News clipping – The Mercury – 9 March 2011

“No winners” in school head defamation case

The Constitutional Court has spoken the last word and closed the chapter after five years on the case of three former schoolboys who played a prank on their principal and deputy principal by doctoring a picture to show them as gay bodybuilders.

The central finding was that the picture made by the boys and later distributed among the other pupils did amount to defamation and that they were thus liable for damages. But it was found the amount sought was too high.

Former deputy principal Louis Dey will now receive R25 000 instead of R45 000 as earlier ordered. The court found that Dey should have found solace in some of the other measures taken against the boys earlier.

Hennie le Roux, Christiaan Gildenhuys and Reinhardt Janse van Rensburg were also ordered to apologise unconditionally to Dey and pay the legal costs of his damages claim instituted in the Pretoria High Court.

Judges Edwin Cameron and Johan Froneman found this matter should be judged from the perspective that the picture had been made by children, but found Dey’s dignity had been infringed.

While Dey yesterday regarded this as a victory for the teaching profession, the attorney acting on behalf of the young men, as well as the Freedom of Expression Institute, which entered the fray as an interested party, were of the opinion that there were no winners in this case.
“While there were no winners in our opinion, we will honour the court order and we will pay the R25 000 and render an apology,” said Carl Zietsman, the three’s attorney.

Dey said the fact that the amount of damages was now reduced was irrelevant. It was never about the money, but about protecting the integrity of the teaching profession.

It was all about the fact that teachers must be treated with respect, he said.

By: Zelda Venter