A Christmas gift

Last year, two days before Christmas, attorney Leonard Katz kept a promise that he’d made me two months earlier when I received a gift from him, delivered by the Sheriff of the High Court: a summons for “wrongful defamation”.

In it, he demands not an apology – as is customary in such cases – but that I pay him

R1 million for allegedly having “wrongfully defamed” him by publishing an image of Katz, captioned “The man who stole justice”, on the cover of the July 2014 Noseweek and in two articles inside: one, headlined “Lennie the Liquidator makes mockery of the law”; the other, “Then there’s Brakspear”.

These articles, particularly the Brakspear one, he claims in his summons, wrongfully portray him as inter alia having devised fraudulent schemes; being dishonest; guilty of unprofessional conduct; having subverted the course of justice; being unfit to practise as an attorney; and being prepared to act unlawfully or unprofessionally on behalf of his clients, for money.

Katz’s earlier letter to me (published in nose182) was prompted by the just-delivered judgment by Judge N F Kgomo in the Brakspear case – which Katz immediately circulated to his colleagues and clients (and me). He saw it as vindication, and (he would have everyone believe) a complete demolition of my reputation, and a refutation of Noseweek’s reports on the Brakspear matter.

In the letter he says, “You are a vindictive and unpleasant man,” and concludes: “With apologies to Bruce Willis, yippie-kai-yay, Martin Welz!” (Willis’s famous words were, of course, “Yippie-kai-yay, motherfucker!”).

By having his summons served at my office on 22 December, he was not, I must assume, wishing to be vindictive or unpleasant. Neither was his special instruction to the sheriff (so the latter politely informed my staff) which was to warn me that I had just 10 days to respond, failing which judgment would be taken against me “without further notice”. (Which, as every lawyer would know, was entirely untrue. It being the Christmas court recess, days would only be counted from 15 January onwards.)

If Katz’s R1m festive-season shock was “a vindictive, unpleasant” plan to spoil my Christmas, it failed. I was out of cellphone reach and only heard of the summons after New Year.

As I recall, years back Katz had an urgent high court application served at the office of Ian Brakspear in the week before Christmas, when Brakspear had already left on a family holiday, thereby successfully ruining it. Brakspear was rushed into hiring the only sort of lawyer one is likely to find available a that time of year, with catastrophic consequences for him.

Judge Kgomo’s judgment which Mr Katz found so much to his liking, is undoubtedly the most arrogantly, ludicrously incompetent high court judgment I have read in my long career. On that score, it might have been just sadly unfortunate. However, it also reflects malicious bias, which makes it reprehensible.

Katz and his senior counsel must know that.

I am certain the judges of the Supreme Court of Appeal (Brakspear has petitioned that court for leave to take Judge Kgomo’s judgment on appeal) need only compare the supposed factual findings in the judgment with the actual record of the trial and evidence, to come to the same conclusion.

Katz’s summons was a gift. It offers me the opportunity to fully unpack all the damning evidence in an open courtroom, should it not have happened already elsewhere.

I (and Noseweek’s publisher) have entered appearance to defend the case and have filed our defence pleas in which we deny having wrongfully defamed Mr Katz.

No trial date has been set yet. But the trial is likely to be a long one.

Meantime, imagine how pleasantly surprised I was when respected investigative journalist Barry Sergeant produced a fascinating update on the Kebble story for this issue – in which my friend Lennie plays a starring role.  See page BNC story in this issue.

Yes, it’s Christmas time, time to remember one’s friends.

Freedom, not a free lunch

Everyone wants free education.  

Everyone thinks free tertiary education is a great idea. A must-have. What a wonderful, inspiring thing the student protests (just at the beginning of exam time) have been. Hang on there.  Isn’t all of this just another version of what James Bartholomew – quoted by Hermann Giliomee  – calls “virtue signalling” without any thought to the real cause, implications and consequences?  An easy way for people to advertise how kind, decent and virtuous they are, at no cost to themselves.

What about all that great wisdom packed into a single sentence: There’s no such thing as a free lunch?

Expect to get half the education for half the price.

And we are conveniently ignoring all those other obvious but poorly expressed issues, such as the often unbearable strain, even pain, brought on by the process of social and political transition. Confronted with our daily reality, how difficult can that be to imagine?

There is no denying that, quite apart from the financial challenge, a student coming from a deprived township school background to a university with a white upper-class tradition, faces enormous cultural, social and intellectual challenges that are very difficult, possibly embarrassing to articulate.

The hidden rage of helplessness, of always being found wanting, finds easy relief in destructive, violent action.

Rhodes/anything/everything Must Fall! Burn the place down!  Make the principal sit on the ground and grovel!

The phenomenon is not difficult to understand. But “virtue signalling” from the rest of us is definitely not an appropriate or meaningful response. It’s a dangerously deceptive way of avoiding having to deal with the problem.

Perhaps we should start by asking a far more fundamental question: with our limited resources, is more, free tertiary education an appropriate response to the problem? Would our resources not be better applied to achieving meaningful improvement/transition at primary and secondary school levels? Have a smaller, more selective university intake. Rather aim to achieve a higher level of basic competence at secondary school level, which opens a much wider range of employment options for the school-leaver at an earlier stage.

Impoverished, understaffed, under-equipped universities are a decidedly poor option. A second-class education guarantees a second-class citizen.

A free education is like a free lunch: it isn’t.

The Editor

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