Fin24, photo: Beeld
Cape Town - Columnist Max du Preez said on Thursday on his Facebook page he was forced to remove the posts directing the public to a leaked South African Airways memorandum - or face legal action.
This follows a gagging order the national carrier obtained against media outlets BDFM, Moneyweb and Media24 on Tuesday to stop them from publishing the contents of an internal memo dated 6 November 2015 to the SAA board from former acting CEO Thuli Mpshe.
The memo, prepared by the head of legal, risk and compliance at SAA, Ursula Fikelepi, to the board of the airline, contained "privileged" and "highly confidential" information of a “very sensitive nature". The information could have "the potential of causing real and serious reputational and financial damage to the applicant (SAA) and the government of the RSA", Fikelepi said in an affidavit to support the urgent interdict against the media outlets.
SAA obtained the urgent interdict in the early hours of Tuesday morning to prevent the media outlets from publishing the contents of the memo, but it was too late to stop Business Day newspaper from publishing the article in its print edition on Tuesday morning.
All three media houses were also ordered to "remove all references to the opinion including all or any of the contents of the opinion that has already been published on the internet and social media".
Du Preez said when he learnt that SAA management had obtained the court order, he posted a link to “that document” on Twitter and Facebook.
“I believed that it was our right as citizens to know what kind of crisis SAA was in. I did not believe the court order applied to me,” he said in a Facebook post on Thursday.
According to him SAA is a state owned enterprise – owned by the people of South Africa. “It has been seriously mismanaged, to the point that it is bankrupt and unable to meet its financial commitments. Many billions of state (our) funds have been spent to prop it up, but the rapid decline continues. It is not a private company; it should not have secrets from us, the owners,” he wrote.
Du Preez, who according to him has more than 14 000 Twitter and about 24 000 Facebook followers, said his different posts and tweets with the link to the document were shared well over 2 000 times – “and then shared again and again”.
He said SAA’s lawyers phoned him on Wednesday evening and demanded that he immediately take down the tweets and posts, “or they would get a court order to force me to do so”.
“I eventually got them to agree to give me time until this morning to try and put up a legal defence. The lawyers said they would launch a court application in Johannesburg at 10:30 this morning (Thursday) if the tweets and posts were not removed.
“The little legal advice I could get in such a short time indicated that I could run a risk of incurring vast legal costs if I opposed the SAA’s court application and that there was a chance that I could lose.”
Du Preez said he had no intention to show contempt to the court in question, even though he believe it should never have made the decision it did. “I regard our judicial system as a key pillar of our democracy and freedom.”
On the posting of the document, he said: “I think the point has been made. The truth is out. I have achieved what I wanted to achieve. I have just removed the FB posts and the tweets with links to the SAA memo.”