An unfortunate Dey for Mr Le Roux and co.

Mar 30, 11 An unfortunate Dey for Mr Le Roux and co.

Posted by in Culture

A few days before the hubbub around the Hugh Glenister decision of the Constitutional Court, another rather interesting judgment was handed down: Le Roux v Dey  ([2011] ZACC 4). Three high school boys, with the infinite wisdom of gentlemen their age, created and circulated (within the school) an image of their principal and vice principal’s heads superimposed on the bodies of two homosexual men, photographed naked and in a sexually compromising position. Deeply offended by this, Dr Dey (the vice principal) sued for defamation, pursued his claim through three different courts, all the way to the Constitutional Court, and won. The boys were ordered to pay R25 000 in damages. The law of defamation looks like this: If you say something that is going to tarnish my reputation, I am entitled to patrimonial compensation from you, to remedy the damage. In short, you made me look stupid, so you must pay me money, and then I’ll feel much better, and be able to carry on with my life as if nothing happened. Really? (I ask, with tears in my big blue eyes)… This difficulty with this area of law is highlighted so beautifully in Le Roux v Dey. It relies on the idea that damaged reputations can be repaired with cash. If one were to discuss this with a poor soul who had been defamed, and subsequently won compensation in a court case, he/she would probably tell you that the victory was immensely satisfying. He/she would not only have received fiduciary fulfillment, but also vindication in a court of law, with the judge symbolically slapping the defamer on the wrist. However, it is certainly no more than a symbolic victory. Money cannot fix a reputation. It is something amorphous – an unintended consequence of one’s way of life/manner of conducting business/interactions with the world. It is not an end in itself. There is no way to ‘fix’ it. Assuming, of course, that the reputation was so terribly badly damaged to begin with. While vindication...

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