The former Zimbabwean ambassador to Australia has won $180,000 in a defamation case in Canberra against a journalist who published damaging allegations about her.
The journalist, Reason Wafawarova, has been ordered to pay Jacqueline Zwambila $160,000 in general damages and $20,000 in aggravated damages after he falsely claimed she had lost her temper and stripped to her underwear in front of three embassy officials.
The article suggested she was angry when the three denied leaking information to The Herald newspaper in Harare.
Ms Zwambila said the claims were not true but did irreparable damage to her reputation when they were published in newspapers in 2010 in her home country including The Herald.
The action was brought in the ACT, where Ms Zwambila was based at the time the story was published.
She told the ACT Supreme Court she was recalled to Harare to explain and feared losing her post as ambassador.
“The alleged statements of fact about my conduct in the article were not only untrue, but particularly hurtful because in over 13 years of working in politics, I had diligently worked to gain respect and the reputation of being worthy of the position of my country’s ambassador,” Ms Zwambila said.
“My initial reaction to the article was one of deep upset, surprise and distress.
“The assertion that I was capable of stripping naked in front of my colleagues in anger was abhorrent to me, not only because the allegations were shocking, but also because such allegations have particular cultural significance in Zimbabwe.”
Ms Zwambila, whose term as ambassador ended in December 2013, is now seeking asylum in Australia.
Wafawarova told the court he could not properly defend the case because the Zimbabwean government would not give permission for staff to give evidence about the incident.
But Justice Hilary Penfold rejected that and found he had not only defamed Ms Zwambila, but had aggravated the situation by not apologising.
“I am satisfied that the defamatory article would have damaged the plaintiff’s reputation among many members of the Zimbabwean community who read the article but who had no personal knowledge of the plaintiff,” Justice Penfold said.
“For some people the damage to reputation would have related to the plaintiff’s alleged failure to conduct herself properly in her workplace and for others it might have related to their doubts about the plaintiff’s sexual and other morality.”
Wafawarova has also been ordered to pay a large proportion of the court costs.