By Richard Chidza
HARARE – Flamboyant United Family International (UFI) Church founder, Emmanuel Makandiwa, who filed a $2 million lawsuit against the Daily News, yesterday failed to turn up for a pre-trial conference.
This did not go down well with judges Chinembiri Bhunu and David Mangota who took his lawyer Nickiel Mushangwe through basic court procedures he had completely disregarded. Mushangwe was assisted by another legal practitioner, Lloba Chiperesa.
Makandiwa claims the Daily News published by Associated Newspapers Group (ANZ) — defamed him through a poster written “Anglican saga sucks in Makandiwa” published in December last year. Makandiwa yesterday sent his aide Prime Kufa to represent him.
But ANZ lawyer, Aleck Muchadehama questioned why Makandiwa himself as the plaintiff of the $2 million suit had not turned up in court. His lawyers said he was out of the country.
Bhunu ordered Mushangwe to bring Makandiwa to court on March 27 for the pre-trial conference, explaining to Mushangwe that his client had to personally attend court. Bhunu said Kufa could not speak on behalf of Makandiwa because the UFI leader had sued the Daily News in his personal capacity.
The judge dressed down Mushangwe, questioning him if he was acquainted with the case, to which Mushangwe replied he had only read an “article.”
Mangota, a recently appointed judge who is still being taken through the High Court procedures, then chipped in, expressing shock that a lawyer could come to court without going through basic rules of the court. He urged Mushangwe to read High Court rules.
Bhunu questioned Mushangwe why he had not informed the defence that his client would not be available so that he would be able to ask for a postponement. Bhunu told Mushangwe that he had jumped the gun and sternly warned him against disregarding court procedures.
A shell shocked Mushangwe then apologised to the judges. The plaintiff was ordered to pay the costs of the aborted conference. In defamation cases, the plaintiff has to be present or at least his proxy must produce a power of attorney letter from the plaintiff.
The case relates to a poster in which the Daily News mistakenly wrote the name Makandiwa on a poster. Makandiwa was infuriated by a banner inscribed “Anglican saga sucks in Makandiwa” for a story that had no mention of him.
ANZ then published a correction explaining that the poster was supposed to read “Anglican saga sucks in banks.”
Makandiwa believes that the matter of fact should have been on the front page not on page 2 where it was published. He argued the poster linked him to acts of violence, infighting and internal church squabbles associated with the Anglican Church dispute, when there was no mention of him in the story.
“The poster and online publications created the impression in the mind of a reasonable diligent reader that the plaintiff (Makandiwa) was involved in the controversial and sensational Anglican saga, which involved acts of violence, infighting and internal squabbles within opposing factions of the Anglican Church,” read Makandiwa’s declaration.
The poster, according to the lawyer, diminishes the esteem of the prophet in the eyes of the nation and the whole world ostensibly because he is internationally recognised for his gift of preaching, healing and prophecy.
“After demand for a retraction and apology from the plaintiff, the defendant published a half-hearted apology. It was not a full, unconditional and unreserved withdrawal of all importations or imputations together with an expression of regret,” Makandiwa argued.
He said the matter of fact did not get the same prominence as the banner. But ANZ through its lawyer Alec Muchadehama said Makandiwa was supposed to first prove that he is a prophet.
Muchadehama said Makandiwa must prove he was a gifted and charismatic preacher and prophet, and challenged him to prove the claims.
“Defendant has no knowledge of plaintiff being a gifted and charismatic preacher and prophet,” Muchadehama argued.
“Defendant will put the plaintiff to the proof of these averments.”
ANZ said the poster in question did not specifically refer to Makandiwa and that the words were not even defamatory.
“In any event, the reference of being ‘sucked in’ is not in itself defamatory. There was nothing defamatory in the publication. No reasonable person will think badly about plaintiff by merely seeing the poster and without regard to the story,” the ANZ lawyer said.