Kaaronda Defends Letter On Unam - AllAfrica.com
THE former secretary general of the National Union of Namibian Workers, Evilastus Kaaronda, was on the witness stand in the Windhoek High Court yesterday to defend himself against a N$3 million defamation claim which the University of Namibia and four of its top staff members are pursuing against him and a weekly newspaper.
When he wrote a letter to the then chancellor of the university, founding President Sam Nujoma, in February 2010 to inform Nujoma about allegations of irregularities and financial maladministration at Unam, he had no reason to try to embarrass the university's vice chancellor, Lazarus Hangula, and other members of Unam's top management openly, Kaaronda testified before Judge Dave Smuts.
He said his letter to Nujoma, which was written under an NUNW letterhead, was delivered to Nujoma's office by hand, and he was surprised when a copy of the letter found its way into the hands of a reporter at the weekly publication Informanté.
He did not use the words “squander” or “embezzle” in the letter to Nujoma, Kaaronda told the judge. Those words however ended up being used prominently in an article about the allegations made against Unam's top management which was published in the 11 February 2010 edition of Informanté. The article, published under the front- page headline “Unam VC squanders N$5,0 m - Kaaronda”, relied heavily on the contents of Kaaronda's letter to Nujoma.
Kaaronda testified that he wrote the letter after about five Unam employees, accompanied by the president of the Namibia National Teachers' Union, had a meeting with him to air concerns which they had tried to take up with the Unam management without success.
He said he then decided to bring the matter to the attention of Nujoma in his capacity as the university's chancellor. After discussing a draft of the letter with the concerned Unam staff members, he sealed the letter in an envelope and had it delivered to Nujoma's office.
In the letter, Kaaronda asked Nujoma to intervene and to have a commission of inquiry appointed to look into the allegations.
He has no idea how a copy of the letter subsequently landed in possession of Informanté, Kaaronda said.
The university, Hangula, and senior Unam staff members Osmund Mwandemele, Job Jansen, and Alois Fledersbacher are suing Kaaronda over the letter which he sent to Nujoma, with Hangula, Mwandemele, Jansen and Fledersbacher each claiming N$250 000 from Kaaronda.
The university and the four other plaintiffs are also suing Trustco Group International, which owns and publishes Informanté, the newspaper's former editor, Max Hamata, and reporter Patience Nyangove, with Hangula, Mwandemele, Jansen and Fledersbacher each claiming N$500 000 from those three defendants.
The plaintiffs are claiming that Kaaronda's letter and the 11 February 2010 article, written by Nyangove, were defamatory and were understood by readers to imply that the plaintiffs were incompetent, corrupt, dishonest, morally questionable, and that Hangula in particular was acting in breach of his duties as vice chancellor of Unam.
In a plea filed with the court Kaaronda has claimed that the statements made by him were essentially the truth. The other three defendants have claimed the same, as well as that the publication of the article was in the public interest.
Judge Smuts is due to continue hearing testimony in the matter today.