stan Mathabatha, asked all executives whose municipalities deposited money with the bank to step down.
Last month, she issued summons on advocate Terry Motau SC, who carried out a forensic investigation of VBS for the South African Reserve Bank, and Kabelo Matsepe, who allegedly was the middleman in soliciting municipal deposits for the now defunct bank.
According to court papers filed with the high court in Pretoria by her attorney, Shoni Ravele, Radzilani said Motau defamed her in his report, The Great Bank Heist, and created the impression that she was of “base moral standard, dishonest, not worthy of holding public office and unable to deliver as an executive mayor”.
In his report, Motau said “one of the most illuminating examples of the rampant corruption and bribery that occurred is to be found in a WhatsApp discussion between Matsepe [and former VBS chairperson Tshifhiwa] Matodzi on 20 December 2017”.
The discussion was about gratuities.
Matsepe handed over his cellphone to Motau’s investigators.
“The mayor of Vhembe is crying she says we must give her and the speaker a Christmas because they are the ones who are making sure we keep that money for six months. We gave her 300k and she cried and said we gave juniors R1.5-million and we gave her 300k … we said we will consult with you and will sort her out Friday morning … if we can let’s give her 1% on a level of trust because she did keep her promise that she will block the money from being withdrawn,” said Matsepe in a WhatsApp to Matodzi, according to the report.
He replied: “Go ahead … But she must know the formula.”
The Vhembe municipality lost R300-million deposited in VBS.
In her court papers, Radzilani argued that Motau’s reference to the WhatsApp messages, without giving her an opportunity to present her side of the story, was intended to defame her and cause her reputational and financial prejudice.
“In publishing the aforesaid paragraphs concerning the plaintiff [Radzilani], the first [Motau] and second [Reserve Bank] defendants were reckless in that they did not care whether the contents of the said WhatsApp messages were true or false; took no reasonable step to establish and/or to investigate the truth of the allegations contained in the said WhatsApp messages. Failed to ensure that enquiries were directed to the plaintiff and/or that a response was sought from the plaintiff,” according to the court papers.
Ravele said the WhatsApp messages amounted to hearsay evidence. “As a result of the defendants’ unlawful conduct, the plaintiff’s own political party has requested the plaintiff to step aside from her position as a mayor and as a deputy chairperson of the ANC Limpopo province … As a result, the plaintiff’s livelihood, career as politician and reputation was destroyed,” said Ravele.
He said, had Radzilani been given an opportunity to clear her name, Motau would have discovered that she had never had any communication or meeting with Matsepe and Matodzi, and “has never received any benefit which is not legally due to her from any person implicated in VBS matter … never used her former position as a mayor to commit any corrupt act.”
He also distanced Radzilani from any involvement in any of the investment decisions with VBS.
Ravele said his client, who was earning R826 414.08 a year, suffered reputational damages amounting to R10-million and that her estimated loss of earnings was R25-million.
A further demand is that Matsepe should pay Radzilani R3-million for reputational damages she suffered because of the WhatsApp messages between him and Matodzi.
Answering papers are yet to be filed. Matsepe said he had not yet received the summons and Motau had not responded by the time of publication.