I'm vindicated-says Chaponda after winning case against Times

George Chaponda

Former Minister of Agriculture and Water Development, George Chaponda says he feels vindicated after winning a defamation suit against Times Media Group's reporting on the 'Maizegate saga' of 2017. 

Chaponda sued Times Group for tarnishing his image saying there were deliberate and coordinated attacks by the Daily Newspaper, Malawi News and Sunday Times.

In court, Chaponda said the newspapers' malicious reporting cost him his position as Vice President of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), his cabinet seat and left him seen in bad light by rightful thinking people of Malawi and international where he worked for reputable organisations such as the United Nations. 

Then Editor in Chief for Times, George Kasakula, now Director General of state broadcaster Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) defended their actions saying they were based on national interest, freedom of the press, fair comment and qualified privilege. 

Some of the articles and commentary were titled 'Defiant Chaponda', 'Chaponda can't keep being dishonorable', 'Epitome of decadence' and 'Malawi can't stand this rot'. 

Kasakula: The issue was of national interest 

High Court Judge Dingiswayo Madise in his 52-paged ruling said the articles clearly showed Chaponda in the light of being defiant and not of service to the public. 

"They [newspapers] went over board in quest to inform the people," said justice Madise, adding they violated Chaponda's character.

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Judge Madise ordered the articles to be taken down and that punitive damages be paid. 

He emphasised that the monetary costs should put into consideration that he has ordered the papers to publish apologies on the front pages in the next 10 days. 

Lawyer for Chaponda, Tamanda Chokotho said judiciary registrar, Gladys Gondwe has been tasked with coming up with numbers.

Speaking in a telephone interview on Monday, Chaponda said he was: "Glad the verdict has gone favourably to me.

"The people who had engineered this, the aim was to tarnish my image internationally, I have worked for the United Nations (UN) for a number of years, so my international image was totally damaged." 

He also said people in Malawi had misgivings about him but the ruling will make a difference personal and politically. 

Chaponda and wife leaving court
Chaponda: This will make a difference both personal and political. Pictures by Pemphero Musowa 

"The newspapers have to publish an apology on the front page for having made those defamatory articles against me in relation to the so called maize saga, the case which was labeled that I had gotten a lot of money from the sale of maize." 

He reiterated that he was acquitted and is relieved this case where Daily Times, Malawi News, and Sunday Times reported in bad faith is also now over. 

Reacting to whether this sets precedents to gag freedom of journalists, Chaponda said: "No. The situation is not that they be gagged but to report in a normal way.

"But if you are reporting in a way targeting the image of a person then that is not proper journalism writing. You are supposed to report in good faith. The reporting by these newspapers were targeting me to tarnish my image." 

He called on journalists to remain professional and not to be used by people to tarnish the image of others to advance political careers, aspirations and other things.

Chaponda has insisted that his prosecution in the 2016 Zambia maize purchase case on allegations of theft and shady dealings in the procurement of the staple grain was the work of his political rivals. 

The DPP Member of Parliament (MP) for Mulanje South West was arrested in July 19 2017 alongside business-person Rashid Tayub of Transglobe Produce Limited and businessperson and chairperson of Grain Traders and Processors Association of Malawi (GTPA) Grace Mijiga-Mhango in connection with the Zambian maize procurement transaction. The High Court in Zomba later  sustained an acquittal in the corruption-related case regarding the 2016 Zambia maize purchase