/ 1 December 2022

Lamola wins interdict against newspaper he is suing for R1 million

Justice Minister Ronald Lamola

Justice Minister Ronald Lamola has secured an interim interdict ordering a Mpumalanga newspaper to retract two articles suggesting he interfered in the prosecution of former state security minister Bongani Bongo for fraud and corruption.

The Mbombela high court on Tuesday gave 013News 24 hours to retract the stories published on 24 October and 17 November.

The first suggested Lamola gave directions to senior state prosecutor Henry Nxumalo to delay the R74 million trial against Bongo to prevent him seeking re-election to the ANC’s national executive committee at the party’s conference later this month.

The second was published after Lamola approached the court for an interdict and filed a R1 million defamation suit against the newspaper and writer Zama Khumalo. 

The minister is also seeking an order compelling the publication to publish an unconditional apology for carrying an article that was “entirely false” and for the harm caused to his dignity and reputation.

In an affidavit, he said: “013News had no valid basis whatsoever for asserting that Minister Lamola is involved in the prosecution of Bongani Bongo’s matter.”

The second part of the application is due to be heard on 6 December. It was brought in the minister’s personal capacity.

Lamola said he was suing for defamation to vindicate “my right to dignity and hard-earned reputation” and noted, as a lawyer, he regards it “of utmost importance that I retain my status as a fit and proper person in order to continue to practise”. 

As justice minister, he said, he had to ensure there was no meddling in the decision-making of the National Prosecuting Authority, which would constitute a crime.

“This is a commitment I intend to honour fully, without any reservation, and it is thus important to me that the public remain confident in my commitment to do so,” he said.

Lamola harbours ambitions to become the deputy president of the ANC and has in recent weeks been at pains to stress that he has no role in determining who is prosecuted for corruption or state capture crimes.

In 2019, Bongo’s was one of the early, high-profile arrests over state capture. He was charged with attempting to bribe parliamentary employee Ntuthuzelo Vanara in 2017 by offering him “an unlawful gratification” to derail a parliamentary inquiry into corruption at Eskom.

The charges were dismissed last year for lack of evidence. The NPA is appealing that decision.

He was arrested again in 2020, along with several others, on charges of fraud, corruption, money laundering and contravening public finance legislation relating to a deal which allegedly saw an Ermelo farm bought for R10.5 million and within the hour sold to the government for R36 million. It is alleged Bongo used some of the money to build himself a house. 

At the time, he was the head of legal services in Mpumalanga’s human settlements department. Bongo has been compelled to step aside as member of the legislature. 

He is considered to be a member of the ruling party’s so-called radical economic transformation faction opposing the current ANC president, Cyril Ramaphosa.