14 November 2012

Namibia: Katiti Loses Libel Case

FORMER Walvis Bay Municipality Chief Executive Officer Augustinus Katiti’s defamation claim against The Namibian and estate agent Regina Kotchanova was dismissed with costs in the High Court in Windhoek yesterday.

Katiti was a poor witness during the hearing of his libel claim against the newspaper, Acting Judge Petrus Unengu commented in the judgement in which he dismissed Katiti’s claim. The judge remarked that during his testimony Katiti did not know which words in an article which was published in The Namibian on December 21 2007 constituted the cause of the legal action that he took against the newspaper.

Katiti did not manage to establish that the article which prompted him to initially sue the newspaper for N$300 000 was defamatory of him or carried the meaning he attributed to it, Acting Judge Unengu found. He further found that the newspaper had succeeded, on a balance of probabilities, with its defences that the article was essentially the truth and that its publication was in the public interest.

He will definitely take the matter on appeal to the Supreme Court, Katiti said late yesterday. He declined making further comments on the judgement.

Katiti was suing the Free Press of Namibia, which is the company owning The Namibian, the newspaper’s former editor, Gwen Lister, Swakopmund-based journalist Adam Hartman, who wrote the article in question, and Kotchanova.

He claimed that the article, which was published under the headline “Katiti charged for theft” and was about a theft charge that Kotchanova had laid against him with the Namibian Police in Windhoek, was defamatory.

In the article, Kotchanova was quoted as saying that she had laid a theft charge against Katiti after he had allegedly failed to pay the full agreed price for a real estate franchise that he had bought from her husband.

A statement which Katiti’s lawyer had issued on his behalf and in which Kotchanova’s claims were dismissed made up most of the article.

After the police had investigated the charge laid by Kotchanova, the Prosecutor General decided not to prosecute Katiti.

The article was published about nine months after Katiti had received a controversial payout of N$2,78 million from the Walvis Bay Municipality on his resignation from his job at the local authority.

Having initially sued the defendants for N$300 000, Katiti’s claim was lowered to N$150 000, which he demanded from the Free Press of Namibia, Lister and Hartman, and a claim of N$50 000 against Kotchanova when Acting Judge Unengu heard final arguments in the matter three months ago.

While Katiti at one stage was complaining that the headline of the article was defamatory, at another point his complaint was about the headline and the contents of the whole article, Acting Judge Unengu noted.

He also noted that Katiti eventually conceded that he only had a problem with the headline and first paragraph of the article, and not with the rest of it.

Acting Judge Unengu agreed that the headline had been properly explained in the rest of the article.

He also agreed with an argument by Andrew Corbett, who represented the newspaper, that Katiti was not as dignified, honourable or reputable a person as he was trying to tell the court.

On this score, the judge noted that Katiti acknowledged in his testimony that some of the businesses in which he had interests have been sued to recover debts, and that he had received letters of demand and summonses for having allegedly failed to honour some contractual obligations.

“This type of behaviour from a person who claims to be of good standing in society does not only make him untrustworthy but will also pass him from the public eye,” the judge commented. “One’s conduct in life tells the society who you are and not your physical appearance,” he said.

The fact that a complaint of theft is laid against someone with the police does not necessarily imply that the person is to be detained and prosecuted, or is a criminal, the judge also said.

As a result, he said, he was not persuaded by Katiti that the words he was complaining of were intended to lower his esteem in the eyes of ordinary readers of the newspaper.

Katiti was represented by Phillip Barnard in the last stage of the trial.

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