IN THE HIGH COURT OF LESOTHO In the matter of :
'MANTHO NORAH MOLAI Plaintiff
REV. PATRICK PHATSOANE 1st Defendant
CLETUS PAOANE 2nd DefendantGOOD SHEPHERD ROMAN
MISSION 3rd Defendant
Delivered by the Hon. Mr. Justice M.L. Lehohla on the
17th day of January, 1992
On 25th March 1991 this Court in upholding the
plaintiff's claim awarded her M6,500-00 only.
The defendants were ordered to pay the above sum plus
costs and interest at 9% jointly and severally the one paying the
other to be
The following are the reasons for the above decision:
Assisted by her husband Teano Molai the plaintiff a member of the
the pastoral guidance of the first defendant at Mohale's
Hoek Good Shepherd Roman Catholic Mission sues the three defendants
action wherein she claims :-
Payment of damages in the sum of M30,000-00.
Interest at the rate of 19% per annum
Costs of suit
(4) Further and or alternative relieve.
In her declaration the plaintiff has set out that
between August 31st and November 2nd 1986 a publication was made in
the 3rd defendant by the 1st defendant within hearing of
150 to 200 congregants malignining the plaintiff unlawfully and
probable cause. Because of the nature of this publication the
plaintiff begs this Court to observe that malicious intent is
to the person or persons who authorised this publication.
The loose translation of extracts of this publication
(a) "I received a letter full of insults and
threateningme with death with a knife. The letter bears
noaddress and the name of its author does not appear.In any
event I know the author because I recognisedthe author's
handwriting because I worked with thatperson for six years as
that person was thetreasurer of my Board".
The plaintiff contends that the above words in
quotations refer to her.
Further extracts of the publication read when translated
(b) "All you know is to allege that teachers
embezzleschool fees but you don't say when you will repaythe
M290-00 you owe the school. I am going toorder the Principal to
write you a letterdemanding payment of that money. For the six
yearsthat you (were) treasurer you couldn't see thatfunds
were embezzled because you too participated.You are greedy and
(c) "You 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".
(d) "You were badly brought up. I believe even
your children are spoilt because you too are spoilt. Watch out lest
wear mourning cloth before mine (do). Desist from
writing letters to Priests".
The plaintiff averred that the 1st defendant when
uttering the words complained of above did so in his capacity as the
and a servant of the 3rd defendant and as such did
further do so within the scope and during the course of his duty.
In paragraph 7 of her declaration the plaintiff
indicated that on 14th September 1986 the 2nd defendant told a
congregation at the
3rd defendant's church that the treasurer
referred to by the 1st defendant was the plaintiff. He buttressed his
statement by making
an 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 plaintiff
contends that the utterance and
publication referred to in this paragraph were defamatory per Be.
She also contends that these statements conveyed the meaning that she
is a murderess, a greedy and subversive person. She again
that any or all of these descriptions of her by the defendants and
the publication that ensued are defamatory per se
She finally asserted that because of their falsity these
utterances maliciously derogated from her good name and her sense of
In evidence the plaintiff told the Court that she is
married to one Teano Molai who is assisting her in this action.
The plaintiff's home is in Mohale's Hoek but she is
currently living in Maseru and had been doing so already as of August
she entrusted and resigned the care and upkeep of her
affairs in Mohale's Hoek to Malehlohonolo Molisana PW2 who wrote the
a letter in connection with this case some time in 1986.
PW2 testified and corroborated this aspect of the matter
and went further to say in that letter addressed to PW1 she didn't
the reason why she asked PW1 to set out for Mohale' s Hoek.
When PW1 arrived PW2 informed her of the events in
Church on a Sunday when the 1st defendant read to the congregation
of an unsigned and unaddressed letter he had received
threatening his life among other things.
PW2 in her evidence regarding the events of that
particular Sunday told the Court that the 1st defendant told the
her presence that he knew the author of the said
he could recognise the handwriting to be one of a person
who had served as a treasurer in the school committee. It is common
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
It is also common cause that the only person who served
as treasurer in the previous committee was the plaintiff. It is also
cause that the plaintiff had served in that committee for six
PW1 told the Court that she was a special Appointee of
the Bishop of Mohale's Hoek to that committee.
PW2 testified that she knew PW1 to have held that
position because PW1 was announced in Church as such when she first
It thus comes as no surprise that when attributing the
authorship of this "anonymous" letter to the previous
without saying the author was the plaintiff, the first
defendant was at no loss as to the sex of that previous treasurer
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
the authorship of that unknown letter from the author's
He told us the contents of the letter: that in it were
death threats and insults.
He said the letter charged and asked 'if you are aware
school moneys are "eaten" by teachers'. Further 'when the
hall is going to be built since we have paid money for that'.
Further that 'there were no books in the library' and that he (the
1st defendant) 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
that letter question by question. He then proceeded to do
In proceeding to do so as pointed out immediately above
the Court was told by PW2 that the 1st defendant addressing himself
letter asked whether that person (i.e. the author) only
realised this day that moneys were being "eaten" (pocketed
personal and ill use) yet that person as treasurer used to
participate in the eating of the money.
PW1 testified that the 1st defendant charged that the
of that letter should go to the library where that
author would discover that there were books in there. He however
whether that person would be able to count or read
those books as that person is known to him to be an illiterate.
Then followed the occasion which brought home to any
listener who might have not known the sex or gender of the treasurer,
to 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".
PW2 said she knew that PW1 owed M290 to the school. She
said she knew this because PW1 was in Maseru and PW2 looked after the
of PW1. In the course of doing so she used to pay PW1's
She told the Court that she was able to deduce further
from this factor that the 1st defendant was making reference to the
Thus she wanted her, she said, to know of the contents of
the letter read by the 1st defendant and that he was referring to her
he spoke of her being the treasurer as well as the debtor of
PW2 testified that these comments were repeated by the
-8-defendant 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".
PW1's testimony clarifies the above statement by setting
out that in response to a call by PW2, PW1 went to Mohale's Hoek on a
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
letter by the 1st defendant was effected after Church services. But
his intention to do so was announced during Church services.
From this point on PW1's evidence corroborates that of
PW2 in full as to the events of this 2nd Sunday.
For instance PW1 stated that the letter read by the 1st
defendant was in question form.
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
She then told the Court that the 1st defendant proceeded
by reading the questions in the letter and replying to them seri
In answer 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 did
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
In answer 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
your illiteracy will impede you from counting (or
Another question according to PW1 was
"Are you aware the food eaten by children at school
is very rotten?"
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
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
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
apprise the author of the replies I am giving to these
The other 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.
PW1 said as nobody was referred to by name she was able
to deduce from the replies given by the 1st defendant that he was
to her in those replies.
She says this because -
She had been the 1st defendant's first treasurerfor
six years since the 1st defendant came tohead the Mission;
She had an unpaid balance of M290 at BonhommeHigh
She had made a suggestion in a meeting regardingthe
kitchen staff that it be changed on accountof theft.
She had made a suggestion that Mr. Martin
Mochele'sdonkeys should not graze in the school yard since
itwas he and not the donkeys that were employed.
She was no longer the treasurer
The next Sunday afterwards PW1 and PW2 went to Church.
According to PW2 there was marked increase in Church
attendance by congregants since the 1st occasion when the letter
was read by the 1st defendant in Church. PW2 attributes
this to the fact that it had been earlier said to the congregants
would later be announced who the author of the malicious
During this occasion i.e. the third for PW2 and the
second for PW1 the 1st defendant was not present. This time a
catechist one Seabata
Motemana 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.
These two witnesses are further supported by PW3
Mosienyane Lebetsa in all material respects.
It is significant that on the Monday following the
Sunday of the disclosure of the culprit to whom the writing of the
was ascribed, seized the opportunity to complain to
the 1st defendant about her name being associated with the writing of
Consequently on the 3rd Sunday of her being in Mohale's
Hoek a major committee meeting was held in which anybody could
PW2 and PW3 say that this was convened by the 1st
defendant. The 1st defendant denies this. These witnesses say he was
attendance throughout this meeting. The 1st defendant
denies that. He says he only came when he had been asked to come at a
when it was suggested to him that the plaintiff was coming to
apologise to him.
However a more probable story is the one given by the
plaintiff to the effect that at that meeting he asked
defendant in the presence of the 1st defendant why
the 2nddefendant said the plaintiff who knew nothing about the
is the one who wrote it. The 2nd defendant according
plaintiff said he mentioned the plaintiff's name
following theexplanation he had been given by the 1st defendant.
The plaintiff said she then confronted the 1st defendant
about what the 2nd defendant had just said. The plaintiff's narration
worthy of 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
you the 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 the letter 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
stealing 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".
The letter of demand was handed in Marked Ex."A".
The summons was handed in marked Ex "B".
The plaintiff enumerated a sizeable number of positions
she held in various communities in the land. She told the Court that
held 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.
me to be an important person for even if I left
instructions when I left for Maseru on coming back I would find the
The appointment by Bishop Khoarai so that I could serve
in the Committee showed that he reposed confidence in my ability and
standing as a person of light and leading.
I felt that this letter had derogated from my sense of
The plaintiff showed that among various capacities she
had acted under she had been a General Secretary of the Volunteer
she was responsible to Lesotho National Council of
Women. She was a general Secretary of
(1) Lesotho Women's Institute
and (4) many others such as (i) House Wife League and
the treasurer of (ii) Phallang Credit Union.
PW1 stood the cross-examination well much as it tended
to be. lengthy. PW2 likewise gave the impression that she knew what
talking about and was not shaken in her testimony.
PW3 gave evidence which could not be faulted for
favouring one side as against the other. He is the man who testified
that he actually
demanded that the letter be produced but it was not.
He failed to appreciate the value of the question put to him in chief
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
people of his class to fail to appreciate the significance of
technical questions when put with that measure of subtlety that
to avoid putting to them leading questions.
He denied that he was absent from Church when the 1st
defendant is alleged to have opened the major committee meeting in
it is to be wondered how the 1st defendant who
admittedly was at Good Shepherd Mission on the day in question
could have perceived that PW3 was absent and was at
Ketane a far away place from the Mission. But credible evidence shows
present at the Mission. Accordingly the 1st defendant's
testimony to the contrary cannot be true. In fact his insistence that
was absent and his attempt to prove that assertion by wishing the
Court to accept the impossible namely that he has first hand
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
away from the centre of events as possible because he knows by
virtue of PW3's neutrality and absence of filial or master and
relationship with PW1 PW3's testimony would be damaging to
the 1st defendant's credibility.
The 1st defendant under cross-examination admitted that
he was aware the text of the summons he received tallied with
the anomynous letter. He admitted telling the
congregation that the letter was full of insults and threats.
He was 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 law-enforcement authorities.
He admitted the comments he is alleged to have made
while reading that letter to the congregation, save that he denied
author was ill-bred.
He said he didn't know who wrote this anonymous letter
when he gave his oral and public replies to it in Church. He however
that he felt whoever wrote it had some connection with the
school. He admitted that that was a Board Member of the school and
worked with PW1 who was also a treasurer member of the Board.
He denied that he ever checked the school books. He was
quite evasive on the point and contended himself with saying although
holding this position in the Board because of being a Priest
he did not check the books personally.
He was again evasive in trying to make it appear that he
did not suspect any particular culprit as the author of the letter
had earlier said the culprit had in fact been a previous
member of the board, and showed his familiarity with the culprit by
the Bible that "the voice was that of James while the
body was that of Essau"
He then seized on this quotation from the Bible as a
put it to the other side. Hence the logical inference
is that he is making a last minute improvisation that cannot be true.
He let pass over in silence the adverse evidence that he
admitted hearing from PW1, namely that when the 2nd defendant
from the challenge by PW1 and in turn pointed to the
1st defendant as the person who had given instruction that the
be published as the culprit's he was present. But
when giving evidence in chief he suggested that this evidence by PW1
and should not be believed by this Court.
The 2nd defendant's undoing in this proceeding results
from his lack of realisation that in trying to support the 1st
hopeless 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
A copy of that letter is before Court. Although it too
is anonymous at least it styles itself as emanating from "Sankomota"
Orotito. Parts of this letter of course coincide with those of the
anonymous one. He seeks to support the 1st defendant by
saying during the two Sundays he saw PW1 he did not see PW3. That
so. But that does not mean PW3 was not there. However he
finds this suggestion hard to accept.
He testified that on the 3rd Sunday when the Priest was
no reference was made to the anonymous letter. But
mention was made by 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 about the contents of the anonymous letter.
He said 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".
Asked if he had basis for saying that he replied "I
said just as briefly".
It is significant that he should avoid answering that
question which was put to him in chief. However he was quick to state
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
-19-to know while I did not".
He however supports PW1 to the effect that after this
announcement she went to confront the 1st defendant.
The 2nd defendant likewise heard PW1 say that he
published her name at Parish meeting per the instruction of the 1st
strangely, though he regards this as false he never
challenged it when PW1 was giving evidence.
As I indicated earlier the 2nd defendant by giving false
evidence on issues which sought to highlight the truth and
he was a mere conduit carrying out the 1st
defendant's instruction, attracted the fate that was to befall the
1st defendant. He denied
that he had been asked to make the
announcement of the plaintiff's name in Church as the culprit who
wrote the letter that threatened
the 1st defendant with death. Thus
he associated himself with the false and injurious imputations
levelled at the plaintiff in the
Because the words complained of by the plaintiff were
defamatory per se the law is clear that the intention to
injure can be and is inferred.
The plaintiff has established that she was a highly
person. Although PW3 failed to back this up by appearing
puzzled by the question how he regarded the plaintiff after the
words or how he would regard her if those words were true,
I am satisfied that PW3 does not fall within the category of people
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
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.
For these reason the Court entered Judgment for the
plaintiff on 25th March 1991 having had regard to C. of A. (CIV) No.
10 of 1983Manyeli vs Makhele and Another (unreported).
JUDGE 17th January, 1992
For Plaintiff: Mr. Mafisa For Defendants: Mr. Khauoe
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