Appeal Decision: Zwelakhe Mankazana vs Sunday Tribune

Decision: Application for leave to appeal

Applicant: Zwelakhe Mankazana

Respondent: Sunday Tribune, Independent Newspapers and Fiona Forde

Decision on  Application for Leave to appeal to the Appeals Panel

1.The Applicant seeks leave to appeal the decision of the Ombudsman handed down on 3 June 2013.

2.The Applicant’s complaint arose from an article which had appeared in the Sunday Tribune edition of 17 February 2013. It was headlined: “From behind the shadows.” The article read: ‘I have just come out of a really abusive relationship, ‘she says “ of the nine years she spent at the side of Zwelakhe Mankazana. The abuse was not physical. ‘It was emotional abuse, very controlling. And I had become stuck in it.’ What went on between the couple was compounded by a tragic event that rocked the Mandela Family a few years ago.”

3.The Applicant and the person interviewed, Ms Dlamini, had been in a relationship for 8 years before it broke up. The latter is the granddaughter of the former President, Mr Mandela.

4.The gist of the Applicant’s complaint(s) was that the article cast him as having subjected Ms Dlamini to emotional abuse. The Applicant therefore contended that the Respondents contravened various provisions of the Press Code. The Respondents’ response was that the article concerned did not convey that the Applicant had subjected Ms Dlamini to emotional abuse. It was argued that as the article read, it was merely descriptive of the relationship and that anyone of the partners or both could have been responsible for the emotional abuse. The Respondents said they offered the Applicant the opportunity to write an article in response, if so minded; the offer was declined as the Applicant wanted nothing less than an apology and a retraction.

5.The fundamental problem with the Applicant’s case is that it is wholly premised on the contention that the article conveyed that the Applicant emotionally abused Ms Dlamini, and that the latter was the victim of such abuse. Once this contention (which is nothing else but an assumption that the man would always be the abuser and the woman the victim) turns out to be wrong, the case falls away. I say so because even the portion referring to Ms Dlamini as emerging from “behind the shadows” is entirely  innocuous. It should be mentioned, in this respect, that the Ombudsman was, with respect, too charitable towards the Applicant in suggesting a link between this and the issue of emotional abuse. It seems this benevolent interpretation was to justify a possible need to have obtained comment from the Applicant prior to publication. I do, at the end of the day, in any event agree with the Ombudsman’s reasons that there was no need to solicit Applicant’s comment before publication. I have already alluded to the proper reading of the article.

6. To sum up:

6.1 the article does not, on the face of it, convey that the

Applicant emotionally abused Ms Dlamini; no ex post

facto explanation is required to dispel such a notion;

6.2 this was an interview, in which the interviewee was

expressing her own views on the relationship;

6.3 given her known background and the position of an

Ambassador she held, Ms Dlamini was a public figure

and the issue was therefore of public inerest;

6.4 the Applicant  was offered the opportunity to put his

own version, but declined the offer; again, the refusal

was, wrongly, on the premise that the article portrayed

him as the perpetrator, and Ms Dlamini the

victim, which was why he wanted nothing less than a

an apology and a retraction;

6.5 emergence from the “shadows” does not necessarily

attract negativity, let alone implicating the Appellant;

at best for the Appellant, it implicates the relationship.

7. For the above reasons as also those given by the Ombudsman, I hold that there are no reasonable prospects that the Appellant would succeed on appeal; the application is therefore dismissed.

Dated  this 5th day of July 2013.

Judge B M Ngoepe: Chairperson, Appeal Panel of the Press Council of South Africa.