The scandalous US classified diplomatic cables, leaked by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks have attracted one of the first major legal suits in Africa — from Zimbabwe’s First Lady, Grace Mugabe who is suing The Standard newspaper for a whopping $15 million.
This comes after the family of a Spanish cameraman Jose Couso, killed by United States forces in Baghdad in 2003 also launched what could be the first legal action to use WikiLeaks diplomatic cables as evidence in Europe.
The First Lady claims The Standard’s WikiLeaks-sourced story headlined “First Lady Grace Mugabe, Gono in diamond scandal”, has lowered the respect with which she is held as “the mother of the nation” to “a point of disappearance”.
The story in question recounts detailed allegations in the WikiLeaks claiming Grace Mugabe and Reserve Bank Governor, Gideon Gono, were among the people that had “reaped tremendous profits” from illicit dealings in the Chiadzwa diamonds.
“The said words, in the context of the article, being false, scandalous, and malicious are wrongful and defamatory of plaintiff, in that they were intended and were understood by readers of the newspaper and the online publication (readers), to convey the scandalous aspersion that plaintiff, (the First Lady, wife of the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe), engaged in criminal and unsavory activities . . .” Mugabe says in papers filed at the High Court on Wednesday through her lawyers, Chikumbirike & Associates.
The classified cables implicating the First Lady, were written by the former US ambassador to Zimbabwe, James McGee, in November 2008.
The information apparently originated from African Consolidated Resources (ACR) chief executive Andrew Cranswick.
When the cable was released, Cranswick dissociated himself from the leak claiming he had not given any of the names published by the whistleblower and that he had “never met any US officials”.
The First Lady questions why The Standard mentioned only herself and Gono as being involved in the diamond scandal when WikiLeaks had named other prominent persons in Zimbabwe. She says the diamond scandal story was likely to be believed without question by The Standard’s readers most of whom were opposed to President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF.
“The Standard newspaper is a weekly newspaper, well-sought out by the general readership in Zimbabwe, as it represents the views of the media that are generally anti-Zanu PF, and its component in the inclusive government,” she says in the court papers.
“(The Standard) is avidly sought and read by persons who are opposed to His Excellency, The President, and Zanu PF. Whatever it prints is regarded as gospel
truth by those people in Zimbabwe and abroad. The Standard holds itself out as accurate, and a newspaper of high prestige, whose readership is generally educated, well informed, and influential persons. Defendants are aware that the newspaper is taken seriously and carries considerable weight.”
The First Lady’s lawyers said The Standard story had implied that besides being corrupt, her conduct was “one of the dirtiest” and also that she was complicit in the murder and displacement of thousands of people because of her participation in the illicit trade in the gemstones.
“This is an imputation of criminality, and an association with violations of human rights,” Mugabe’s lawyers said.
Respondents in the matter include reporter Nqaba Matshazi, The Standard Editor Nevanji Madanhire and the printers and distributors of the newspaper.