HIGH COURT OF LESOTHO
matter of :
NORAH MOLAI Plaintiff
PATRICK PHATSOANE 1st Defendant
PAOANE 2nd Defendant
SHEPHERD ROMAN CATHOLIC
by the Hon. Mr. Justice M.L. Lehohla on the 17th day of January, 1992
March 1991 this Court in upholding the plaintiff's claim awarded her
defendants were ordered to pay the above sum plus costs and interest
at 9% jointly and severally the one paying the other to
following are the reasons for the above decision:
by her husband Teano Molai the plaintiff a member of the Church under
the pastoral guidance of the first defendant at Mohale's
Shepherd Roman Catholic Mission sues the three defendants in an
action wherein she claims :-
of damages in the sum of M30,000-00.
at the rate of 19% per annum
and or alternative relieve.
declaration the plaintiff has set out that between August 31st and
November 2nd 1986 a publication was made in Church i.e.
defendant by the 1st defendant within hearing of 150 to 200
congregants malignining the plaintiff unlawfully and without
cause. Because of the nature of this publication the plaintiff begs
this Court to observe that malicious intent is imputable
person or persons who authorised this publication.
translation of extracts of this publication reads -
received a letter full of insults and threatening me with death with
a knife. The letter bears no address and the name
of its author does
not appear. In any event I know the author because I recognised the
author's handwriting because I worked
with that person for six years
as that person was the treasurer of my Board".
plaintiff contends that the above words in quotations refer to her.
extracts of the publication read when translated -
you know is to allege that teachers embezzle school fees but you
don't say when you will repay the M290-00 you owe the
school. I am
going to order the Principal to write you a letter demanding payment
of that money. For the six years that you (were)
couldn't see that funds were embezzled because you too participated.
You are greedy and subversive".
talk of the library. You stupid woman, pretending to be learned and
yet you are uncouth: go and look at how many books
the library has;
even though you can do nothing as you are illiterate".
were badly brought up. I believe even your children are spoilt
because you too are spoilt. Watch out lest your relatives
mourning cloth before mine (do). Desist from writing letters to
plaintiff averred that the 1st defendant when uttering the words
complained of above did so in his capacity as the Priest-in-charge
and a servant of the 3rd defendant and as such did further do so
within the scope and during the course of his duty.
paragraph 7 of her declaration the plaintiff indicated that on 14th
September 1986 the 2nd defendant told a congregation at the
defendant's church that the treasurer referred to by the 1st
defendant was the plaintiff. He buttressed his statement by making
assertion that he too recognised the plaintiff's handwriting in
document in question and stated that he was making this assertion
relating to his personal knowledge of this state of affairs for the
benefit of those who did not know who the culprit was. The
contends that the utterance and publication referred to in this
paragraph were defamatory per Be. She also contends that
statements conveyed the meaning that she is a murderess, a greedy and
subversive person. She again contends that any or all
descriptions of her by the defendants and the publication that ensued
are defamatory per se
finally asserted that because of their falsity these utterances
maliciously derogated from her good name and her sense of
evidence the plaintiff told the Court that she is married to one
Teano Molai who is assisting her in this action.
plaintiff's home is in Mohale's Hoek but she is currently living in
Maseru and had been doing so already as of August 1986.
entrusted and resigned the care and upkeep of her affairs in Mohale's
Hoek to Malehlohonolo Molisana PW2 who wrote the
plaintiff a letter
in connection with this case some time in 1986.
testified and corroborated this aspect of the matter and went further
to say in that letter addressed to PW1 she didn't disclose
why she asked PW1 to set out for Mohale' s Hoek.
arrived PW2 informed her of the events in Church on a Sunday when the
1st defendant read to the congregation the contents
of an unsigned
and unaddressed letter he had received threatening his life among
her evidence regarding the events of that particular Sunday told the
Court that the 1st defendant told the congregation in
that he knew the author of the said letter because
recognise the handwriting to be one of a person who had served as a
treasurer in the school committee. It is common cause
that as at the
time the contents of this letter were made known to the congregants
the plaintiff and the others who served in the
school committee had
been replaced in due course by a fresh committee.
also common cause that the only person who served as treasurer in the
previous committee was the plaintiff. It is also common
the plaintiff had served in that committee for six years.
the Court that she was a special Appointee of the Bishop of Mohale's
Hoek to that committee.
testified that she knew PW1 to have held that position because PW1
was announced in Church as such when she first assumed that
comes as no surprise that when attributing the authorship of this
"anonymous" letter to the previous treasurer
saying the author was the plaintiff, the first defendant was at no
loss as to the sex of that previous treasurer hence
his reference to
her as "you woman".
This will become clear immediately below where parts of PW2's
evidence are extracted and related verbatim- She said in her
"Father Phatsoane said the author of the letter was his
treasurer who had worked with him for six years and that he discerned
the authorship of that unknown letter from the author's handwriting.
He told us the contents of the letter: that in it were death threats
He said the letter charged and asked 'if you are aware school moneys
are "eaten" by teachers'. Further 'when the dining
going to be built since we have paid money for that'. Further that
'there were no books in the library' and that he (the
should be killed with a knife and not with a gun so that he could die
slowly and repent for his sins in the process.
After informing us thus of the contents of the unsigned and
unaddressed letter the 1st defendant told us he was going to reply
that letter question by question. He then proceeded to do so".
proceeding to do so as pointed out immediately above the Court was
told by PW2 that the 1st defendant addressing himself to the
asked whether that person (i.e. the author) only realised this day
that moneys were being "eaten" (pocketed for
ill use) yet that person as treasurer used to participate in the
eating of the money.
testified that the 1st defendant charged that the author
letter should go to the library where that author would discover that
there were books in there. He however expressed doubts
person would be able to count or read those books as that person is
known to him to be an illiterate.
followed the occasion which brought home to any listener who might
have not known the sex or gender of the treasurer, for according
PW2 the 1st defendant said
"you woman are subversive and ill-bred. No doubt your children
too are ill-nurtured. You even owe the school an amount of
M290. I am
going to authorise the committee to demand that money from you If you
don't pay I'll take you to court".
she knew that PW1 owed M290 to the school. She said she knew this
because PW1 was in Maseru and PW2 looked after the affairs
of PW1. In
the course of doing so she used to pay PW1's debts.
the Court that she was able to deduce further from this factor that
the 1st defendant was making reference to the plaintiff.
wanted her, she said, to know of the contents of the letter read by
the 1st defendant and that he was referring to her
when he spoke of
her being the treasurer as well as the debtor of M290.
testified that these comments were repeated by the 1st
the following Sunday in Church.
PW2 proceeded as follows :-
"I met the plaintiff after church services of this 2nd Sunday of
the airing of the contents of that letter".
testimony clarifies the above statement by setting out that in
response to a call by PW2, PW1 went to Mohale's Hoek on a Saturday
and the next day went to Church where she met PW2 only after Church.
According to PW1 it appears that the reading of the anonymous
by the 1st defendant was effected after Church services. But his
intention to do so was announced during Church services.
point on PW1's evidence corroborates that of PW2 in full as to the
events of this 2nd Sunday.
instance PW1 stated that the letter read by the 1st defendant was in
PW1 in regard thereto said one of the questions said
"Are you aware how much money was being embezzled by the
teachers of Bonhomme High School. The High School of Good Shepherd
told the Court that the 1st defendant proceeded by reading the
questions in the letter and replying to them seri atim.
to the question above PW1 said the 1st defendant said -
"Today that you are no longer the treasurer you realise that
moneys are embezzled but when you still were the treasurer you
realise this. So this means you were embezzling the money with them.
You appear to be an old subversive person".
PW1 said another question was
"Why have you built a library that has no books?1
thereto PW1 said the 1st defendant said -
"You stupid woman who thinks you are educated when you are not,
go to the library to see how many books there are in there,
your illiteracy will impede you from counting (or reading them)".
Another question according to PW1 was
"Are you aware the food eaten by children at school is very
In answer thereto PW1 says the 1st defendant said
"You failed for six years to manage the work you were employed
for; all you knew was to dismiss your co-workers at the kitchen
saying they were stealing food. All you knew was to stop Martin
Mochele's donkeys from grazing in the school yard".
The next question according to PW1 was -
"You need to be killed with a knife that you may die slowly; for
if shot by a gun you would die quickly before repenting for
In answer thereto the 1st defendant is said to have said -
"You subversive person you should take heed that your relatives
will wear the mourning cloth before mine can. You had better
the author of the replies I am giving to these question".
question related to the M290 which PW1 acknowledged she owed. The
response given by the 1st defendant in relation to it
is given by PW1
who corroborates PW2 in full.
as nobody was referred to by name she was able to deduce from the
replies given by the 1st defendant that he was referring
to her in
this because -
had been the 1st defendant's first treasurer for six years since the
1st defendant came to head the Mission;
had an unpaid balance of M290 at Bonhomme High School;
had made a suggestion in a meeting regarding the kitchen staff that
it be changed on account of theft.
had made a suggestion that Mr. Martin Mochele's donkeys should not
graze in the school yard since it was he and not the donkeys
was no longer the treasurer
Sunday afterwards PW1 and PW2 went to Church.
to PW2 there was marked increase in Church attendance by congregants
since the 1st occasion when the letter
by the 1st defendant in Church. PW2 attributes this to the fact that
it had been earlier said to the congregants that it
would later be
announced who the author of the malicious letter was.
this occasion i.e. the third for PW2 and the second for PW1 the 1st
defendant was not present. This time a catechist one
said he would leave matters to the 2nd defendant to explain matters
relating to the letter. He said the letter
which had repeatedly been
read was written by PW1. PW2 is supported by PW1 in this regard.
witnesses are further supported by PW3 Mosienyane Lebetsa in all
significant that on the Monday following the Sunday of the disclosure
of the culprit to whom the writing of the insidious
ascribed, seized the opportunity to complain to the 1st defendant
about her name being associated with the writing of
on the 3rd Sunday of her being in Mohale's Hoek a major committee
meeting was held in which anybody could attend. PW1,
PW2 and PW3 say
that this was convened by the 1st defendant. The 1st defendant denies
this. These witnesses say he was in
throughout this meeting. The 1st defendant denies that. He says he
only came when he had been asked to come at a stage
when it was
suggested to him that the plaintiff was coming to apologise to him.
more probable story is the one given by the plaintiff to the effect
that at that meeting he asked the 2nd defendant in the
presence of the 1st defendant why the 2nd defendant said the
plaintiff who knew nothing about the said letter
is the one who wrote
it. The 2nd defendant according to the plaintiff said he mentioned
the plaintiff's name following the explanation
he had been given by
the 1st defendant.
plaintiff said she then confronted the 1st defendant about what the
2nd defendant had just said. The plaintiff's narration is
recording at this stage. I quote her words as follows :-
"I then referred to the 1st defendant and asked him what he had
to say now that the 2nd defendant absolved himself by saying
1st defendant authorised his saying so. The 1st defendant said :
'Yes he (2nd defendant) is correct. Even now I maintain you are the
author of that letter1"
The plaintiff proceeded :-
"I asked the 1st defendant to furnish reasons for saying I wrote
the letter. He said he inferred that from the contents of
itself..... Ultimately a member of the congregation Mosienyane asked
that the letter be produced. The letter was
never produced. The 1st defendant never said where the letter was. He
was not holding it.
The 1st defendant said unless I came to him to ask for pardon he was
going to ex-communicate me. That if I was set on going about
holy sacrament I should do so in other Churches. The meeting came to
a close without me asking for pardon.
I then received a letter of demand for M290. Next I received summons
concerning the M290".
letter of demand was handed in Marked Ex."A". The summons
was handed in marked Ex "B".
plaintiff enumerated a sizeable number of positions she held in
various communities in the land. She told the Court that she
in high esteem by the community at large. She was regarded as a
responsible person, she said,
"for whenever I called a meeting they used to come in big
numbers regarding me as a bringer of light in their midst. They
me to be an important person for even if I left instructions when I
left for Maseru on coming back I would find the job completed.
The appointment by Bishop Khoarai so that I could serve in the
Committee showed that he reposed confidence in my ability and in
standing as a person of light and leading.
I felt that this letter had derogated from my sense of self-esteem".
plaintiff showed that among various capacities she had acted under
she had been a General Secretary of the Volunteer Association;
was responsible to Lesotho National Council of
She was a general Secretary of
and 4)many others such as (i) House Wife League and the
treasurer of (ii) Phallang Credit Union.
the cross-examination well much as it tended to be. lengthy. PW2
likewise gave the impression that she knew what she was
and was not shaken in her testimony.
evidence which could not be faulted for favouring one side as against
the other. He is the man who testified that he actually
the letter be produced but it was not. He failed to appreciate the
value of the question put to him in chief as to
how he regarded the
plaintiff after the letter was said to have been written by her. He
is a layman and it is not uncharacteristic
of people of his class to
fail to appreciate the significance of technical questions when put
with that measure of subtlety that
seeks to avoid putting to them
that he was absent from Church when the 1st defendant is alleged to
have opened the major committee meeting in prayer.
Indeed it is to be
wondered how the 1st defendant who admittedly was at Good Shepherd
Mission on the day in question
have perceived that PW3 was absent and was at Ketane a far away place
from the Mission. But credible evidence shows PW3 was
present at the
Mission. Accordingly the 1st defendant's testimony to the contrary
cannot be true. In fact his insistence that PW3
was absent and his
attempt to prove that assertion by wishing the Court to accept the
impossible namely that he has first hand
knowledge that PW3 was at
Ketane selling cloths at the point in time leads to an inference that
the 1st defendant wants to place
PW3 as far away from the centre of
events as possible because he knows by virtue of PW3's neutrality and
absence of filial or master
and servant relationship with PW1 PW3's
testimony would be damaging to the 1st defendant's credibility.
defendant under cross-examination admitted that he was aware the text
of the summons he received tallied with contents of
letter. He admitted telling the congregation that the letter was full
of insults and threats.
hard put to it to say why then if that letter betrayed threats to his
life as a law abiding citizen he did not report the
matter to the
admitted the comments he is alleged to have made while reading that
letter to the congregation, save that he denied saying the
he didn't know who wrote this anonymous letter when he gave his oral
and public replies to it in Church. He however admitted
that he felt
whoever wrote it had some connection with the school. He admitted
that that was a Board Member of the school and had
worked with PW1
who was also a treasurer member of the Board.
that he ever checked the school books. He was quite evasive on the
point and contended himself with saying although he
was holding this
position in the Board because of being a Priest he did not check the
again evasive in trying to make it appear that he did not suspect any
particular culprit as the author of the letter yet
he had earlier
said the culprit had in fact been a previous member of the board, and
showed his familiarity with the culprit by
quoting the Bible that
"the voice was that of James while the body was that of Essau"
seized on this quotation from the Bible as a probable
put it to
the other side. Hence the logical inference is that he is making a
last minute improvisation that cannot be true.
pass over in silence the adverse evidence that he admitted hearing
from PW1, namely that when the 2nd defendant absolved
the challenge by PW1 and in turn pointed to the 1st defendant as the
person who had given instruction that the plaintiff's
published as the culprit's he was present. But when giving evidence
in chief he suggested that this evidence by PW1 was
untrue and should
not be believed by this Court.
defendant's undoing in this proceeding results from his lack of
realisation that in trying to support the 1st defendant's
case he is taking a big risk. There was absolutely no harm in him
being truthful and telling the Court that his role was
just that of a
conduit, doing the 1st defendant' s bidding- But lo! he sought to
support all the false version purveyed by the
1st defendant. He
decided to introduce in his evidence contents of a letter which is
different from the anonymous letter in question
here and said it is
the one that the 1st defendant read.
A copy of
that letter is before Court. Although it too is anonymous at least it
styles itself as emanating from "Sankomota"
of this letter of course coincide with those of the
one. He seeks to support the 1st defendant by saying during the two
Sundays he saw PW1 he did not see PW3. That may he
so. But that does
not mean PW3 was not there. However he finds this suggestion hard to
testified that on the 3rd Sunday when the Priest was absent no
reference was made to the anonymous letter. But mention was made
him of PW1's name. The reason he says he mentioned it was that PW1
was bothering him making it appear as if he knew something
contents of the anonymous letter.
he had asked Motemane the conductor of the Church service for the day
to allow him to say something. When so allowed he
says he said "It
seems this threatening letter has been written by 'Mantho Molai".
he had basis for saying that he replied "I said just as
significant that he should avoid answering that question which was
put to him in chief. However he was quick to state that
he never said
to the congregation that he had said this per the 1st defendant's
instructions. He said
"I did say so because she was much worried and she wanted to
involve me in a matter she seemed
to know while I did not".
however supports PW1 to the effect that after this announcement she
went to confront the 1st defendant.
defendant likewise heard PW1 say that he published her name at Parish
meeting per the instruction of the 1st defendant.
though he regards this as false he never challenged it when PW1 was
indicated earlier the 2nd defendant by giving false evidence on
issues which sought to highlight the truth and possibility
was a mere conduit carrying out the 1st defendant's instruction,
attracted the fate that was to befall the 1st defendant.
that he had been asked to make the announcement of the plaintiff's
name in Church as the culprit who wrote the letter
the 1st defendant with death. Thus he associated himself with the
false and injurious imputations levelled at the
plaintiff in the
the words complained of by the plaintiff were defamatory per se the
law is clear that the intention to injure can be and
plaintiff has established that she was a highly regarded
Although PW3 failed to back this up by appearing puzzled by the
question how he regarded the plaintiff after the defamatory
how he would regard her if those words were true, I am satisfied that
PW3 does not fall within the category of people
who would be affected
in their regard for the plaintiff if the things said were true about
her. The plaintiff served various important
associations entry into
which was in part dependent on maintenance of a good name. The
conduct that the 1st defendant manifested
towards her was calculated
to besmirch it. The fact that this effort by the 1st defendant
culminated in the swelling of the numbers
of people who attended
Church around the time ear-marked by him in general terras that the
name of the culprit would be announced
helped increase the amount of
stress and anxiety on the plaintiff. It helped turn her into an
object of unseemly curiosity.
reason the Court entered Judgment for the plaintiff on 25th March
1991 having had regard to C. of A. (CIV) No. 10 of 1983
Makhele and Another (unreported).
Plaintiff: Mr. Mafisa
Defendants: Mr. Khauoe
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