7 November 2012

Namibia: Unam Management Sue for N$3 Million in Libel Case

THE Vice Chancellor of the University of Namibia, Professor Lazarus Hangula, is due to spend a third day on the witness stand in the High Court in Windhoek today to testify in a defamation case against trade unionist Evilastus Kaaronda and a weekly tabloid publication.

Hangula is the first witness to testify before Judge Dave Smuts on a defamation claim which the University of Namibia and seven senior members of its management lodged against Kaaronda, Trustco Group International, which owns and publishes the weekly Informanté, the newspaper’s former editor, Max Hamata, and reporter Patience Nyangove in June 2010.

Three of the plaintiffs withdrew their claims at the start of the hearing on Monday, leaving Kaaronda facing claims for a total of N$1 million, while Trustco, Hamata and Nyangove are being sued for a total of N$2 million.

The university, Hangula, and senior Unam staff members Osmund Mwandemele, Job Jansen, and Alois Fledersbacher are suing Kaaronda over a letter which he sent to former Unam Chancellor Sam Nujoma in February 2010. In the letter he made allegations about alleged irregularities and financial maladministration at the university. Kaaronda asked Nujoma to intervene and to have a commission of inquiry appointed to look into the allegations.

The letter was sent under a letterhead of the National Union of Namibian Workers, and was signed by Kaaronda as NUNW secretary general.

The NUNW’s Central Executive Committee dismissed Kaaronda from his position in the trade union federation last week.

A story apparently based on the letter was published in Informanté on February 11 2010.

Unam and the other plaintiffs are claiming that the letter and the article, written by Nyangove, were defamatory and were understood by readers to imply that the plaintiffs were incompetent, corrupt, dishonest, morally questionable, and that Hangula in particular was acting in breach of his duties as Vice Chancellor of Unam.

Hangula told Judge Smuts in his testimony that the claims which Kaaronda made in the letter were not correct. One of these claims was that the university management appeared to have lost control of the administration and management of the institution.

An allegation about “financial maladministration” at Unam was also incorrect as far as he was concerned, Hangula said, adding that it was further not true that the university had been carrying out construction projects without following tender procedures.

With regard to an allegation that a number of positions at the university had been filled without having been advertised, Hangula said all of the people appointed in those posts had been promoted from their previous positions at Unam, were Namibian citizens, and had been working at Unam for more than ten years.

In pleas filed with the court Kaaronda is claiming that the statements made by him were essentially the truth. The other three defendants are also claiming that, as well as that the publication of the story was in the public interest.

Hangula and the other plaintiffs are being represented by George Coleman and Elize Angula. Kaaronda is represented by Steven Nkiwane, while Raymond Heathcote and Phillip Barnard are representing Trustco, Hamata and Nyangove.

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