GroundUp’s Ray Joseph is suing the Chief Operating Officer of the Lottery

Award-winning reporter says Phillemon Letwaba defamed him

By Tania Broughton

15 November 2021

GroundUp freelancer Raymond Joseph is suing the suspended Chief Operating Officer of the National Lotteries Commission for defamation. Archive photo: Ashraf Hendricks

Veteran GroundUp freelancer Raymond Joseph is suing the suspended Chief Operating Officer of the National Lotteries Commission (NLC), Phillemon Letwaba, alleging Letwaba defamed him.

Letwaba claimed in the interview on Newzroom Afrika that Joseph was targeting him. He said Joseph was embittered because the commission had stopped funding entities relating to him and his family, a claim Joseph has denied.

Joseph, who has been a journalist since 1974, has won awards, including the Nat Nakasa award, for his work on dodgy spending by the National Lotteries Commission.

Letwaba himself is suing Joseph and GroundUp in relation to some of these articles.

In Joseph’s summons, which has been issued out of the Cape High Court and has been served on Letwaba, he complains about what Letwaba said about him in an interview with senior journalist Stephen Grootes, during a live interview on the popular 24-hour news channel Newzroom Afrika.

In his particulars of claim, attached to the summons, Joseph included a transcript of the interview which was conducted on 29 June.

Letwaba talked about “malicious claims” made by “some of the people who have been benefitting from the NLC with multiple organisations and have … decided to assassinate the character of the COO”.

He said “…the NLC continues to suffer just because an individual is no longer receiving money sitting in Cape Town with multiple NGOs that have been benefiting from the NLC.”

Joseph says that neither he nor any of his family members have ever applied for or received a lottery grant.

But Letwaba said Joseph was a “major beneficiary” of lottery funds. He told Grootes: ”This has been going on for five years. My character has been attacked by this man since 2014.”

Letwaba then claimed that more than 12 organisations linked to Joseph were no longer receiving lottery funds and suggested Joseph was attacking him because of this.

Letwaba also claimed that Joseph and his wife and family were direct beneficiaries of lottery funding.

In September GroundUp reported that Minister Ebrahim Patel, in response to a question asked in Parliament, said that the NLC had failed to provide him with any details of the links with Joseph.

Questioned further by Grootes, Letwaba said:

“That is why I am saying that his history as a journalist I’m not aware of. I’ve read it, I’ve heard about him actually when he was sending some very anonymous emails to myself and therefore, he came out of retirement.”

But Joseph says he has never retired from journalism nor has he sent Letwaba anonymous emails. On the contrary Joseph has received several anonymous emails threatening him because of his lottery reporting.

Letwaba continued: “He is an old man who came out of retirement to come and focus on the character of the COO and attack the integrity of the NLC … I’m saying we have been dealing with lies since 2014 just because one individual who is the major beneficiary of the NLC decided to declare war against the NLC.”

Joseph, in his summons, claims that Letwaba’s remarks are not only untrue but defamatory.

“They were understood by the reasonable audience to mean that I knowingly breached journalistic ethics, was a vengeful and malicious journalist, and had embarked on an untruthful campaign against him and the commission.”

Joseph says the average person would consider that he was acting out of spite for “losing benefits” his family had derived from the commission through 12 organisations.

His claim is based on one of dignity and reputation.

Letwaba has refused to publish an apology and a retraction, Joseph says in his summons.

Letwaba has until early December to file a notice of intention to defend the action and until February next year to file a plea.

He did not respond to questions from GroundUp.