The Supreme Court of Appeal has found that you cannot call somebody a murderer if he has been given amnesty for the crime, writes Martin williams in The Citizen. Reacting to the paper's loss of an appeal in a defamation case brought by Robert McBride, he finds comfortÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â in the fact thatÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â there was a minority view in the court that felt otherwise.
I was rather hoping Robert McBride would go and crawl under a rock somewhere. Upon hearing he was tipped for a top job in the Northern Cape I idly wondered if he might disappear down KimberleyÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s great hole.
McBride and his eternal troubles are so last decade. This is the age of tender-loving Julius Malema and champion baby-maker Jacob Zuma.
But alas McBride turned up in a Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) ruling on Friday in which The Citizen came off second best.
As I wrote all but one of the articles which led to the lawsuit I feel terrible about having caused so much expense for my employer.
It doesnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t help, more than six years down the line, to point out that I was not editor at the time. Nor that the guy who was editor thought I was being too soft on McBride.
Our lawyer in 2003 thought the articles were legally sound, having read some before publication. He liked them.
How could he, or any of us, have foreseen that weÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢d come so short in the SCA in 2010.
Now we have the second-highest court in the land ruling that you may not call someone a murderer if they have been granted amnesty.
In a majority judgment, Appeal Judge Piet Streicher ruled that the intention of the Truth and Recon ciliation Act was to ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œclose the book on human rights transgressions of the past in order to achieve recon ciliationÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â.
He felt that people granted am nesty should not only have their criminal records erased ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œthey should be considered not to have committed the offences and … those offences should not be held against themÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â.
The intentions of the TRC Act are indeed noble. But such nobility wears thin when the interpretation of the Act intrudes upon the right of all people, you included, to say what you know to be true.
As before, we have received many letters and SMSs stating obvious truths that may not be published. Surely this cannot be right?
I go on my knees in thanks to Appeal Judge KK Mthiyane, who gave a dissenting view. He says the Act does not mean you cannot de scribe a person who has been con victed of murder as a murderer.
Thank God the light of truth still flickers, however faintly, in our courts.
* Williams is editor of The Citizen. This column first appeared on March 2 2010.