Defamation judgements should serve as lessons

Tujoromajo Kasuto

RENOWNED High Court Judge Thomas Masuku in a judgement delivered today in a defamation of character case, reprimanded that court judgments are not only for the sued participants but also for members of the public to wisely embrace any lessons, directions freely offered to them and identify behaviour, actions, or conduct on their part worth ceasing or shunning.

He said that prior defamation cases and judgement ‘’have either fallen by the wayside or, at worst, been eaten by the birds of the air,’’ similar to the parable of the sower in the Bible.

Masuku observes that the judgments did not have the expected impact because they did not fall on solid ground and may have been spoken in haste as more case of defamation are arising.

The Judge referenced to a case First Lady Monica Geingos had brought to court against Abed Bishop Hishoono to pay damages of N$350 000 for defamation, including her legal cost.

Hishoono is the Ohangwena mobiliser for the Independent Patriots for Change and made false statements over the First Lady’s alleged involvement in Fly Westair Aviation in a widely circulated video.

In the video he alleged that Geingos corruptly influenced the planned liquidation of Air Namibia to protect and advance her own economic interest in Westair.

Hishoono was subsequently then ordered by Judge Orben Sibeya to tender an unconditional public apology to Geingos, to retract his defamatory, false statements and pay damages of N$250 000, including her legal cost of up to N$400 000 which Geingos saved him from after the judgement by not pursuing cash for damages.

Today’s case involved lawyer, Shakwa Nyambe against Dascan Mushabati, who alleged that Nyambe is corrupt and thus unfit to hold the office of a legal practitioner, additionally, that the plaintiff was using his status as a legal practitioner to influence and control some members of the Namibian Police and the Judiciary.

Nyambe sued for defamation and claimed for compensation in the amount of N$200 000 in respect of each claim.

However, Masuku ordered Mushabati to pay an amount of N$70 000 as damages and settle the legal cost for both parties.

‘’It would seem that the powerful rendition, so powerfully and freely given by Sibeya J to the defendant, may, like in the parable of the sower in the Bible, have either fallen by the way side or was, at worst, eaten by the birds of the air. Despite his best efforts, we realise that Sibeya J’s words did not have the resonance we would have expected. They did not fall on good ground and may have been spoken in vain as the defendant did not take heed,’’ Masuku said.

In that sense, he said, ‘’judgments may have a full and effective dual function, namely, restorative and preventative. Restorative in the sense of applying a salve or balm that any harm inflicted on a plaintiff by a defendant may have caused. Preventative in the sense of members of the public drawing lessons on what not to do to avoid being on a collision course with the rails of the law.

It is the latter function that one would hope the defendant in the current matter would have benefitted from – at no personal cost to him.’’

Judge Sibeya earlier penned a judgement in record time in the Geingos case that attracted the attention of most people in Namibia and had quoted Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Lyndsay Hoyle of the United Kingdom addressing then Prime Minister of Great Britain, Boris Johnson, issuing a stark warning that ‘’Our words have consequences and we should always be mindful of the fact.’’

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