The banner calling Cell C the most useless service provider in South Africa is defamatory to the point of unlawfulness, the High Court in Johannesburg heard on Wednesday.
In an urgent application before Judge Sharise Weiner, Christopher Whittcutt, for Cell C, argued the banner was a defamatory statement, and unashamedly so.
The banner was put up by George Prokas at the WorldWear Mall on Beyers Naude Drive on November 6.
Cell C sought interim relief to have the banner taken down.
The banner, which appeared professionally printed and bore the Cell C logo, was prominently displayed at the mall along the road.
“The most useless service provider in SA – Cell C Sandton City,” it read.
It gave the name of the franchise manager and his phone number, claiming he had said that his “unnamed executive head refuses to assist the customer”.
Whittcutt said: “As it stands, it continues to be unlawful and it is that unlawfulness the applicant seeks to interdict.”
The dispute arose from a phone Prokas had taken up for his son with Cell C in 2013. The phone’s indicated number turned out to belong to and was being used by a different person.
That individual ran up a bill of R5000, by which time Prokas ended the stop-order for the phone in October last year.
However, when attempting to buy a car earlier in 2014, Prokas discovered he was listed as a bad debtor as a result of the unpaid R5000.
He sought to have the bill waived by Cell C and removed from the bad debtors list by the end of October this year.
However, by the end of October the situation had not changed.
Prokas exchanged e-mails with Cell C, indicating he would put the banner up unless his complaints were dealt with.
Whittcutt said, paraphrasing Prokas’s communication with the company, “I will stop defaming you if you waive the bill and pay me money”.
It had cost Prokas R61,200 to make and put the banner up, which he sought payment for from Cell C, Whittcutt said.
“This is blackmail, as defined in the Oxford English Dictionary.”
After his complaints were allegedly not dealt with, Prokas put the banner up.
“To defame somebody is to be presumed unlawful… the banner must come down,” Whittcutt said.
The banner had been changed over this weekend, which Prokas had indicated he was not involved in, and now read “Cell C the most useful cellular provider”, with the logo altered.
It was not known who altered the banner.
Whittcutt said that while the banner had changed, it was still there and Prokas remained “defiant and unrepentant” for what he originally said.
“He [Prokas] wants to put it back up as it originally was, without [franchise manager] Mr Van Rooyen’s details,” Whittcutt said.
“Unless he [Prokas] is interdicted from doing so, that is exactly what he is going to do.”
He said the fact Prokas would not include the name and number of the franchise manager as originally stated showed he had erred by doing so in the first place.
Earlier, Weiner asked Whittcott why they had not sought an interdict to stop the banner being put up.
He replied: “Until the banner went up it was not known Mr Prokas would take this action.”