Retired judge Bernard Ngoepe has dismissed State Security Deputy Minister Zizi Kodwa’s request for leave to appeal a Press Ombud’s ruling, which dismissed his complaint about an article News24 wrote regarding his friendship with a man implicated in allegations of bribery at the state capture commission of inquiry.
On February 10, News24 published a report by investigative journalist Kyle Cowan about Kodwa’s friendship with Papa Leshabane, who former Bosasa COO Angelo Agrizzi claimed was the alleged bag man for alleged bribes to key officials to keep government contracts.
Kodwa complained to Press Ombud Pippa Green that his privacy had been violated and that he had been found guilty by association, just because he and Leshabane have been friends for years.
Kodwa said the article had led the reader “to a conclusion that suggests a corrupt relationship between me and Mr Leshabane”.
News24 editor Adriaan Basson countered that there was no doubt that Leshabane was a central figure in the Bosasa state capture allegations. Therefore, the relationship between him and Kodwa was in the public interest. He denied that Kodwa was found “guilty by association” because of the story.
Citing international and South African legal precedents, Green found that, although the article was “not kind”, it did not suggest any wrongdoing by Kodwa. Her ruling is dated July 9.
Kodwa then asked Ngoepe for leave to appeal the ruling.
In his ruling, Ngoepe wrote: “I am afraid the applicant misses the point. The issue is not whether their relationship was corrupt; that was not the basis for the publication, nor what it says. Nor did the article cast the applicant as being corrupt or as having committed a crime, as he contents in his application for leave to appeal.
“The basis was that the applicant, being a public figure (as the respondent saw him), was openly associating with yet another public figure who was a very active director and an integral part of a company immersed in serious and publicly made allegations of corruption involving public funds.”
He said Green was correct to come to the conclusion she did – that both Kodwa and Leshabane are public figures.
“That being the case, the applicant’s right to privacy had to yield to a publication that was in the public interest. Submissions contained in the application for leave to appeal did not take the applicant’s case any further. It was also clear that steps were taken to offer the applicant the opportunity to respond, which he exercised in the manner he did,” Ngoepe wrote.
“But for me to grant leave to appeal there must be reasonable prospects of success. For the reasons given by the Ombud, with which I find no fault, as well as those set out above, my finding is that there are no such prospects. The application is therefore dismissed.”