15 April 2024 | 11:15 AM

Editor sued in case that ‘violates freedom’

Key Takeaways

A well-known Limpopo businessperson is suing the editor of community news­paper for R500 000 for defamation in a case described by the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) as having “elements of intimidation and censorship by individuals with significant power”.

Sheniece Linderboom of the FXI said the suit, focused on a controversial Hoedspruit water deal, involved “a violation of the right to ­freedom of expression, specifically press freedom”.

The institute is paying the legal costs for the editor of the Kruger2Canyon News, Heidi Lee Smith. The case, in which the Democratic Alliance’s Limpopo leader Jacques Smalle is also being sued, will be heard in the Pretoria high court in September.

Referring to the alleged collapse of the water deal, property developer Soren Nielsen, who is suing the paper, said “1500 unemployed people could have been breadwinners if it was not for the mafia”.

“Since the Broeder-bond/DA decided to make an all-out attempt to destroy me, I have had to close my company and move from a mansion to a three-bedroom townhouse …”

Nielsen described Smith as “a devious and nasty person intent on destroying the lives of as many men as possible. I am more scared of [her] than Radovan Krejcir.”

At the centre of the saga

At issue is a 2012 deal where the Lepelle Northern Water Board agreed to supply Nielsen’s company, Southern Palace 440, with 10-million cubic metres of raw water a year from the Blyde Dam for 30 years at R0.07658c a cubic metre.

Allegations surfaced that Southern Palace planned to resell the water to Hoedspruit farmers at R0.15c a cubic metre – double the purchase price.

In his summons, Nielsen cites a DA statement in May 2013 that Southern Palace was “allegedly hawking water to Hoedspruit farmers at inflated prices” and that the Blue Scorpions were investigating.

He also took issue with Smalle’s call on the Limpopo government “to investigate how a water board could illegally have subcontracted services”. Kruger2Canyon News reproduced much of the statement under the headline “Estate developer allegedly involved in water corruption”.

In his summons, Niel­sen says the DA and the paper portrayed Southern Palace as “an unethical organisation involved in questionable business practices”. Smith and the DA responded that their statements were “in essence true”.

Farmer’s Weekly quoted Lepelle spokesperson Simon Maponyane as saying that the water board entered into an agreement with Southern Palace for bulk water “to their proposed developments. We were not aware of [them] selling water to the users.”

Maponyane failed to answer amaBhungane’s questions over a three-week period.

Deal collapses

Jurie van Vuuren, spokesperson for the Lower Blyde River Users Association, said the water-selling plan collapsed after he warned farmers he believed the water supply contract with Southern Palace contained “illegalities”.

Van Vuuren claimed Southern Palace didn’t have a licence to sell water; he submitted a complaint to water affairs, but received no response.

Blue Scorpions head Nigel Adams promised to answer questions about the deal but failed to do so.

This week, Nielsen refused to reveal what happened to the deal, saying he would comment after the court case.

Farmer’s Weekly quoted him as saying a meeting between Southern Palace, Lepelle and water affairs in the Limpopo premier’s office agreed that, if Southern Palace applied for a water licence, Lepelle would supply it according to a bulk service agreement.

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The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for our stories, activities and funding sources.

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Before joining the amaBhungane team in 2017, Micah was the national coordinator for media freedom and diversity at the Right2Know Campaign. He holds a Masters in African Studies from Oxford University and a BA Honours in History from Wits University.

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