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Judge's fairness in question as Manyi defamation case drags on

Sep 08 2017 17:04
Yolandi Groenewald

Johannesburg - ANN7 owner and former government spin doctor Mzwanele Manyi’s defamation case was again postponed after a judge said the case needed careful consideration on whether she should recuse herself. 

Acting Judge Fiona Dippenaar reserved judgment on Friday on Manyi's application to recuse herself from the case, after hearing arguments from Manyi's counsel, advocate Vuyani Ngalwana, that she was not impartial. 

Magda Wierzycka‚ the outspoken CEO of Sygnia Asset Management, filed an urgent application in the South Gauteng High Court last week after Manyi wrote on Twitter and Facebook that she was guilty of "economic terrorism" and that she is a “downright racist” who “objectifies black people as things that can be bought”.

This followed comments on social media from Wierzycka, where she made a case that President Jacob Zuma should be paid off to vacate his post, because he is causing the South African economy harm. 

In filing the urgent motion, Wierzycka argued that Manyi's comments have defamed her. 

Ngalwana raised concerns about Dippenaar's alleged bias because the acting judge comes from the same group of chambers as advocate David Unterhalter, Wierzycka's counsel. But Ngalwana also hinted that Dippenaar might be biased towards Wierzycka because they were both white women. 

Ngalwana said the application was "rooted in racial undertone. It is brought by a white woman and also heard by a white woman."

He said an impartial judge was a fundamental prerequisite for adjudicating a case. "If any bias exists, her ladyship must recuse herself."

He also said concerns existed that Unterhalter and Dippenaar would discuss the case because of their close relationship in the same group of chambers.

Unterhalter argued that Ngalwana interpreted the test for bias incorrectly. He said Manyi could not have insight into Dippenaar's outlook on the world, and that race was not ground for an established bias. 

Wierzycka has been an outspoken critic of the Gupta family and state capture. Sygnia was also first to cut ties with KPMG as a result of the auditing firm's involvement in the Gupta wedding payment debacle.

The motion for Dippenaar to recuse herself originated on Thursday when the urgent defamation suit was suddenly switched from Judge Bashier Vally to Dippenaar. Ngalwana informed Manyi before court proceedings began on Thursday that the case had been handed to Acting Judge Dippenaar and Manyi instructed his counsel to ask Dippenaar to recuse herself.

Vally passed the case to Dippenaar on Thursday because of a strain on his workload. 

After hearing arguments on Thursday Dippenaar postponed the case till Friday morning, ruling that Manyi's legal team must file written arguments that was then debated on Friday morning.

Manyi told journalists on Thursday he was disturbed that she could rule over his case. "This is aggravating circumstances. Not only is she from the same group, but she is Unterhalter's junior. She will defer to her senior counsel on this. How can this not be biased? This means my case is killed even before its starts."

In Wierzycka's affidavit she said she had been defamed and wants the court to order Manyi to apologise to her and also issue a retraction on social media. The statements in questions should also be deleted, she argued. 

Manyi in turn denied his comments were defamatory and argued that the matter is not urgent.

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sygnia  |  mzwanele manyi  |  magda wierzycka  |  defamation
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