17 October 2019
Phillemon Letwaba, the Chief Operating Officer of the National Lotteries Commission (NLC) is suing GroundUp for R600,000. He is also demanding the removal of six articles GroundUp has published and that have been republished on various other news websites.
Letwaba’s summons, delivered on 10 October, names Raymond Joseph, Nathan Geffen and Community Media Trust as the respondents. Joseph is a freelance reporter who has written most of GroundUp’s Lottery-related stories. Geffen is GroundUp’s editor. Community Media Trust is a non-profit organisation in which GroundUp is based.
The firm representing Letwaba is Norton Rose Fullbright.
The six articles cited are:
The summons alleges that the articles are “wrongful and defamatory” of Letwaba. The summons describes its concerns with each article. For example, it states that the first “article was intended and was understood … to mean that the plaintiff [Letwaba] is dishonest in the following respects:”
“the plaintiff facilitated the improper and/or unlawful funding of recipients with whom he had familial relationships;
“the plaintiff abused his position of authority to the detriment of his employer;”
“the plaintiff abused his position of authority to the detriment of more worthy recipients;”
“the plaintiff manipulated and/or orchestrated grant funding in breach of the National Lotteries Commission’s policies and/or mandate;”
“the plaintiff is not suited for the position of Chief Operating Officer of the National Lotteries Commission, or a similar position of authority and responsibility;”
“the plaintiff engaged in morally reprehensible conduct by virtue of the aforesaid;”
“the plaintiff is involved in illegal activities; and/or”
“the plaintiff is generally corrupt.”
In October the NLC lodged a complaint against a GroundUp story with the press ombudsman but subsequently withdrew it, stating in a letter to the ombudsman’s office on 11 December that it would “pursue remedies in the Court”. But GroundUp has since then not been sued by the NLC, only by its COO in what appears to be his personal capacity.
In April, Lesley Ramulhifo, an attorney who is the subject of some of the articles that Letwaba is demanding be removed, brought an urgent application in the Pretoria High Court against GroundUp, The Citizen and the Daily Dispatch, demanding articles mentioning him be removed. The court struck Ramulhifo’s application from the roll with costs.
GroundUp has instructed attorneys to defend the matter and does not intend to remove any of the above articles. We will continue reporting on the NLC.