Louis Case Reports

DEFAMATION AND CHARACTER ASSASSINATION
Becker v Brits [2022] ZAWCHC 44

The plaintiff is a very successful farmer who has farmed in his area for over 20 years and who is an an alumni to the University of Stellenbosch. The defendant was a pastor to his family for at least 7 years. The defendant wrote a letter in support of the plaintiff’s son for re-admission to the University of Stellenbosch and another letter regarding divorce, sent to the plaintiff’s ex-wife’s legal representatives. Both letters made accusations about the plaintiff’s alleged abuse of alcohol. The plaintiff alleges that these letters were defamatory and that he suffered damages of R500,000. The defendant contends that the statements were the truth, alternatively that they were fair comment.

Wille J discusses the plaintiff’s case and the four witnesses called; the Whatsapp messages between the defendant and the plaintiff’s ex-wife that were obtained via a subpoena; the contents of the letters; the introduction of certain video clips for the purposes of limited cross-examination of the plaintiff; and the case for the defendant and his witnesses.

The court comments on the defendant’s strategy of character assassination of the plaintiff and that this will make it impossible for the family to function again as a unit. It appeared that the defendant conspired with the plaintiff’s ex-wife to attempt to settle some score with the plaintiff. Tragically, the plaintiff’s children were also hauled into this totally unnecessary skirmish and feud.

From para [104] the court makes obiter remarks tthat ‘knowledge’ of unlawfulness no longer finds application in our law in connection with actions for defamation.

Plaintiff is awarded damages of R350,000 and costs on the scale of attorney and client.

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CLEAN AIR AND THE CONSTITUTION
Groundwork Trust v Minister of Environment [2022] 39724-2019 (GP)

In November 2007 the former Minister of Environment declared the “Highveld Priority Area” under the National Environmental Management: Air Quality Act. This covered a large area across Gauteng and Mpumalanga and included some some of the most heavily polluted towns in the country, including eMalahleni, Middelburg, Secunda, Standerton, Edenvale, Boksburg and Benoni. A concentration of industrial pollution sources from coal power stations and refineries caused particularly poor and dangerous air quality for residents. Lack of progress in improving air quality led to an application seeking declaratory and mandatory relief on the government’s obligations regarding air pollution in the Highveld Priority area.

Collis J discusses whether there has been a breach of s 24(a) of the Constitution, being the right to an environment that is not harmful to health; whether there should be an unqualified interpretation of this right; the proper interpretation of s 20 of the Air Quality Act; and the lack of implementation of the Highveld Plan to reduce air pollution. The court notes at para [64] that 12 years have passed since the declaration of the Highveld Priority Area and the levels of ambient air pollution have not significantly diminished and remain far in excess of national standards.

It is declared that the poor air quality in the Highveld Priority Area is in breach of residents’ s 24(a) constitutional right to an environment that is not harmful to their health and well-being. The Minister is directed, within 12 months of this order, to prepare and prescribe regulations in terms of s 20 of the Air Quality Act to implement and enforce the Highveld Plan.

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RIGHTS TO CHILD OF NON-PARENT
RC v SHC [2022] 45327-2021 (GJ)

The mother (respondent) met the applicant on the Tinder dating platform when she was pregnant with B and when her other son was six years old. Applicant formed a close relationship with B and applicant and respondent lived together for two and a half years before they parted ways. The applicant now seeks to be granted rights of contact and care in respect of B (now four years old) in terms of s 23 of the Children’s Act 38 of 2005, as well as joint guardianship over the child under s 24.

Fisher J discusses the respondent’s contentions that the applicant was obsessive about B and that the brother felt unwanted and suffered as a result of the favouritism; locus standi and whether because there is a loving relationship between a person and a child which has parental hallmarks that such person automatically has the necessary interest contemplated in ss 23 and 24 of the Act.

The court holds that parental rights are seriously obtained and exercised under the letter the of the law. If a child is adequately cared for by a primary care-giver – such as a natural mother – there would need to be compelling motivation as to why another person should be accorded legal rights to the child. To needlessly invite dissent by increasing the number of people who have legally enforceable rights in relation to a child should be avoided in the interests of the child.
The application is dismissed.

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ABOUT THE EDITOR

Louis Podbielski spent ten years at Juta working on various law reports and has read many thousands of judgments for case selection. He has considerable experience in writing flynotes and headnotes, compiling case annotations, and in refining subject indexes.​ During his four years at LexisNexis he was involved with legal data, analytics and in developing various legal tech solutions. He now runs his own case law service Louis Case Law

You can read his full CV and more about Louis on his LinkedIn profile where he shares interesting and recent cases.

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