A High Court judge has thrown out a defamation claim in which a lawyer was suing the deputy general secretary of the Metal and Allied Workers Union of Namibia (Manwu), Enwich Kazondu, for N$60 000.
In a judgement delivered on 28 June, judge Boas Usiku found that the remarks over which lawyer Florian Beukes was suing Kazondu, claiming the trade unionist slandered him at Keetmanshoop two years ago, do not have the meaning attributed to them by Beukes, and were not defamatory of him. As a result, judge Usiku ruled that Kazondu does not need to provide any response to the testimony presented to the court in support of Beukes' claim.
The judge also ordered Beukes to pay the legal costs of Kazondu and Manwu, which was also cited as second defendant in the case.
Beukes sued Kazondu over remarks the unionist made at Keetmanshoop on 22 July 2017 during a tea break in a disciplinary hearing involving employees of the company Salini Namibia (Pty) Ltd, which was contracted to construct the Neckartal Dam, west of Keetmanshoop.
He claimed the unionist made defamatory statements about him by saying that one Jacamo de Lorenzi, who had been a witness in the disciplinary hearing, changed his testimony after he had disappeared with Beukes before testifying at the hearing.
The lawyer argued that Kazondu's remarks were understood by him and other persons to mean that he "intentionally and dishonestly" influenced witnesses during the disciplinary hearing, and that he was an "unethical, dishonest, sly legal practitioner with low moral scruples, and not to be trusted".
In his ruling, judge Usiku found that Kazondu's words did not reflect adversely on the moral character of Beukes, and did not arouse hatred or contempt towards him either.
"They also do not expose [Beukes] to ridicule," the judge said.
"I, therefore, find that at the close of the plaintiff's case, the plaintiff has not set forth evidence that a defamatory matter was published concerning him," judge Usiku ruled.
Reacting to the judgement, Kazondu said he did not necessarily feel he had won anything, because the time and sleepless nights he had spent preparing for the case cannot be recouped.
"This matter came while I was seeking justice on behalf of the 40 suspended Salini workers back in 2016, which I eventually won, and instead of paying further attention to other workers who needed my undivided attention, I had to deal with this attack on unionists' rights," he remarked.
However, he said his legal victory was a win for the entire union fraternity.
"A win for the plaintiff would have set a very bad precedent in the labour movement as workers and union officials would have had to tiptoe around employers instead of effectively representing their members in hearings due to the fear of being sued by employers and their lawyers," he added.
Beukes could not be reached for comment on his cellphone. The Namibian understands that he is out of the country.