This will be a year since I received a summons to answer a defamation charge and a claim for R600,000 in damages by Matshela Koko, who worked in senior engineering positions at Eskom for 26 years until February 2018. The lawsuit followed a series of news articles I published in the pursuit of my chosen career as a financial journalist in the seven years to June 2019 in the financial publications of Times Media Group, now Arena Holdings.
Needless to say, the costs to me of defending the matter are beyond my means to sustain. The cost of defending the public’s right to know why institutions of the state have collapsed under the weight of corruption. I am therefore writing this piece to appeal to all patriotic citizens who are offended and those affected by corruption, and by the arrogance of those so guilty, to help donate what funds they can spare so we can together stand up for what is right.
Arena Holdings kindly offered to cover a third of my legal costs. My legal team has also given me generously discounted rates on all of my fees – and for the remainder of the matter going forward have offered to complete the matter on a pro bono basis. Even with this generosity there are still costs that are beyond my means that need to be covered.
Daily Maverick has kindly committed to supporting a crowd-funding campaign on my behalf. This they do as the media house does many other things in our public sphere in defence and pursuit of the truth. For this, I am eternally grateful. I am grateful, too, to all who will make whatever donation to contribute to our noble and patriotic duty to defend the public good.
The lawsuit was launched against me personally a year after I had voluntarily left my job at Business Day and Financial Mail, and six months after I had left a similar job at Daily Maverick and joined Eskom. Most curiously, this lawsuit was launched a full two years after the offending remarks were published on Twitter and in the newspapers. The truthfulness of the stories was neither challenged nor denied. Requests and opportunities to comment before the stories were published were always ignored.
The applicant devised a devilish and careful strategy to single me out personally and isolate me from the media house, which would ideally be forced to defend the lawsuit and integrity of its publications. The lawsuit against me personally has been designed to ensure I would be cut off from any potential funding by my employer at the time, and therefore be left without any financial resources to defend my work and my right to do my job as a concerned and active citizen.
Mr Koko has thought it would be beneficial to himself to launch a defamation lawsuit against me personally, not because he has been defamed in any way. Neither has he spelt out or quantified how he arrived at the astronomical (by a journalist’s standards anyway) R600,000. This he does only because he feels the only way he can regain any of his destroyed credibility is to threaten me with an expensive and lengthy legal process.
This is not designed to obtain any justice for him, but is only designed to cower into silence any party that may want to hold him responsible for the gross injustice his actions and crimes against the people of South Africa have caused while employed in critical positions at Eskom. The lawsuit is designed for him to sneak in through the back door what he could not achieve while employed at Eskom.
Due to the obviously significant financial resources at his disposal, Mr Koko seeks to abuse the threat of an expensive court process in order to be cleared from serious charges that he ran away from answering at Eskom. This is called Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation (Slapp) — to beat civic and activists commentators into submission. He wishes for a journalist he holds responsible for reporting his own deeds to clear him and to tell the world he is a good man so he can reinvent himself as a clean businessman. Which he never was.
Instead of defending his honour and his actions in a disciplinary instituted by his employer in 2018, Mr Koko resigned and ran away from the serious charges of gross misconduct, conflict of interest and corruption he faced at Eskom. Long before any disciplinary action was initiated by a complicit Eskom board and management, mine (and many other journalists’ job) was to expose the rot and the corruption he was presiding over.
After we in the media had done such a thorough job of firmly exposing the rot of corruption to which Mr Koko was central, those in authority had no choice but to relieve institutions such as Eskom of such characters as him and his fellow travellers.
Of course, the horse had already bolted. South Africans are paying, and future generations will continue to pay for the corruption. The effects of the corruption run far beyond the monetary quantity of rand and cents that were stolen in these corrupt dealings. The really tragic effect is that future generations have to pay back the money lost to these institutions. They also have to pay back the loans South Africa must raise to keep the institutions going and delivering the services for which they were created.
These are the young people who sit with no job opportunities. About 60% of young people at any given time will never get any jobs in South Africa. That is because investors have to find better options than South Africa. Yet they are burdened with the very debt that was incurred in creating the environment that continues to ensure they remain mired in poverty. This is while the fraudsters parade their ill-gotten wealth and flaunt it in expensive court cases to silence those who will hold them responsible.
After the horrendous state-led and state-sponsored white-collar crime wave that South Africa endured during the past 10-12 years, not a single criminal has been tried, let alone convicted for corruption. The South African public, the victims of the initial crime wave, is now being molested by another horrendous abuse directly emanating from the first: higher unemployment and increased poverty levels as key state institutions collapse like dominoes.
Only the masterminds of the official corruption are having a good time. They have not a worry about being prosecuted for their crimes. The numerous bundles of evidence gathering dust in the offices of law enforcement agencies have not spurred those tasked with enforcing the law to act against those guilty of corruption.
There are many livelihoods and lives destroyed by the corruption and the arrogance brought about by the state’s inability or refusal to prosecute those guilty. I need not mention the many state-owned companies that have collapsed and caused untold damage to society. But there are also many unsung heroes who worked for these institutions and would not be silenced and watch the corruption.
Those heroines and heroes stood up and spoke out and lost their livelihoods for doing the right thing. We call them whistleblowers. Some even lost their lives — the highest price anyone can pay for the noblest of causes. No amount of money can ever reimburse them for their lives. But South Africa has a duty to honour their memory. The starting point would be to prosecute those guilty of corruption and murder.
For my part, and with the assistance of well-meaning and patriotic citizens, should there be any funds left over settling my legal obligations, the money will be donated to some of the direct victims of this thuggery in the form of the whistleblowers or their dependents. DM
Contributions to aid Mr Mantshatsha’s legal fees can be made to the following trust account:
Branch code: 256205
Account name: Thipa Attorneys Incorporated