Appeal Decision: Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi vs City Press

Thu, Jan 13, 2022


In the matter between:

Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi                                                                              Applicant


City Press                                                                                                            Respondent

Matter No: 9204/08/2021


1. Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi (applicant) brings an application for leave to appeal the Ruling by the Acting Ombud dated 7 September 2021. It was a decision on the complaint the applicant had brought against City Press (respondent). The complaint was against an article published by the respondent on 25 July 2021 with the headline “Another Inferno in the Making”. The article was about the upheaval and violence that occurred in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng in the aftermath of the taking into custody of former President Jacob Zuma.

2. The Acting Ombud dismissed the complaint, hence this application. For an application for leave to appeal to succeed, it must show reasonable prospects of success on appeal. This is what I must determine. The applicant finds fault with the Ruling; I must therefore look at it closely.

3. In his Ruling, the Acting Ombud puts the complaint as follows:

“1.2 The gist of Buthelezi’s complaint is that the piece falsely and unfairly blamed Zulus for the recent looting and violence, and for stating that Zulu nationalism has the potential to endanger the stability of the country.

1.3 This, he adds, has fuelled violence towards Zulu speaking people (in other words, the text amounted to hate speech), and suggested that if action was not taken against the Zulu nation, the entire country would be destabilized.

1.4  He labels this article as ‘inflammatory, defamatory and extremely irresponsible’ and concludes: ‘The fact that Mr Makhanya brings the Inkatha Freedom Party into it is an indication that his political and personal bias have motivated his prejudicial attack on Zulu people (and on himself), and that there is malice in this attack’.”

The above accurately captures the complaint. Needless to say, the respondent (and Mr Makhanya) dispute the accusations.

4. As the Ruling says, at the centre of the complaint are the following statements in the article: “A huge cause of the events of that tragic week was the re-emergence of a dangerous strain of Zulu nationalism that has always resided in the Inkatha Freedom Party and that has now found fertile ground in the governing ANC. The president of the majority party and the head of state should have no qualms about calling out tribalism and condemning tendencies that have the potential to derail the nationhood project and the stability of the country. Ethnic nationalism is one of those tendencies, and our recent history tells us that, when used for corrupt ends, it has the potential to be bloody and deadly.”

5. The Acting Ombud went into a hair-splitting analysis of the above statement in relation to the arguments raised by the parties. I need not go into that exercise again; I will only sum up the points on which the Ruling largely rests and, in doing so, pick up the pertinent points the Ruling raised.

5.1 Did the editorial blame Zulus (or the Zulu nation) for the civil unrest? The Acting Ombud’s answer was a qualified “yes” and “no”. He reckoned that Zulu nationalism was not given as “the” cause of the unrest; there were other causes; that as a fact some Zulus took part; but does not say all Zulus did so; also, that other people who were not Zulus took part. Mr Makhanya was entitled to his comment, which was protected under clause 7 of the Code.

5.2 Was it suggested that Zulu nationalism could potentially endanger the country’s stability? Here too the Ruling gave a qualified “yes” and “no”, simply because Mr Makhanya referred only to a particular strain of Zulu nationalism (as opposed to the whole of Zulu nationalism as the complaint suggested).

5.3 The issue of hate speech: The Ruling was correct to point out that what was prohibited was an article with an intention to incite violence. The article was in fact issuing a warning against violence.

6. I do not find fault with the manner in which the Acting Ombud dealt with the issues. I am not convinced that, if he did get confused with facts as the application contends, it is a material confusion that detracts from the validity of his findings; this is clear from the analysis that was undertaken.

7. In the circumstances, I see no prospects of success for the application. It is therefore dismissed.

Dated this 3rd day of December 2021

Judge B M Ngoepe, Chair, Appeals Panel