via Mphoko Daily News lawsuit raises stink – DailyNews Live Tendai Kamhungira • 11 March 2016
HARARE – Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ) — the publisher of the Daily News, the Daily News on Sunday and the Weekend Post — has pooh-poohed State media reports that the company has failed to defend a $50 million lawsuit that was launched against it by Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko last year.
ANZ Group Editor Stanley Gama said yesterday that the reports were “as usual, deliberately misleading and divorced from reality” — stating that the company was “looking forward” to meeting Mphoko in court.
“Not for the first time in similar circumstances, and for reasons that are not very clear to us, the papers advising us and our lawyers of a pre-trial hearing before Justice Joseph Musakwa on Tuesday were not served at our lawyers’ rightful address.
“This meant that we could not attend the pre-trial conference as then scheduled, as we were not aware of the hearing.
“Fortunately, the moment Justice Musakwa became aware of this glaring anomaly, he promptly called the respective legal representatives to his chambers later in the day, where by consent, ANZ’s defence was re-instated and the new pre-trial hearing set down for March 24, 2016,” Gama said.
In the meantime, ANZ’s lawyers — Mbidzo, Muchadehama and Makoni — have written to Mphoko’s lawyers, GN Mlotshwa & Company, taking issue with the misleading statements that its partner Gerald Mlotshwa gave to the State media yesterday.
“You were quoted saying that we had defaulted attending a PTC (pre-trial conference) on 08 March 2016 and that our clients’ defence had been struck out.
“You are well aware that at 14:15 hours on 9 March 2016 we appeared before the honorable Justice Musakwa, together with your colleague T Madzingwa. By consent the default judgment was rescinded and the defences re-instated.
“We contend that the impression that you gave that we were in wilful default was misleading.
“Further when you became aware that the default judgment had been rescinded and our clients’ defences re-instated you had a duty to advise the press that your earlier advices had not been entirely correct and that they had been overtaken by events,” lawyer Alec Muchadehama said.
At the same time, Mbidzo, Muchadehama and Makoni have also written to the Sheriff of the High Court — copying the Law Society of Zimbabwe and the Judicial Service Commission — raising concerns about the manner in which the Sheriff has been serving papers.
“Our investigations reveal that you served the (Mphoko) notice to attend the Pre-Trial Conference on 6 Duthie Road, Belgravia, Harare in a letter box. We do not know where you got this address from. Our given address for service in the record is clearly stated as 9 Bates Street, Milton Park, Harare.
“We write to express our displeasure at the manner in which service was ‘effected’ in this matter.
“In another recent case of Lizzie Mawarura & 6 Others V Associated Newspapers Of Zimbabwe — Case No CCZ 68/15 (which the Constitutional Court dismissed with costs) we were also not served with the notice of set down.
“This was notwithstanding that our stated address was clearly 9 Bates Street, Milton Park, Harare. In other cases we have had extremely short notices of set down of matters, including being served in less than an hour before the scheduled time of hearing of matters.
“We would want to express our disquiet at the manner in which your office has been effecting service of process, especially notices of set down. Your omissions put us in a very awkward position in relation to our clients to whom we owe a duty of care and to whom we have to explain your alleged omissions,” Mbidzo, Muchadehama and Makoni said. When Mphoko first made his demand to ANZ for a staggering $50 million in compensation for alleged defamation regarding a story that the country’s leading daily newspaper carried on June 5 last year, the company made it clear that it would defend the claim.
In the story, based on an interview with firebrand former war veterans’ leader Jabulani Sibanda, he claimed that Mphoko had sold out during the liberation struggle when he had allegedly diverted weapons meant for the late Joshua Nkomo’s Zapu to President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu — a move that Sibanda said could have led to the needless deaths of thousands of people.
A number of Zapu bigwigs who spoke to the Daily News then — including Dumiso Dabengwa and Thomas Ngwenya (a former deputy to Mphoko) — appeared to buttress Sibanda’s claims. And Mphoko himself had previously admitted diverting the weapons meant for Zapu’s military wing, Zipra, to Zanu’s Zimbabwe National African Liberation Army (Zanla).
Rather surprisingly too, Mphoko has to date not formally moved to either challenge the open source of the story, Sibanda, on his claims, or take him to court — choosing instead to take on the Daily News.
“Defendants (Kwaramba, Gama, ANZ and Printco) will say that the amount of damages being claimed by plaintiff (Mphoko) is ridiculously high and constitutes a petit patio. For this reason plaintiff’s claim must be dismissed with costs,” Muchadehama has said in the defendants’ plea.
Responding further to Mphoko’s claims that his reputation and status had been diminished by the story, Muchadehama said, “Defendants will say that they do not know what plaintiff’s claim to fame is.
“They do not know of his immense contribution to the liberation of Zimbabwe. Defendants will put the plaintiff to the proof of his claims”.